17:50 - We had a fairly eventful night at the Culpina accomodation. As our accomodation was really a miner's place to sleep, there were in fact 4 miners staying and at 4.30am some begun to stir with no real cares for whoever might be sleeping. At around 6am they were all gone however and I got another hour of sleep. Breakfast was at 7 and we had a slight delay in setting off due to one of the jeeps having a problem with a wheel. However, it was soon fixed and off we went to San Cristobal. This pueblo is also a town that lives mostly off the mining community. They mine silver, lead and copper. It' quite pretty and it was market day so it was way more lively then the places we had been accustomed to over the last couple of days. Here also, the houses were mostly left unfinished. Sally explained that people tend to pay for everything with cash, so the works go forward as and when people get more money. In some cases it may take 10 to 15 years to add a floor to a house. So it all lookes like a building site...a messy one :-). From San Cristobal we set off for Uyuni about 100km away. Just before the town itself there was a train cemetery so we made a quick stop. Funnily enough we have seen no tracks for 3 days so I was quite surprised that they even had trains. However, they do have a train network but it goes north/south east and south west. It was initially set up by the english (or so I have been told), to transport goods. Most of the trains come from continental europe. We got back in our jeeps and on our way to the salt flats we stopped in Colchina, just north of Uyuni, where the salt from the flats is refined. There's a few touristy stalls selling local wears, and a local man, Juan, took us through how they manually work the salt. There are 8 such establishments in Colchina and only Colchina people have rights to get salt from the flats. The salt bagged here is sold only in Bolivia. To give you an idea of how little money they make, on a typical 8 hours day a team of 8 would end up bagging 5000 bags of 1kg of salt. 50 bags go for 13 bolivians. This means they would take in 1300 bolivians which is not very much money...about 10 US dollars. We left Colchina and headed to the salt flats. I have been looking forward to this spectacle of nature since the trip started...in fairness from way before it started. In some ways we have been unlucky because due to a very heavy rainy season, most of the flats are flooded and we could not travel to the little island in the middle. On the othe hand, the reflections of the sky onto the flats were plentyful. An amazing sight...as far as the eye could see there was only white and it was nearly impossible to tell where the salt finished and the sky begun. The Uyuni salt flats cover about 12,000 square kilometres. For you british, this is the equivalent of two thirds of Wales. Not really sure what it equates in italian terms. One of our bolivian drivers found a large enough hole in the crust for us to see how thick it is (where we were it was about a metre/3 feet) and the water beneath. We had lunch here and then took a walk towards the Salt Hotel (Hotel de sal). It's a building made out of salt bricks. Everything in it is also made out of salt: tables/chairs etc. It used to be a full working hotel but it is no longer allowed to accomodate people and so it works purely as a restaurant. We made one last quick stop to the Ojos del salar (the eys if the salt flats). Here sweet and salty water meet and bubble up. Personally I found that the coulours due to the minerals were the prettiest thing about them :-). And off we went to our resting place for tonight. Hotel Tonino. It's between the main square and a military base. It looks pretty enough. The rooms are not great but way better then we've had for the last couple of nights...and the showers work and have plenty of hot water! We are having a little aperitif in the lounge area of our wing and then we are eating at the hotel restaurant (pizza place). It is apparently the most decent thing in town...forgot to say: there was supposed to be wifi but it is not working at the moment...so you'll see this a day late when we get to La Paz tomorrow night I guess. Tomorrow we set off early to get to La Paz...the journey will take around 12 hours...I am guessing given that a third of it is still offroad, we will not be feeling rested when we arrive. Oh well...
23:00 - We had drinks in the little lounge area and finished off the pisco sour and el niño (the red wine). The pizza was not at all bad (or maybe is because we have eaten nothing but meat so far...). The little restaurant is full of pictures taken on the salar de Uyuni and have an artistic take on them. As always we didn't stay up late. We were shattered.