The next morning I went off to the centre to find a tour, as I had heard it would be cheaper than arranging it online before I arrived (although I did have a backup just in case). I asked the lady at the hotel which company she recommended – Full Adventure – and went to their office, paying $110 – $40 less than I’d found before.
I went off with two Spanish girls to get supplies listed – toilet paper and 4 litres of water, and to make sure we had 150 bolivianos (£14) extra to pay for the national park. There was a huge, cheap market next to the square, so I also got some fleece leggings (£2) and a huge coat (£10), just in case.
We went back to the office and loaded our backpacks onto the roof.
I got put in the front seat in the jeep with France – the driver, three students from Hong Kong, and two doctors from Taiwan.
We set off, following the set route made by all the companies. It was a bit like we were on a huge bus tour (I imagine) but all travelling in jeeps of six. Each stop, there’d be another ten jeeps, and you’d see the same people exploring the location.
Our driver was a man of few words. Every stop he would say “ok chicos, este es …., tenemos 25 minutos”. Sometimes he’d explain some more in Spanish, then say to me, “can you help me?!” which meant, “translate to the others, please”. He did know a bit of English, but he got lazy when he knew he didn’t have to.
Then we would all get out of the jeep, and try to avoid the other tourists climbing all over, whatever we had stopped near. It looked like a children’s playground – they were all running, climbing, trying to get the best photos of themselves with ‘the special rock’ within 20 minutes. We kept seeing this one couple, a British man and his American wife, who were running up rocks, smiling, swapping, running to the next rock, selfie…
Anyway, our first stop at some old trains, which had been dumped just outside of Uyuni and gone rusty. I wonder whose idea it was to bring tourists here.
Then a town with a market selling souvenirs made of salt, and more llama fashion.
Next, we got to the start of the salt flats and saw some piles of salt. People living in Uyuni work here. They make ‘mountains’ of salt, which stay for a few days to let the water drain out (have tourists climb on them), before they sell it locally.
We had lunch of llama steaks, quinoa and salad in a salt hotel (I was so glad I’d told them no meat!) before getting to the good bit.
The largest salt flat in the world at 12,000 sq km. The salt feels like snow which has frozen overnight, but not slippery at all.
The salt hexagons are formed after the rain, when the liquid leaves the salt. Here people like to take funny photos with the perspective.
Our driver has obviously done this before, as he saw the others trying and took over.
He got some cool pictures of us all together.
Then we stopped at an island covered in cacti, and decided to walk around it, which took about 45 minutes, rather than pay 30 bolivianos to climb all over it.
It was strange as you could see that it must have been surrounded by water in the past.
It was much nicer than I was expecting; the walls, and the beds were made from blocks of salt. We had two rooms with three in each. We waited ages for dinner – chicken and chips (or another omelette), and went to bed before breakfast at 7am.
Flamingos have skinny legs with knees that bend the wrong way and the lakes had amazing colours.
We were supposed to stop at one restaurant by the flamingo lake for lunch, but most of the drivers refused to pay £4.50 to use a table inside, so we would sit outside.
It was so windy that our driver decided we’d wait until we got to the hostel, two hours away. This hostel was ‘more basic’ which meant it was freeeezing cold and had rooms of six.
I think at night it was -10. I still don’t understand why they’re not prepared for the cold. Cold countries usually have the warmest buildings, but this place was like sleeping in the garage.
Thin windows and no heating at all. After dinner, we went outside because we could see so many more stars, than in Hong Kong. It was amazing. But so cold! We went to bed, and I slept under my sleeping bag, a blanket, a duvet in my jumper, hoody and coat and I was freezing all night. Brr.
I’d been up and down mountains my whole trip, but this time we were at about 4,500-5,000m and I definitely felt dizzy and sick on the final day – altitude sickness! We visited a volcano which had steam blasting out.
The driver said be careful. It’s dangerous. But they were all running through it, of course.
Then we got to the hot springs. I had put my bikini on underneath, but I couldn’t even bring myself to take my coat off (it was still minus something) let alone get in the little pool of tourists who hadn’t showered in two days.
Then we rushed off to the border and said goodbye. I queued at immigration to get stamped out, using my Russian queue skills to stop the Italians pushing in, and then got in a nice minivan to Chile which went down, down, down the mountain making my poor ears pop. The driver was very merry, being more of a tour guide in one hour than France had been in three days. We got to a sign which said Argentina left or Chile right, and asked the bus which way we’d like to go. An hour later, we got to the Chilean immigration where we were stamped in and had our bags of stinky clothes thoroughly searched for food products.