Salar de Uyuni (salt flats)
After a 24 hour bus journey we arrived in the Chilean desert at San Pedro de Atacama. A very small and relaxed village with unpaved streets and single storey brick houses, surrounded by sand dunes, mountains and volcanoes.
We went exploring on bikes in the day to Quebrada del diablo (devils throat). It is a deep red canyon surrounded by spectacular rock formations. For sunset we took a tour to Valle de la Luna (moon valley). We hiked up a giant sand dune which has panoramic views of the valley. As the sun set, the warm light reflected onto the jagged peaks and projected several shades of intense red, pink and orange, it was definitely an impressive sun set.
The next morning we were picked up bright and early to embark on our 3 day salt flat adventure into the Bolivian desert. Our first stop was the derelict border crossing from Chile into Bolivia. We ascended high altitude pretty quickly, noticing our shortness of breath straight away. The wildlife reserve covers 7147 square kilometres, ranging between 4000m and 6000m in altitude. Once we had our visa stamps we got into our 4x4's and set out into the wild. Stopping at many picturesque lagoons we were instantly overwhelmed by the scenery.
The temperature during the day averaged at about 6 degrees so to warm us up we visited a natural hot springs. It was quite bizarre changing into your swimming costume at such low temperatures but the water was a very welcoming 35 degrees.
Our first night was the biggest challenge of our 3 day tour. We reached the highest altitude of the trip which was 4900m. The accommodation was very basic with a corrugated iron roof, no hot water and limited electricity. We struggled to sleep because of the lack of oxygen, both of us having a panic attack during the night. The whole group woke up the next morning chuffed that we made it through the night. It's not something I would like to experience again but it was all part of the adventure!
The second day we carried on exploring the desolated landscapes, driving for miles through the remote reserve watching the dramatic scenery change. We visited bright red lagoons home to flamingos and turquoise salt lakes that sparkled in the sun all surrounded by volcanic peaks. Our second night was a lot easier than the first, we had dropped to 4300m altitude and acclimatised throughout the day. We stayed in a salt hotel, the whole of the floors covered in salt and the furniture made from salt rocks. It was basic accommodation but quite a cool experience, it's not every day you stay in a hotel made of salt. The group managed to sink a few bottles of vino that night which helped us sleep after the rocky previous night.
The final day was the highlight of the trip. Waking at 4.45am we made our way to the largest salt flat in the world, Salar de Uyuni, and watched the sunrise over the crisp, white, hard surface. The sunrise was breathtaking, the full moon shone brightly as the sky began to light up with shades of orange and pink finally turning bright blue. We visited a cactus mountain and hiked to the top to take in the magical views of the isolated salt flat. It goes on for miles and miles, almost feels like you are on another planet. After the tiring hike at 7am we recharged our batteries with a large breakfast and sat by a warm fire before heading further onto the salt flat to get the iconic salt flat photographs. The group posed for about 45 mins, all of us directing each other to get the perfect perspective picture, it was quite amusing and definitely not as easy as it looks. Just before we were about to get back in the jeeps, Nick whipped of his clothes and asked me to take a bare naked picture of him and the salt flats. The whole group hid behind the jeeps laughing and covering their eyes as I snapped away at his bare cheeks! The drivers were definitely amused, shouting "loco Chico" (crazy guy).
The tour came to an end in the shanty town of Uyuni. All of us exhausted from a unique, sometimes challenging but truly amazing 3 day experience we parted our ways. The two if us and Carmen, our Swiss friend, jumped on a bus to the mining town of Potosi.