After a couple of days in Tupiza adjusting to the 2,950m altitude, eating amazing lunch for 70p in the market we set of on our 4 day trip to the Uyuni salt flats.
There were six people in total in our Toyota Land Cruiser jeep. Moises would be our driver and Spanish speaking guide, Karla would be our cook and English speaking translator. We were also joined by Ben and Sophia our new German friends. Once all our 'mochillas' (backpacks) , water, food and fuel had been loaded on the roof we set off on our adventure.
It only took a couple of minutes to get out of town for the amazing scenery to open up. We also quickly realised why we needed a 4x4 as the jeep bounced over large rocks and through rugged river beds. It was great to see the jeep being used as it was designed for, instead of ferrying snotty kids round posh London boroughs.
As we slowly wound up and up the altitude got higher and higher and the effects became more noticeable. We had already noticed a shortness of breath since arriving in Tupiza but things gradually got worse especially for Bee. The local solution was to chew on Coca leaves (yes the same leaves used to make Cocaine!), this is meant to help with altitude, remove fatigue and hunger and is readily consumed by all the locals.
As we made our way up to nearly 5,000 metres the scenery got better and better, just as Bee's headache and nausea got worse and worse. This wasn't helped as we made our way to the hostel where we planned to spend the night. It was dark by now and with only the jeep's headlights to guide us we drove through a particularly deep river. I think this came as a bit of a surprise to our driver who battled to get the vehicle out of the deep water. As the wheels span and the water started to bubble up at the back we all realised we weren't going to get to the hostel in time. This wasn't helped by the fact that we were the last jeep in our convoy so couldn't expect any help to follow.
Luckily we weren't so far away from the hostel and Moises took it upon himself to go off and get help. This gave us a good opportunity to sample the magnificent star constellations and multiple shooting stars. The lack of a moon helped to add to the adventure, as did the potential to see local Puma's which we'd just read about in the park guide book. An hour later and Moises returned carrying a shovel and with another jeep to take us to the hostel. A challenging but thrilling end to a fantastic day.
The second day had us driving though the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina 'Enduardo Avaroa'. A beautiful and every changing set of valleys and mountain ranges. We got to see lots of Llamas, Vicunas, Viscachas and three types of Flamingos. Lunch featured a stop at some natural hot springs, set against a stunning lagoon background the hot water relaxed our shaken bones. This was until the other 13 jeeps arrived carrying scores of similarly minded gringos!
The third day started climbing on some amazing rock formations. It turned out that Tim was better at climbing up than he was at coming down. The day also involved a visit to a 'red' lagoon, more flamingos and a rather sad train graveyard. The trains used to carry minerals from the mountains to Uyuni and La Paz the main city in Bolivia. They now form a playground of metal for tourists to hang off. The day ended in another hostel with Carla treating us to a delicious Lasagne which Tim happily finished off.
The fourth day had us getting up at 4.30 am in time to catch the sun rising above the famous salt flats. As it got lighter we were able to see the hexagonal patterns on the salt flats which appeared to go on indefinitely into the horizon. We ate breakfast at the salt museum a building built entirely from salt. It was then time to venture out back into the blinding white expanse of the salt flats where we spent the next couple of hours having fun attempting to take 'false perspective' photos.
It had been a magical four days and a road trip like no other. As we said a teary farewell to Carla and Moises who had looked after us so well, we boarded an 9hr overnight bus to Sucre for the next chapter our adventure.