I think I'm in hell. I'm sitting on my worst South American bus so far, headed to Salar de Uyuni. The actual bus isn't much to ring home about, especially after the comfort of Argentinian buses. And as Bolivia is less developed the roads are very bumpy. But these observations don't bother me too much. The actual problem is not being able to sleep, which is paramount on an overnight bus. As the bus ride began at 7pm, I didn't allow myself to go straight to sleep. I decide to wait until at least 10, so I have some hope of sleeping through to a vaguely decent hour. Which all sounded like an excellent plan...until the voluptuous Bolivian woman sat next to me (their clothes while beautiful have so much volume) phone rings constantly for three hours. It's too quiet to wake her up but loud enough to keep me awake. Spending three hours deliriously with my thoughts sort of asleep but more awake is not fun. Eventually I tire enough to block it out and fall asleep, and when I come to the phone rings no more. Cannot tell you how happy I am. It's surprisingly comfortable to sleep with your daypack on your front and arms wrapped around it, holding on tight. Can't take any chances here. We make a 2am toilet stop and I pay one boliviano for the "privilege" of squatting over a not plumbed in toilet that one must pour water down to flush. That's a true South American experience for you. At 7am we all have to get off the bus so it can drive across some hectic mud and hopefully not get stuck. It doesn't but bus after does, and it still wasn't dug out when we left half an hour later. To meet the bus the mud had to be crossed. The easy option was to take off your shoes and socks, walk the direct route to the bus through mud and shin deep water, clean off your feet in one of many puddles and redress your wet feet. At 7am this is all too much for me and I walk along the stream until I find parts shallow enough to step through, rocks to balance on and streams thin enough to jump over. I come out unscathed! This probably makes me seem like a princess but I was thinking ahead to the fact that I'm not showering for at least the next three days. My life's going to be a lot easier if I don't get muddy on day one.
Anyhow the point of the above bus ride was to get me to Uyuni. It's time to get out into nature. I'm talking Salar de Uyuni, the salt flats. Even after my incredible desayuno of cheese flavoured crackers and a muesli bar, I still find myself a touch hungry. Cue street stall selling what I thought were empanadas. Not so much. It actually turned out to be kind of like a curry puff, minus the curry. The pastry was filled with potato, carrot, meat and hard boiled eggs. Sounds weird but so, so good. After desayuno it was into the Jeep and on to Salar de Uyuni.
The first stop is a train graveyard. No jokes. It is a heap of old abandoned rusty trains that you can climb. The main thing concerning me is the dark, ominous cloud coming over the hills. Sure hope the salt flats are in the opposite direction. Aside from the fact that its been driven all over, it's nice to see a large stretch of untouched land. No houses, no electricity poles, no plantations, nothing.
Stop two is a roadside market. I don't see anything that I didn't see in La Paz except for salt related products.
Stop three, Salar de Uyuni! It is seriously incredible. I highly recommend a visit if you're ever on this continent. It is pure nature. Just miles and miles of salt flats untouched by modernity. We also have lunch here which includes quinoa, one of the only plants that grows in the salt flats. I need to learn to cook quinoa cause that stuff is seriously tasty.
Stop four is a hotel made entirely of salt right in the middle of a wide open space. While I recognise this is a total tourist trap, it's still pretty cool.
I arrive back in Uyuni four hours before my bus. It's way too easy to pass the time. Pay 7 bolivianos ($1) for an hour on the Internet to trawl pedestrian tv, the vine and the age to see what's going on back in Aus. Wander round the many shops selling traditional Bolivian wares. I could seriously spend so much here. The stuff is just beautiful, so colourful and actually damn practical. I couldn't resist buying one traditional Bolivian scarf - the kind the women sling around their back. I foresee its future use as a wall hanging, rug or tablecloth. So really I bought three things for the price of one? Anyhow after shopping and wandering, it was time for dinner. I had quinoa soup and steamed vegetables. It was amazing. The plate of veg (carrots, corn, broccoli and cauliflower) was exactly what I had been craving.
And now I sit on the bus back to La Paz. Seated next to another Bolivian lady. I pray that she has not embraced modern technology, or if she has, she knows about the silent function on her phone.