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Friday, June 12, 2009

The Salar de Uyuni tour

3 days through mountains, deserts, altiplanic lagoons and salars. Three days of cold, extreme heat, bumpy roads, dust, no confort at all. Three days of astonishing landscapes, beautiful lagoons, gorgeous flamincos, and of creepy and funny salars. Three days that end in the biggest salar in the world, above 3000 m. The salt flats of Uyuni are just so white and big that all sunlight is reflected which causes the loss of horizon and causes mirages, like mountains floating or the feeling of being surrounded by water.

Three fantastic days. Great company, the 12 people distributed by 2 jeeps had a great time. This also made this hard journey easier. You never know what to expect when you enter a tour like this. It's not a tour for the normal tourist. Sleeping at 4800m in a unheated shelter, is not easy. Breathing is not easy at such altitude. The cold at night is extreme. Running, or exercising just forget it (although we managed to play some football in the salt flats, but it took me at least 30 min to recover my breath!). But I can tell you that I don't regret at all of having taken this trip. And I'm happy I did it from Chile and not the other way around, because like this the last thing in the trip is the salt flats, and that's the main attraction of the 3 days tour (it's 4 days if you want to go back to the starting point).

So in summary, the tour starts with a bus trip from San Pedro to the Bolivian border, where one meets our travel mates. 2 Brazilians, 1 french, 1 dutch, 1 american, 2 british guys and 2 couples, one german and one british were the 12 adventurers. At the Bolivian border we have breakfast and stamp our passport. A picture of Evo Morales, the populist Bolivian leader welcomes us in Bolivia. And then hop we go in our 4 WDs up the mountains. The first stop is at the Laguna Blanca, so called because of the Borax minerals that give it a white colour. The lagoon turns green and becomes Laguna Verde a few km ahead due to the accumulation of sulfates. We continued to the hot springs. This was a fantastic moment. The water was really really warm (much better than in the geisers del Tatio) and it felt great to enter the water and just relax 20 min before continuing the bumpy road. The geisers sol de mañana followed. I couldn't see a single geiser, just fumaroles, so this was kind of a disappointment. The Dali desert, so called because of a Dali painting that looks exactly the same, awaits everyone who passes, quietly without producing a single sound. It's a beautiful place. The final stop of the first day was the redish laguna colorada, full of red algae and home to three different species of flamincos. A beautiful place at over 4000 meters. Our shelter was not far away and we spent the time talking and playing cards and dice. It was a funny night where everyone got to know each other a bit more.

The second day starts with the laguna colorada, followed by the stone tree, an eroded rock that somehow resembles a tree. Around it there are more stones that people keep on climbing. I end up finding one that resembles a bird, or maybe it's just my imagination seing things in the middle of the desert. We proceed, visiting a few altiplanic lagoons, that are not as spectacular as the ones from the first day. There were also the coloured mountain and the Ollegue volcano on the route, before we pass through the first salar (and the train line that ends in Antofagasta). Our place for the night was the salt hotel, a peculiar place where all the walls are made of salt! We visited some mumies right next to it, once we arrived and then it was just time to relax, have a warm shower and wait for bed time to come! The big day was awaiting.

And finally the Salar de Uyuni comes. Big, huge, empty, white, imense, quiet and beatiful. All these feelings come to me as we enter the salar. I want to stop and take the funny pictures that I've seen from other people. The lack of an horizon produces very funny optical ilusions, specially when you take photographs. We stoped for an hour and acted like children with a new toy during that hour. The guides are probably so used to that that don't even bother to come out of the car. We next moved on to the IncaHuasi Island, an island in the middle of the salar, that is covered in cactus, the only thing that grows in this place. Some are over a 1000 years old! Impressive! As we are finishing lunch me and Clement see some bolivians playing with a ball. We run to join them and spend the next 30 min trying to run at 3000 meters. It was really funny. Football breaking barriers, as it should be! We are informed that the road blocks that had closed the access to Uyuni for the last few days, are over and continue our trip towards the city. Before being dropped off in the city center we visit the train cemetery, a strange place where a bunch of old locomotives are rottening in the sun.

And so it ended the trip in the lost city of Uyuni, a place that, appart from being the gateway to one of the most exquisite tours in the world, has little to offer even to the normal backpacker, that doesn't demand much. We spent the rest of the day trying to get some money (there's one ATM in town that doesn't always work), eating some decent food and trying to keep warm. We said goodbye to the brave ones who decided to leave immediately and try to relax in the cold rooms of this remote place, that doesn't have a single paved road connecting it anywhere else in the country. Tomorrow it is going to be a long journey to Sucre, via Potosi, but I want to relax at a lower altitude before continuing to explore south america and Bolivia. The last days have been amazing and full of different feelings and experiences. Lets hope it stays like this. :)

I would also like to recomend the Cordillera travel agency tour. I had heard really bad experiences from the salar tour. I think mine was quite OK. I don't know if it was from the tour operator, the company or what, so just be aware that these three or four days are not easy and no tour company offers a confortable upper class journey. I didn't have any complaints from these guys, but others have had. There are no tour operators without complains, so I believe it is luck that determines a good experience :)

RC
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3 comments:

Filha do Vento said...

Fantástica descrição.
Aguardamos com ansiedade a tua passagem pela bolívia.

cat said...

Hi, I've just read your salt flats blog post - it sounds like you had a great time! Your last comment about the fact that there are no tour companies without complaints certainly seems to be true - but some have more than others! I'm currently working on a salt flats tour provider ranking website. I'd really appreciate it if you could spare 2 minutes to fill in our review form for the salt flats tour you did so that other people booking can easily choose a tour company that's what they want. You'll find the form at www.triptiv.com/uyunisaltflats/submitreview . You can see our comparison pages at www.triptiv.com/uyunisaltflats . Thank you! Cat

Edgar Perlotti said...

Hey Portuga (no Brasil, todo português é Portuga :)) ).... a travessia pelo salar foi realmente incrível... agora às fotos! abraço