Day 6 – Salt Flats, Uyuni

30 Mar

Salt, salt and more salt.

We had another early morning start. Leaving at 7am, there was ice in the river and and they needed to scrape the ice from the inside of the windscreens. I was in the lead vehicle this morning with our guide, Dieter and driver Heime.

We started on our way, and were soon taking off layers as the day warmed up.

A few photos of the ostrich-like Rea and we stopped at very interesting large rock formations. Judy kept on thinking that they looked like “willies”. She was quite determined to find one, although she did admit to not having seen one in a while.

We were also introduced to a slow growing bright green rock hard broccoli like plant that they used to use for fuel. As it only grows at 1-2cm a year, it is now a protected species.

We passed fields of quinoa (almost ready to be harvested) and lots of grazing llamas.

We were offered a toilet stop behind a wall, next to the llamas, and a surprising number of people accepted! Perhaps it was the view, or desperation.

We took a detour along a river, and then had to use a “shortcut”, utilising all the facilities of the 4WD to get us out again. Yes, it was a man driving. Say no more.

We arrived in San Augustin and had a welcome break next to the bandstand, sunflowers and statute of a previous Bolivian president (that looked like Kim Jung Il) while Dieter tried to explain the Pacific War to us. Basically Chile is the baddie and the British helped.

An hour later, we were in an almost deserted mining town, called Julaca, with train tracks running through. The streetlights were on, but no one was there. Well, only a few anyway. Some of the group decided to investigate the out of town graveyard. Strangely morbid. Also found some copper sulphate lying about.

Moving on to the main event of the day, we drove around the southern parts of the salt flats, which we could see were partially submerged by the recent rains.

We drove on a causeway across the salt and then turned right onto the salt itself. We reached the end of the road when the road became water. We were at the most amazing scene I have truly ever seen, with reflections of the neighbouring mountains and islands being shown in the water covering the salt.

Having been told that the island we were aiming for may not be accessible we were thinking that we were about to turn around and do an alternative option, but no. The vehicles started out into the water, with no obvious road or indication that we wouldn’t drown. Thankfully it was only ankle deep and we drove through the most amazing world of water on salt. Eventually the water disappeared and we were driving on salt which was too bright to look at without sunglasses.

We stopped to examine the ice and for a group photo. Several photos defying perspective were also taken. We continued for 60km to an island in the centre of the salt flats (which are 3 times the size of Belgium) – Incahausi.

This island contains a lot of cactii and after lunch we climbed to the top of the island to see all of the salt, and lots of cactii. We also saw a rabbit and some poisonous wild orchids. Some of the cactii were more than 900 years old as they grow at a very slow rate.

Leaving the island, we drove for another 100km stopping only to plunge our hands into ice cold salt water to break off large salt crystals from underneath the surface.

Driving to the previous ice hotel, which is now a museum, proved am interesting stop if you were interested in smelly overpriced toilets and Bolivian tat.

We also saw some salt water springs where the water was cold – local farmers use this to bathe for the mineral content. The water comes from underground streams.

Salt was drying in large pyramids on the salt flats, next to the nearest town of Colchani, where we stopped to see how the salt is processed.  Also managed to find both Bolivian flags and a fridge magnet (made out of salt).

Arrived at the new salt hotel just before sunset. The entire hotel is made from salt, which makes it difficult to walk from the ensuite bathroom to the bed without crunching salt gravel.

Spoke with Rob from Kentucky before getting my wifi fix and dealing with the after sun, which is particularly needed today. Apparently I should be applying the sun lotion every hour, due to the altitude. Once a day isn’t enough then!

Buffet tea on Good Friday was chicken or beef, washed down with the local spirit – Cinjani and lemonade (Chuflay).

Tried out the hotel hammock, before deciding that more moisturising was required. Have spent the last hour trying to get the shower to stop dripping. Another early morning tomorrow!

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