It is still dark when the flight arrives in Uyuni at 6.30am. It's bitterly cold as we are still at high altitude and everyone is huddled in a small arrivals lounge around a heat lamp while we wait for our baggage. Once it arrives, we find our driver waiting outside for us with a huge toothless grin (him, not us). A really sweet guy named Mario. As we follow him out to his car we see another sign saying Stephen x 2 (overnight an email had come through from Red Planet saying we are booked on a trip with them, so wonder if that sign was also for us). At least we hadn't paid for anything, so it's their cock-up! Steve sent an email back saying 'unless you've got a time-machine this email is useless'.
Uyuni town itself doesn't have a lot going for it (which is putting it lightly!) and we are taken to a small cafe and asked to wait for three hours until our trip leaves at 10am. We have so many layers of clothes on and the small gas heater in the cafe is really pointless due to the plastic roof and huge gaps around the door, and around a door that doesn't even close. It definitely doesn't have the desired effect of keeping us warm. Other people sit around waiting for their tours and we order breakfast and coffee after coffee in an attempt to keep warm. We wile away the time playing cards and chatting to other travellers until we are eventually called out to start the trip to the salt flats.
There are five of us in the group and we are glad that the rumours of squashing too many people in the jeep doesn't happen in our case. The driver has the personality of a blunt pencil which is not much different to the rest of the group!
Our first stop is just outside town and is called the train cemetary, a collection of historic steam trains that have been left to rust and are now covered in graffitti. Steve isn't impressed, but it makes for some good photo's against the bright blue sky. The next stop is at the artisan's market that suprisingly consists of the usual mass-produced tat! There is a small museum that has four items of salt carving on show and then you find yourself in a huge museum shop with much of what's on sale on the stalls outside. Back into the jeep and when we next stop we follow the driver into what we realise is a hotel. We look back and see everyone else has stayed in the jeep and we are only here to collect two more people - so they are squashing more people in to the jeep, which means we are overcrowded.
We stop for a photo-shoot at some piles of salt with all the other tourists. Suzanne opts to squash into the one and a half sized seat at the front of the jeep with another girl rather than the closed in section at the back. Not the most comfortable seat for the next eight hours, which is then made worse by the smell of fumes coming up through the floor. We drive towards a mountain for about an hour and a half. The persepective over the salt flats make it seem that the mountains are getting further away, not nearer, so makes for a frustrating drive. Paraticularly when there is no other scenery apart from the never ending plains of salt all around. We then park up and the driver serves us lunch from the back of the jeep. It is an eerie sight to see the flats stretching out so far and we take some photos. The Salar de Uyuni (salt flats of Uyuni) are the largest in the world and measure 12,106 sq kms. Between 40,000 and 25,000 years ago Lago Minchin evaporated and lay dry for 14,000 years, leaving the salt and mineral deposits behind, before the smaller Lago Tauca formed. This also evaporated and left two large puddles, Lagos Poopo and Uro are now the two major salt concentrations which are the Salar de Uyuni and Coipasa salt flats, known collectively as Salar de Uyuni.
We then make our way to the main attraction called Isla Incahuasi (Inca Island), but better known as Fish Island. It's a lonely hilly outpost covered by giant cactus and surrounded by a white sea of hexagonal salt tiles. We climb to the top through the amazing giant cactus that are all shapes and sizes. The island is the top of the remains of an ancient volcano that was submerged when the area was covered by the lake, so there are also coral-like structures and fossils to be found there. From the top, we appreciate the size of the salt flats. After filling our boots with what we think at the time are funny photo's of the cactus stabbing us we make our way down for more amusing photo's.
Probably the main reason people come here are for the perspective photo's. As there is no background (just white salt stretching far into the horizon) you can play with different items making them appear larger than they are while you appear smaller or vice versa. Using bottles, llama fridge magnets, ritz crackers, shoes, etc we try and get the ultimate salt flat photos, however, the brightness of the sun means that we can't view the results easily and we have to hope we are acheiving some good shots. Unfortunately our epic photo shoot went epically wrong and the photo's are no good. Gutted!
After messing about here for an hour or so, we are back in the jeep to go back to town. The driver does a stop off at a museum that is under refurbisment. This is clear before we get out of the jeep, but he tells us to get out. We walk around the building site and then back on the jeep. We guess he has his set route and is unable to detour! He then stops where there is water on the flats and tells us to get out. No one is prepared to go ankle deep in the freezing water and ask him to stop somewhere where we can get out - he doesn't!
After what feels like an age, we get back into town and back to the tour agency. We had left our large packs here for the day but the shop is locked and he gesticulates that he will get the key. He then takes some people to the bus station and leaves us waiting on the pavement in the cold for an hour.
The hostel we have booked is very basic and has a shared bathroom, but the showers are hot, and the room has heating which has to be top priority. Again, we have heard of much of the accommodation here often having neither!
We go to the pub next door for dinner and have an early night as we are up at stupid o'clock again tommorrow for our flight back to La Paz and then immediately to Sucre.