From Potosi, we got a 7 hour bus to Uyuni arriving at 10pm which was a good thing because there is absolutely nothing to do in Uyuni town itself except booking your salt flat tours. We were recommended by friends not to book this tour in advance because you can be overcharged. There are endless amounts of operators in Uyuni all offering pretty much the same thing and there is little chance that they will book out. Thank god we had no stories to report from the bus journey, this was our first and only bus journey in Bolivia to go smoothly. The bus pulled up at the side of a road where the bus conductor claimed it was the bus terminal. I had my doubts though. For ease we just stayed at the nearest hospedaje which is basically a crap hotel. Uyuni is freezing like minus temperatures cold but it took us that night to realise it. There was no heating in the room and our window was broken so I'm pretty sure it was colder in our room than outside. Also there was no hot water and if you have ever had to have a ice cold shower in ice cold temperatures, you'll never forget it! But you can't expect much for €3 a night and cold showers are as common in all of Bolivia as protests, something you'll just have to suck up very quickly.
With no sleep and an early 7am wake up by Sergeant Idan, we went to book our tour, this time we were travelling with 10 Israelis (an extended group of Idan and Roey), which meant we got the best price available. I'm convinced they are all taught how to bargain as part of their 3 years military service. We decided on a company called Lipez Expodecions and paid just 600 bolivianos each (€70) for a 2 night-3 day tour including all food, transport and accommodation. We went with this company because they had many positive recommendations and were one of the few tours where their drivers didn't drink and drive. You would be surprised at how many do. We have heard some horror stories about companies with drunk drivers, horrible accommodation and barely enough food for the tour group. Thank god we experienced none of these problems. We all packed up our stuff and met the other two girls that would be joining us on our tour - two Spanish hippie art students called Lali and Theresa, both very entertaining. Our driver was called Omar and in our opinion was the best! We had to make a few emergency pit stops before setting off like buying some local whiskey and vodka and then stoping at Omar's house where he produced this huge bag of toys which turned out were used for the salt flat photos - More browny points for Omar.
Our first stop was the old train cemetery where hundreds of trains, carriages and old railway tracks lay abandoned and rusted surrounded by the desert. All which was amazing for photographs. After taking about 100 pictures of the same thing, the dreaded 'low battery' warning sign came up on my camera! Of all times to not have battery, this was the worst - I knew we would have no electricity for the next few days meaning I didn't bring a charger so I had to just bare it but to say I was hating myself was an understatement. Thank god it held out at least for our next stop - The Salt Flats. Now these are something to see - incredibly beautiful, the flats stretch across Bolivia for miles, there is no sign of a horizon, all you can see is white salt and clear blue sky. I'm still amazed at how the drivers of these tours seem to be able to navigate through them. We spent most of the afternoon here trying to be original and take the perfect picture but don't waste your time. Our best pictures are just the ones of us jumping up or floating on body parts. Our worst are the ones where we started bringing in all sorts of props like dinosaurs, a rubber duck, a wine glass and a box of Pringles. We wasted too much time on those ones. Our next stop before the salt hotel, where we were staying that night, was the cactus mountain - another fascinating site where right in the middle of these huge salt plains is the lone island filled with cacti and llamas. This was our first time seeing llamas so it was even more exciting but you do get fed up with them quickly, like sheep at home - they are pretty stupid. Now unfortunately, I couldn't enjoy these sites to there full potential because I was coming down with 'Bolivian Tummy'. There is no way you will come to Bolivia and not get this. Without being too descriptive here but there is no point eating anything because it will not stay down. You get awful cramps, severe headaches partly from the altitude and a constant feeling of tiredness. Even more unfortunate, this lasted a whole of 5 days for me including the whole tour and this mixed with the altitude made me a very sick Individual. At one stage, and I'm not one to complain here but I was very close to getting Andrew to call an ambulance. I was that sick that I obviously didn't realise we were in the middle of a bloody desert where the nearest hospital was probably about 100 miles away.
After one more stop to see the sunset, we finally arrived at our accommodation for the night. After the sun goes down, the temperature drops furthers about 20 degrees (about -5) so wrap up and bring a good sleeping bag. The salt hotel was amazing, everything obviously made out of salt including the chairs, table and beds (we did have mattresses though). After barely not eating all day I decided to have a small bit of dinner and seeing that I was in a brave sort of humour, I decided a couple of drinks couldn't do me any harm either (how wrong I was). We stayed up late playing drinking games where me and Andrew seemed to keep losing but really we were just being ridiculed because we were Irish. Neither of us slept very well that night, both feeling very sick throughout the night. I was hoping it was just the whiskey.
The next morning I was feeling even worse where the smell of breakfast made me run to the toilet to throw up everything from the night before. Not sure what I was feeling, I took what ever tablets I thought it might be including Panadol, motilium, Imodium and altitude sickness tables, hoping for the best. Our second day included stops at the 3 stunning lagoons all filled with pink flamingos. These were Laguna Verde, Laguna Colorada and Sol de Mañana. All very impressive with beautiful scenery throughout the day. None of which I could fully enjoy again because I was either getting sick or fast asleep. I literally hadn't eaten a thing all day but my body still felt the need to stop the car every hour or so. We were gradually driving higher and higher up that day where we were to stay at our highest point yet 5300m above sea level. When we reached our next accommodation, I felt like I had been kicked in the face and stomach at the same time. Oh and if we complained about it being cold the night before then this night particular night was a whole other story. Not Including our sleeping bags, we each had 6 other blankets on out beds. It was Baltic, I'm talking -15 degrees here. I was afraid of waking up with frost bite the next morning. I had to go straight to my ice bed that night because I was so sick but everyone else seemed to have a great night which made it worse for me because I hate missing out. Andrew did look after me though, checking up on me every so often and nearly carrying me to the toilet at one stage.
The last day of our tour and still not feeling any better, we were woken at 4am to see the sunrise. F*!k the sunrise, we all could have done with another few hours in bed. The last day of the tour was all about volcanoes, geysers and hot springs. All of which were surreal. Especially when we have nothing like that in Ireland, it makes these sites even better. The geysers were my favourite. Boiling hot steam bursting up through the red earth, releasing this disgusting sulphur smell (basically rotten eggs and cabbage). I couldn't manage the hot springs but they looked amazing, you had to ease yourself slowly into them because the water was so hot. The harder part was coming back out into the cold. After a full day of sites and excursions we made our way back to Uyuni arriving about 6pm. You should get 3 full days and 2 nights with most of the tours which is plenty. My top tips for 'The Salt Flat' tours are:
1. Bring plenty of warm clothes
2. Make sure your camera is fully charged
3. Bring a torch - there is no electricity at all and trying to find your way to the bathroom in pitch darkness is not fun
4. Stock up on all types of tablets/medication - the chances are you will need it
5. Like everywhere in Bolivia, bring toilet paper and hand sanitizer (you'll thank me later)
6. Don't spend any longer in Uyuni then you have to - in fact try buy your bus ticket out of there the same evening you come back from your tour
7. Make sure you pick the right operator, don't just go with the cheapest.
That's it from Salar de Uyuni, our next stop is lovely Sucre (the most normal of cities in Bolivia).
I'll keep you posted!!!