We met an awesome Belgium couple in Tilcara, told them about our upcoming tour from Tupiza to Uyuni and they decided to join us!
This worked out great for Daniel who was super sad about leaving behind his beloved buff in Tilcara. Mieke and Lukas saved the day (and a 3 hour return bus journey) by bringing it to Tupiza with them.
At 8am we meet our driver for the next 4 days. Ronal is a 20 year old Bolivian guy who only speaks Spanish and after hearing some horror stories, I am praying that he isn’t a hoon driver who is going to kill us. Thankfully he is a safe driver – the only downside is that his playlist consists of songs with the EXACT. SAME. BEAT. All you South American travellers out there know exactly what I’m talking about. He’s such a nice guy though and agrees to let us plug in different music. Anyway, back to our day. We ascend through Quebrada de Palapa to El Sillar with beautiful landscapes along the way. We get to a field of llamas and in my excitement, chase them all away. They must have sensed that I was hungry. We cross through Nazarenito mining areas, Chilcobija, Cerrillos, Polulos, Rio San Pablo and the colonial ruins of San Antonio Viejo until we reach the abandoned village of San Antonio de Lipez where we tuck in the for the night.
It’s a cold and early wake up at 6.30am for a pancake breakfast and to see more llamas. We visit Laguna Morejon, Laguna Hedionda Sur and Salar de Chalvri before heading to incredible hot springs where we get to bathe for the first time in 2 days. Nothing better than some hot springs when it’s freezing outside… until of course we have to get out.
We continue on through Laguna Verde and Laguna Blanca before stopping at Sol de Mañana geysers which are volcanic craters that smell like fart and are located at 5,000m above sea level. Cue fart photo.
We descend to Laguna Colorada (or Red Lagoon) which is shallow salt lake covering around 60 square kilometers and is home to the James, Chilean and Andean Flamingos. The James Flamingos were believed to be extinct in the 1950s but were reinstated when a small flock was spotted in South America. The lagoon’s colour is the result of red sediments within the lake and the pigmentation found in certain microorganisms which dwell in it, together with red algae. The lagoon is also speckled with large, white pools of Borax and surrounded by yellow rings of sulfur. Ronal tells us that the colour also changes with the weather and is usually more of a blood red colour.
Our hostel for the evening sits at nearly 4,400m so Daniel’s migraine is worsened by the altitude. It is also the coldest day of our lives so this doesn’t help. He throws up a couple of times that night and in our 5 layers of clothing, we huddle up on our single bed together and try to get some sleep.
It’s another early start at 5.30am and is even colder than yesterday! Our first stop is to the Soliloi desert to see Árbol de Piedra (stone tree), a rock formation standing at 7m high and is shaped by strong winds carrying sand and eroding the soft sandstone.
Our drive continues through Laguna Honda and Laguna Hedionda which very randomly has a hotel plonked right in front of it. It’s bizarre because this Laguna also smells like fart (or rather, like sulfur) so not really sure why anyone in their right mind would want to stay there. We then venture on to Laguna Negra which is more verde than negra and eat some pasta stealthily prepared by our cook who knows when but it’s hot, delicious and full of veggies.
We arrive in our salt hostel which has hot showers – praise Jesus! Lukas licks the wall and confirms that it is indeed made of salt. After 3 days of lagunas we’re all pretty pumped for the salt flats tomorrow!
It’s like Christmas morning and we’re all 6 year old kids anxiously awaiting to open our presents. We wake up a 4.30am and can’t wait to get going. We start driving and suddenly we’re out on the stretch of the salt flats and everything begins to disappear. Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flats at nearly 11,000 square kilometres. Around us is all white and it really is a breathtaking sight. Ronal tells us that it is better to stop to catch the sunrise without anyone else around. The slow sun rise lights the sky up whilst the moon decides to hang around, resulting in some pretty awesome photos (and captured on my iPhone mind you).
After sunrise, we make a quick breakfast stop at Incahuasi Island to see giant cacti before continuing out to the middle of the salt flats for an hour and a half of fun photos. Unfortunately we didn’t really plan for these photos so don’t have some decent props to play with and end up sticking to the violent style shots.
We stop for lunch in Colchani and go to our last stop, Cementerio de Trenes, a collection of historic steam locomotives and rail cars dating back to the 19th century.
We pull up into Uyuni and rush to see goodbye to Mieke and Lukas so that they can make their bus to Potosí. Determined to not stay in Uyuni for 6 hours, we hunt for a bus leaving ASAP and manage to find an 8 hour bus ride (which turns out to be 9.5 hours) heading to La Paz. We get on and after 4.5 hours get told to get off and switch buses. We end up on a bus with no air, windows that don’t open and no toilet. It takes every bit of strength, will and mind power to not pee my pants for the next 5 hours.