So this edition starts on April 18 – today is June 6th – so I guess I’m getting closer right? Even though every single day has been jam packed …. well, we’ll see where we get on this one.
We left Cusco the morning after I came back from the jungle trip. I was drained but it was time to fly to Bolivia. I posted a few pics from the salt flats earlier but let me explain it a bit more. There’s a huge desert at incredibly high elevation (we were at 12,000 to 14,000 feet). A giant part of it is made entirely of salt and it has become a huge tourist attraction. The jumpoff town is a place called Uyuni and it’s a really strange place. It’s completely desolate and it looks like I would imagine the wild west of the US would have been like – except with cars.
The tour that all of the tour-ists (ourselves among these) comes to this place for is 3 days of driving across barren, empty but beautiful desert – but before we went on the trip we made plans to stay in a hotel that is made out of salt – literally. I needed a rest and this place was perfect. It was absolutely gorgeous and absolutely in the middle of nothing. Check it out:
The hotel was about 12 miles from the tiny town and it was on the edge of 100+ miles of salt, flat desert. There was nothing around and I went out and walked about 1/4 a mile away and I experienced I am pretty sure the most absolute silence I have ever experienced. There was no wind and nothing to move. There was dead, outer space silence. In a forest things move, the wind blows, etc. In deserts in California it seems the same – usually it’s the wind I guess – or distant cars – or something. This was nothing. It was cool and weird at the same time.
We stayed there for two nights – it was really cool but we were then off on the tour. It was myself, another guy named Adam and I think 10 young female traveler with 2 guides all packed into Toyota land cruisers set to drive through the desert and see strange surroundings, have a lot of laughs, take a lot of pictures and …. drove, and drove, and drove. No roads to speak of – for 3 days straight. It started out in a train graveyard. Rail transit of raw materials was a big deal in this area at the turn of last century. Not so much any more but the train graveyard is still here.
Next up was the actual salt flats. First they showed us where the locals rake up salt into piles, let it dry, bag it and sell it. Really. This is where your salt comes from. (if you’re lucky that is)
After that came the cool part where we took the fun pictures – I already posted the pictures from the part of the desert where you can create optical illusions in photos – check that blog to see more – here’s a reminder 🙂
The next stop on the tour was a mind blowing illusion – but it was real. You see, the whole desert was once covered in water – and – there’s still an island in the middle of it. A literal island – in the middle of a hundred miles of salt. The island is populated with cactus and when you are walking on the island it feels as if the salt desert is an ocean around you. Check it out:
After several hours of driving we sadly reached the edge of the actual salt flat and got back to civilization (or something like that). We unloaded at another building made of salt although this one wasn’t quite as 5 star it was lots of fun with our new friends and the scenery was phenomenal. A killer sunset was followed by epic stars and a night photo shoot with myself and Adam who is a photo geek as well. Oh yeah – there was an abandoned truck and a cross there too… Here’s some of the results:
And here was dinner at the not-quite 5 star but still really great – salt hotel:
We woke up the next morning really early – I can’t remember – I think it was like 6AM – or maybe 5AM – and we drove. A lot. I love driving and I loved this but we drove a lot. And then we drove some more. We saw great llamas:
Here’s a picture of our guide Rolando with the guy that owns those llamas. Rolando was a trip. I got to know Rolando pretty well and I don’t think that I can do justice to anything that he told me about the person that he is. This picture says a lot – but it also doesn’t even scratch the surface. I can say that every single one of us was happy to have Rolando as a guide and that we saw many other people on the same tour and no one had a guide like him.
We stopped at a small town in the middle of this nowhere land desert that day to buy some supplies. Here’s a picture of a woman who lived there. This is what a lot of the women in Bolivia look like, dress like, live like. This was legit.
We also saw a lot of these Vicunas – wild relatives of Llamas that don’t survive when people historically tried to domesticate them!
After another couple of hours we found ourselves … in the middle of nowhere, racing a train that was racing across the desert.
We were at about 14,000 feet. At this altitude it’s really obvious how hard it is to breath. If you move faster than a walk you start to breath in a way that you just aren’t used to. Even though we had been at elevation in Peru and had done lots of hiking this was still .. different. I can’t imagine for people who didn’t get themselves aclimated. Anyhow, here were some pics from that part of the trip:
I feel like this is getting to be long – but it was a long trip. Maybe I will complete the words for the rest of this day and then add the pictures – because we drove across Bolivia for 12 hours that day – or close. We stopped at places – but we toured for 10 hours. We saw all of the following: lagoons in the mountains with flamingos; an active volcano; weird rock formations; lots of wild llama-related animals called vicunas (they were everywhere); a wifi sign in a crazy remote place; foxes running the desert; mountains with 7 colors of minerals; landscapes that looked like mars; absolutely insane guys riding touring bicycles through this wasteland; rock trees; giant rock lizards; chinchillas; geo-thermal geysers; more lakes made of poisonous materials, again with flamingos …. and … I’m missing stuff but maybe you get the point. Here are some photo highlights:
The last bit of the day was a visit to a geothermal area. If you’ve never been to one of these just think of steam that smells of rotten eggs coming out of deep pits and a bit of heat and you’re there! This one had the additional feature of being absolutely in the middle of nowhere. Nada, nothing, just rocks for miles.
Finally that night we arrived at a place with an amazing hot spring fed pool that didn’t smell at all – we sat under the night stars and it was wonderful. Sadly, it turned not so wonderful and we had a strange encounter with a fake cop and some other locals who were drunk as hell and wanted to hang out with the girls. Thankfully nothing really bad happened but let’s just say it was not the best end to a great day. No pictures available.
The next day it was all over within a couple of hours. We saw the sun rise, they drove us to the border of Chile, dropped us with tickets to get on a bus to Chile and it was done – just memories and photos at this point – but great ones on both counts.
For the last photos here’s the border of Chile and Bolivia – like something again – out of a western movie – and just like I would expect at the end of this long voyage ….
It was a whole lot in 3 days. I’m leaving it as a standalone blog post – won’t try to add more to this. Next stop Chile!! See you next time.