After the morning travelling by bus to Ururo we caught a train to Uyuni which got colder and colder as the 7 hour journey progressed. We were both astounded at the amount of rubbish on the way but the scenery gradually changed to marshland with the Andes mountains in the distance. Although many hours getting from A to B are typically boring, this particular time we both jumped to attention as the train screeched to a halt smelling of burning rubber after a loud thud. It soon became apparent that we had mowed down a sheep on the track!
Meeting Jaime our guide for the next 3 days excursion whose english needed extensive improvement, we hopped into a 4x4 jeep with Jo and Shruti, our companions for the duration of our tour. Entering the desert and already shocked by the strong wind we made our first stop at an old railway and spent 15 minutes climbing the rusting remains of the carriages like little children. Next stop was Colchani village where we were introduced to the process of salt extraction at one of the small factories before making our way further into the desert to reach the salt flats. These consist of 12,000 square kilometres of salt (a blanket of white stretching for miles contrasting the strong blue sky) at its deepest point reaching 120 metres. The salt remains from three lakes on different levels which have run into the lowest and the water has evaporated leaving the saltbed.
Beginning our white journey and stopping at the salt hotel, a museum made entirely of salt, containing statues that we took great pleasure in mounting for preliminary photos, we reached our destination of Fish Island or Inca-Wasi. This island is where the Incas used to trade produce and now is just a bundle of cactii in the centre of the flats. As there is no perspective due to the whiteness, we spent the whole afternoon being creative with pringles boxes and toblerone tubes snapping away and positioning each other for pictures that made it appear we were miniscule in comparison to the props (climbing into an open pringles box for example - you´ll understand when you see the photos!)
The first night´s accomodation seemed luxurious in hindsight to the rest of the stay as we had two hours electricity and Emma even managed to grab a cold shower (FREEZING). Whilst she played basketball and claimed she was having heart palpatations due to the altitude (3600m) Laura re-arranged the dormitory as she was unhappy with her bed being positioned next to the toilet what with this being the first time everyone had shared! Emma has warned her that shuffling the furniture is not normal for travellers in dorms!
Day two - waking up fortunately still able to feel our bodies thanks to the three sleeping bags and six layers of clothing, we headed into our jeep en route to an active volcano called Ollague where Jo and Laura were more interested in finding a suitable toilet spot! The remainder of the day was taken up visiting five lagoons - Cañapa, Hedionde, Chiarcquota, Honda and Ramaditas. These are located in the desert where the salt flats suddenly disappear each a different colour (red, blue and green) our favourite being Hedionde where no picture can capture the thousands of flamingos lining the banks and forming silhouettes on the overhanging mountains.
Having been captivated by the lagoon, we had to laugh when reaching a "stone tree" that bared very little resemblance to a tree at all merely appearing as a blob on top of a stalk - a typical example of reading too much into nature for the sake of art! The Salvador Dali desert the following day was again a supposed replica of the painting that we were unable to see! After the jeep had broken down for the third time we were pleased to reach the red lagoon Colorada until opening the door to an indescribably icy cold. With numb feet we attempted hobbling inside to our refuge which wasn´t much warmer! Downgrading from the previous evening now with no running water and water buckets to flush the toilets, we were grateful when Jaime hammered in a sheet to form a curtain and some privacy between the eating area and our beds!
Waking up completely frozen having suffered -30 temperatures, Laura was informed that the whole dorm had heard her sleep-talking episode involving members of the group! After an hour´s drive to Sol de Mañana geyser and trying in vain to re-activate the circulation in our feet, Emma was the only brave sole hardcore enough to leave the car during the day´s stops for pictures whereas the others simply took photos from inside the car windows! Reaching the green lagoon and extinct volcano Licancabur and hot springs seeing half-naked people climbing into a puddle of hot water seemed completely incomprehensible to us, wishing we had thicker layers.
Thinking the accomodation could not get any worse, we were greeted with stone slab beds, a cracked concrete floor, a hole in the ceiling and a toothpick disguising itself as a door lock! Priya, not the happiest birthday girl, was comforted with wine and then an exploration of the surrounding village where we discovered half a plane, a heart-shaped cave and inside a rotting foot and skull which raised her morale! (Slightly worrying how a corpse can make a person feel more positive!) Getting an early night (8pm) after being treated to an appaling Bolivian music display we found even brushing our teeth too much effort for the ghastly temperature. (Why did nobody warn us we needed eskimo suits?!)
Waking up at 4am for our journey back to Uyuni, we could not believe a jeep is capable of icing from the inside whilst we were sitting in it! Pleased our toes were still connected to our feet and Emma continually checking to remind herself of this, we were pleased, relieved and over-joyed to see civilisation and eat edible food once more... we have not even mentioned the food as we are still recovering from the trauma of tasting something so revolting and the option of eggs three meals a day for four days running!!
Whoever defies the statement "beauty is pain" when talking to a woman in five-inch stilletos has obviously not been travelling. To experience such surreal and memorable sights you do suffer but we promise you once the blood circulation returns, it is all worthwhile and the pictures remain as proof of the most breathtaking four days.