The vast majority of my trip will involve lengthy bus rides of 4 hours at a minimum and with 8 to 12 hours not uncommon. A 6 hour bus ride brought us from Potosi to Uyuni - a small town which has become the tourist hub for tours to the Salar de Uyuni. After securing a room for three in a cheap hostel, we commenced to inquire around at what appeared to be the most economical tour agencies knowing the range in prices for basically the same tour was vast. A food intermission was in order and presented with tourist priced food and street food of hamburgers, salchipappas (sausages on French fries, I ended up with an egg sandwich (a hamburger minus the hamburger) and an empanada. Having decided upon our tour, we returned to our room to get the rest of the money and went to secure our spots with the trip.
The next morning we were departing at 11 am, giving us more than enough time to
eat street food of a fried bread (bunuelo) and cafe con leche, as well as pick up some snacks for the route (of which are some incredibly cheap cookies that I am just now finishing several weeks later)
The tour group consisted of 6 people in a 4 wheel drive, led by a disgruntled guide who is in need of a change of jobs (he does the 3 day tour two times a week and his displeasure shows). Our group consisted of people from Spain, France, Germany, Ecuador, Argentina and the US. Some of us knew English and our levels of Spanish all varied, thus our conversation was 98% in Spanish.
The first stop was at an old train yard not far from Uyuni center. There was an abundance of rusty, old trains and I kept thinking how wonderful it would be to do a photo session at the site.
Then we toured to a tourist spot with clothing and gifts made of salt to buy. (Or to not buy in my case).
And onwards we wet through dry dirt, until we got to the first sight of the Salar and we were presented with the view of an abundance of white ground. There were heaps of salt in some regions and primarily dry salt everywhere. We drove over this vastness of white and reached a salt hotel (a hotel made of salt) surrounded by nothing but white ground, and tourist groups. This is where we stopped to walk around as a lunch of quinoa, pork, egg frittatas, vegetables and potatoes was prepared. People jumped and made strange poses for photos all over the place, and Daniel, Vale and I strayed away and decided a couple of nude photos were absolutely necessary, so in a flash we tore off our clothing and took a few photos before returning to the group.
The theme of the trip truly was driving,but the view as we drove from this stopping ground to an island where we would stay for the night was absolutely stunningly white and beautiful. We went near the end of rain season which meant there was too much water to get to one of the spots, but could at least traverse to this island for the night. Most of the tour groups continued back to Uyuni and were taking a different route, but we had requested a route which didn't include that return, thus at this point our route was away from other vehicles. At one point the driver stopped so we could step outside for photos as the salt was a wet lake of about knee deep height with nothing but salt and sky in one direction and salt and mountains in the other. There was an area with hardened and dry salt that initially we stood on. The driver decided to drive to the hotel to prepare and told us he would return in an hour and a half. So there we were in the middle of this Salar, four of us with our shoes besides us and two without. And we had an over abundance of time and beauty at our disposal. Four of us decided to take advantage of this situation, peeled off our clothes and we experimented with a session of photos with 2 guys and 2 girls. The two who were more modest documented this all. I am not too certain what we would have done had me not been liberal enough to do these photos, but it was absolutely entertaining and I know some are rather visually pleasing. I did not have the opportunity to get photos on my own, so until I get back these photos, there is no proof. After some time, we started to walk towards the island and with chaffed and red feet and legs, we were finally picked up by the driver.
The hotel we were staying at was a salt hotel with salt on the floors and walls,z after a quick tea, a few of us trekked up the mountain behind the hotel, marveling at the cacti, rocks, fading sun, and of course the vastness of salt reflecting the sunset. Once back on ground and on the path, we encountered a woman who had been out searching for a specific cactus fruit and she shared a taste of a rich cactus fruit black in color and with sweet morsels of seeds that I had never tasted before. Dinner was vegetable soup and fried chicken and fries, much like many of the Bolivian meals. After dinner we shared singani and sprite (singani is a traditional spirit of Bolivia, made from grapes and strong and sweet) and gazed at stars.
On the morning of Day 2 we woke at about 5 am to watch the sunrise before breakfast of bread, coffee and tea, and heading out. That day consisted of several hours of driving, then a pause of 15 or so minutes to view a specific sight. We saw flamingos, lakes, rock formations, a rock in the form of a tree and a vastness of diet and mountains. Near the end of the day we reached an area where we had to pay park admission for much of what we had seen, and there we saw a huge, red lake which got its color from phytoplankton or something of that sort (I truly would remember details better if I wrote more up to date, but I don't...).
The hotel for that night was sparse without running water or electricity aside from a lamp in each room, thin blankets and cold during the night. We had arrived at 5 pm and had hours at our disposals so we played cards until time for dinner and to pull out our overpriced wine we had brought. With our pasta dinner we were also given a bottle of wine and all were in good spirits.
The next day we were due to leave around 4 am to see geysers and drive to a natural hot springs for breakfast and a short soak in warm water. By the previous day I had decided to take the opportunity to visit San Pedro de Atacama in Chile since Daniel was headed there and I could easily cross the border to see this area, then return back to Bolivia to head north, so after our time in the hot springs, I transferred my belongings to another car and by 9 am was on my way to the Bolivian and Chile border.
In my mind this was more of a two day trip, rather than a three day tour, seeing as I was part of the tour for 48 hours, but semantics will be semantics. The area is absolutely spectacular, and having such a good group to travel with and those few hours in the middle of the Salar without a car in sight made the trip amazing.