From La Paz went by bus to Potosi. I had been warned that it would be cold but it is hard to believe it would be as cold as it was. I had thermals on and the gap between them and my socks was freezing. I had 5 layers on, a hat, my hoodie up and 2 blankets on and only just felt warm. We were travelling to quite a high altitude. Not sure what it did to the air but in the middle of the night as I was arranging my blanket I saw blue sparks. It was static electricity and it looked like I was surrounded by lots of fire flies. It was absolutely magical. I kept doing it until I thought perhaps probably not a good idea as I would probably be incredibly charged and have the shock of my life as I got of the bus!!! It is too cold to sleep but I did manage to doze.
The main reason for coming to Potosi is to go down the mines. I decided it wasn't for. You go quite far under ground in narrow tunnels filled with poisonous gases to see men and children working in horrendous conditions. Having listened to others who had done it, I decided this is one experience I could miss. The majority of them seemed to have wished they hadn't done it.
I wandered around the town instead. It is a lovely little town with streets that make it very like a maze. It is easy to get lost here especially when you leave your map back at the hostel. The streets are incredibly narrow and many don;t even have pavements, in fact when a car is coming you have to stand flat against the wall to let the vehicles past!!! It has a main square with a lovely coffee shop. Once inside you can pretend that you are in Europe somewhere. The coffee was excellent too. There is not much to do here so the next day I caught a bus to Uyuni, the gateway for the salt flats.
Uyuni is a small, dusty town but I really liked. It was cold but the sun was shining. Everyone was sat in the main street outside cafés drinking coffee, beer or hot chocolate. Reminded me very much of being in a ski resort. Don't get me wrong wouldn't have wanted to stay here long but one evening was fine. It was probably helped by the fact that I treated myself to a hotel with heating and hot water. Yes my bedroom actually had radiator. It was amazing. I just stood by it for ages and seriously considered not leaving my room. I am glad I did though because the restaurant there (Minuteman) served the best pizzas ever. The guy had actually trained with 2 Italian brothers in New York and you could tell!!! I never thought I would have one of the best pizzas ever in the middle of nowhere in Bolivia! For breakfast you actually got 2 thick slices of home-made bread as toast. It was superb. I ate and slept well here!
The next day was the 3 day, 2 night trip through the salt plains to Chile. I was to be picked up at 10.30am at the hotel - I was still waiting at 11am. This is South America time!!! They finally arrived in a 4x4 with the other 5 in my group. The vehicle was more comfortable than expected and was actually warm. The group were really great and we were a pretty international lot - Brit, Yank, French, German and Swiss. We had a driver and a cook who both only spoke Spanish. Not too big a deal as everyone but me spoke Spanish really well. In fact not too much of a problem at all as they didn't say much in Spanish either. The trip was great but there wasn't much commentary. I decided to take the scenery in rather than understanding it. I can always watch a documentary on it when I get home!
The first stop in the desert was a train graveyard. There were so many derelict, rusting trains. It was a wonderful opportunity to take some stunning photos. There were no health and safety restrictions so we were climbing all over the trains. The wind was so strong that as we stood on the top of the train you felt like you were going to be blown off! Only a short stop but I really liked it. It reminded me of being a small kid and scrambling over climbing frames.
From here we drove to the salt flats. They are really amazing. Imagine a huge white desert as far as the eye can see. When you walk on it, it is hard and crunches under your feet like crisp snow. There is a salt hotel which is surrounded by lots of flags from all over the world. Strangely not a Union Jack in sight! I felt lost as everyone had a photo with their flag!. In this salt desert are islands protruding. They are rocky and covered in cacti. There are no creatures here. It is like a land that time has forgotten.
In the evenings we stayed in less than basic accommodation. Imagine a stone garage, put a bed in it and you have a rough idea of what our accommodation was like! Not great when temperatures are dropping to minus 22. It was freezing. There was no heat and no electricity after 9pm. I layered up. I wore a singlet, t shirt, ;long sleeved t shirt, jumper, alpaca cardigan, thermals, yoga pants, alpaca socks, gloves, scarf and hat. Then I got into a sleeping bag under 2 blankets and I was only just warm. I have never known anything like it. I looked like the Michelin man. There were hot showers of a sort - unreliable and dirty and too be honest I couldn't bear to take my clothes of so I went without. It was a popular decision. We did however have a really god time in the evenings - eating, drinking, playing cards and chatting. One evening we even managed to get the local children to join in and they taught us how to play some of their card games. It was wonderful.
On the second day we drove through really barren landscape occasionally broken up by a lake. The lakes were beautiful and were dotted with pink flamingoes. It seemed weird to see flamingoes in the freezing cold. There was so much driving and we were unlucky enough to have not one but two flats tyres. This was a real problem as we actually only carried one spare. The second time we had to flag down another 4x4 and had to take their spare. We were lucky they were OK with that because otherwise we would have been stranded in the middle of nowhere. There was so much driving on this day that I suppose it wasn't surprising that we had punctures. The terrain was pretty rugged. The final stop of the day was the rock tree and other weird rocks sculpted into shapes by the natural environment.
The final day we went to see the geysers and hot springs. They were OK but not a patch on New Zealand. Most people went for a dip in the hot springs but the thought of taking my clothes off and then having to get back out into sub zero temperatures to dry outside was not my idea of fun. The guys did go in and when they got out it was so cold the water formed ice in their hair. I think I made a wise choice. After breakfast, we passed through Dali's desert. It is where he got inspiration for one of his paintings with the melting clocks. As soon as they said it you could recognise the backdrop of his painting. I was pretty impressed by this as he is one of my favourite. Then onto the Chile, Bolivia and Argentina border. This is where I left the group as they travelled back to Uyuni and I carried onto San Pedro in Chile.