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Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Salar de Uyuni was the main reason why we visited Bolivia. I only learned about it through Milesglu’s excellent trip report and Ying was sold immediately after I told her about its existence.
Our tour operator Red Planet Expedition had arranged a taxi to meet our flight (30 BOB) but its office wouldn’t be opened until 8am. The taxi driver dropped us outside a cafe where we would spend the next hour or so. I noticed quite a few familiar faces from the flight.
Breakfast (35 BOB for both of us)
After breakfast, we made our way back to Red Planet’s office.
Weird sculpture in Uyuni
Red Planet’s office
We paid the tour fee (1200 BOB each) and were told by the staff that the tour would leave at around 10am. We had the option to explore the town but chose to stay indoors due to the low temperature outside.
Ying getting some warmth
Ying managed to entertain herself by playing with the staff’s daughter.
When the temperature became more bearable, Ying and I went out to pick up some supplies at the supermercado. By then more tour participants had arrived and the office was getting packed. Those who traveled by bus had an interesting tale to share; there was a blockade and the bus couldn’t be driven into the town. The passengers had to trek around 15 minutes to reach the office. Our decision to fly was vindicated.
At the end of the tour, the tour participants could either choose to travel on to Chile or return to Uyuni. For those returning to Uyuni, they could store their bags at the office. We were traveling on to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile so our bags got up to the top of the vehicle instead.
Preparing the vehicle
There would be a total of seven of us in our jeep. I would get to know them better over the next couple of days.
- Ever, our Bolivian guide/driver
- Babar, Lucknowi chemical engineer based in Houston (who used to work in Singapore)
- Sanaa, Babar’s Mumbaikar other half who’s moving to Detroit
- Kelli, American graduate student in Rio de Janeiro
- Johannes, German graduate student from Munich
- Yours truly
Ever hard at work
The first stop of every tour was the train graveyard located just outside Uyuni.
There used to be a railroad which connected the silver mines in Potosi to the Chilean port of Antofagasta but it was no longer in use. The locomotives were all rusting in Bolivian altiplano now.
Of course there were obligatory tourist pictures.
Trying to break Olympic record
Standing on the tracks
The next stop was Colchani, an hour or so away. We passed through Uyuni again and got chased by wild dogs just outside of it.
Outside of Uyuni
We also saw vicuñas
Crazy gringos cycling through the inhospitable terrain
We were given a tour of the salt-refining process at Colchani before settling down for lunch.
Colchani – the buildings were made of salt
Ever explaning how salt was processed
Local man demonstrating how to seal the packet of salt with open flame
The man would take a long time to pack this hill into packets
While Ever went to prepare the food with the other guides, we spent some time wandering around.
Wares for sale
The cyclists had caught up with us – respect!
Honestly we were blown away by the quality of our lunch. There were pasta, potatos, chicken and we even had cupcakes for dessert. The food turned out to be consistently good throughout the entire tour.
Pretty awesome lunch
Minutes away from Colchani was the beginning of the salt flats. We stopped at the mounds of salt where tourists would stop for photographs.
Entering Salar de Uyuni
Checking the salt out
Kungfu panda impersonation
One leg standing
Driving through the salt flats
The next stop was the abandoned salt hotel. There was a giant Dakar Rally logo made of salt that was built to commemorate the event which took place in January 2014.
No Singapore though
The next part of the tour would be pretty fun; we could do all the funny pictures that all tourists would take.
Apparently there was a sandstorm not too long ago and the entire salt flat was covered in sand. Hence the colour of the salt seemed a bit off.
More brown than white
Ever helped us take some group photos before letting us to experiment ourselves.
Chased by dinosaur
Holding hands with Patrick
The making of the following picture:-
Ying balancing on my head
The final stop of the day was at Isla Incahuasi, a former island in the middle of Salar de Uyuni. It was famous for the giant cacti which grew on it. There was an entrance fee of 30 BOB and we spent around half an hour exploring the place.
Lots of cacti
Give us a wave please
Salar de Uyuni from Isla Incahuasi
Salar de Uyuni from Isla Incahuasi
We were rotated to the rear of the jeep and it was really tight. All of us would take turns sitting there.
We would reach our accommodation for the night shortly before dark. Ying and I shared our room with two other tour participants.
My bed for the night
There was an attached toilet in our room but the showers (10 BOB) were outside. Both of us would utilise it and Ying was shivering after that.
The rest of the evening were spent chit-chatting over meals (tea and then dinner) before we turned in for the night.
The thermal sleeping bag from Red Planet worked well and I had a relatively comfortable sleep. We were also introduced to dulce de leche, a ubiquitous South American confectionary.
Accommodation for the first night (taken next morning)
Poster for Dakar Rally
The scenery was different from the previous day’s.
A view point overlooking Ollagüe volcano was our first stop of the day.
Playing with filter
Jeeps all parked
The guides suggested that we had an early lunch because the original location would be too windy. Lunch was awesome as usual and we had new friends who joined us.
Rocky outcrop where we had our lunch
Lunch – chicken and pasta
The next stop was Laguna Canapa, the original place for lunch. It was indeed too windy.
Like out of a painting
Another lake: Laguna Hedionda or smelly lake.
Patrick’s happy to see other pink animals
Out of this world
There was a hotel near the lake and there was even an advertisement for WiFi. I recalled that the fee to use the toilet was exorbitantly expensive.
WiFi in the middle of nowhere
No idea what’s what
Giant Bolivian flag
We were back on our way through the desert and even saw a furry friend.
Snow from two weeks earlier
Like a painting
Árbol de Piedra or Stone Tree was our next stop.
Tree with no leaves
Back on the road
After more time on the road, we would reach Laguna Colorada, where the entrance to Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve was located.
Patrick excited as usual
The white stuff on the surface was borax
Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve
View point of the lake
Inside the building were some information on the flora and fauna of the region.
We had seen some of the animals
After enough photos, we were driven to the park office when we would pay the entrance fee of 150 BOB to the nature reserve. We were also asked to indicate if we would be moving on to Chile or returning via the same way.
With the sun low, Ever informed us that we would be visiting the geysers before going to our accommodation for the night. The geyser wasn’t much to see though.
Somehow I didn’t manage to take any photographs of our second night’s accommodation. I did take a picture of the sunset outside the accommodation.
There was a hot spring outside the accommodation and Ying and I went to check it out before dinner. There was this guy of African descent already in the hot spring and he joked that he would have to charge us 10 Bolivianos before we could go in. Funny.
Ever suggested that we could go to the hot spring after dinner and we did just that. It was amazing dipping inside the hot springs while looking at the stars. Definitely one of the most surreal experience that we ever had. The wind was really brutal though when we were getting out.
The accommodation on second night was newer but there was no water in the toilet and was pretty disgusting to use. The six of us shared a room and Ying complained that it got stuffy in the middle of the night. It wasn’t so bad though since the next day would be a short one.
It was really cold the next day and there were stops where all of us were fine with taking pictures from the car.
Salvador Dali Desert
Mountains in the background
The final stop of the whole tour was Laguna Verde, with Licancabur in the background. Apparently it was very toxic with lots of chemicals in the water.
Enthusiastic despite the early hours
Covered with chemicals
It was a short drive to the Bolivian border post. We bid farewell to Babar and Sanaa who were returning to Uyuni with Ever.
Both Johannes and Kelli had gotten their exit stamps at Uyuni; we hadn’t and needed to go to the building to get them. There was a stamping fee of 15 BOB and it caught the tourists in front of us by surprise.
Sign indicating it’s Chile
There were no toilet facilities at the area and we would need to do our business in the open. Just as we were done with it, the buses from Chile had arrived. The price of the ticket was included in our tour fees and we were soon on our way.
Bus to Chile
The facilitator informed us in Spanish about the Chile’s customs requirements; apparently one couldn’t bring in agricultural products and drugs into Chile. He told us that if we had any, we would have an hour to consume these items before reaching the Chilean customs.
Referring to where the governments were leaning?
There was a world of difference between Bolivian and Chilean roads. After two days of bumpy Bolivian tracks, we were all happy with awesome Chilean tarmac. I saw quite a few Paraguayan trucks which were transporting cars from Chile’s Pacific ports to Paraguay.
Paraguayan trucks transporting cars
An hour later we would reach San Pedro de Atacama, our only stop in Chile.
San Pedro de Atacama
The tour with Red Planet was pretty awesome. Ever was a reliable driver and a great guide and at no time I felt unsafe. While the accommodation was pretty basic, the food on the other hand was really good. The sights were amazing and I was really glad that I managed to see them with my own eyes.