The Bolivian desert crossing and the salt flats
This deserved a post all on it’s own!
We left San Pedro in high spirits but in no better weather. We arrived at the Chilean side of the border crossing in the town to stamp out only to find that the office was closed as they had gone to the Bolivian border to check the weather… A little wait later though and we were out of Chile and on the road to the Bolivian border. Promises of beautiful scenery of the Atacama desert were to be broken that day as we basically drove through a cloud to get there. Vision was reduced to maybe 10 metres at best!
Getting into Bolivia was far easier than to Chile. A quick stamp and a check that you’re not American and you’re in! The 4×4 cars arranged by G Adventures were waiting for us, so as soon as our bags were loaded we bundled into the cars and were off.
This part of the drive took us to the white lagoon, green lagoon and red lagoon, past geysers and up to an altitude of 5000 metres. The weather was not good to say the least! Rain, wind, snow- we had it all!!! We stopped in several places for quick photo ops and had lunch next to a hot spring- we didn’t get in though because it was freezing outside!
The high altitude had a strong soporific effect on me as it normally does and I slept through a lot of the 7-8 hour drive today. (Fell asleep/ fell unconscious- it’s hard to tell which…).
That evening we arrived at the Stinky Lagoon, named as such because do the high sulphur content. The lagoon was full of flamingoes against a beautiful mountain backdrop.
We stayed at a small lodge/ hostel next to the lagoon. This was to be the first of two nights of very basic accommodation. We were in a small room of four beds- we were sharing with a couple of the other girls- piled high with fleece blankets with a couple of picture windows looking onto the lagoon. The only surprise (which was both good and bad) was the indoor ensuite bathroom. The good news was that we had one. The bad was that the toilet was a long drop! You can imagine the accompanying smell…
The heavy rain and general bad weather over the previous few days meant a deviation in our route to the flats. Instead of heading to the salt hotel further north, we were to do 3 hour stint east to Alota, our next overnight stop.
Today was all about the rock formations…
If I remember correctly, these rocks were part of the lava flow from the surrounding volcanoes from many, many years ago. The weird shapes of the rocks are due to the kind of erosion they get from the crazy weather over that time.
So Alota is apparently a reasonable size town on the altiplano. There were lots of single storey mud brick buildings but seemingly no people… It was a little odd. We stayed in a very basic hostel(?) where they managed to squeeze in more than 30 people (with only 3 toilets) as another G tour group going in the other direction met us that night.
You really can’t complain about the accommodation out here. There’s literally nowhere else to go! You should just be grateful there’s a bed and warm blankets available for you!
On the morning drive to Uyuni, we stopped at a train cemetery. This was a small area where old trains were basically dumped out there when they fell out of use and no one could be bothered to do anything with them since… Made a cool backdrop for some photos though!
A quick pit stop at the hotel in Uyuni, which thankfully meant we were back in civilisation, gave us 10 minutes to freshen up before heading back in the cars and off to Salar de Uyuni AKA the salt flats!
Now, we knew the weather on the flats had been bad. The group we met in Alota were making a lot of noise about the rain whilst they visited so we went with low expectations. The flats were covered in water (which we expected) and a weird foam (which we didn’t) but it still made for beautiful scenery though not the typical one you see there.
The drivers, after much deliberation, allowed us to clamber onto the roofs of the cars whilst they drove slowly into the water logged flats. The depth of the water meant we couldn’t go as far in as we’d have liked as the saltwater can damage the cars so we got off the cars a reasonable distance from the edge of the flats to take pictures and to wait for the sunset.
We managed to get in a few perspective shots but they definitely weren’t as good as they would’ve been if the flats were dry (sad times) though I think at the time we were just grateful the sun was shining on us!
After the sun went down we drove back to Uyuni to order pizza and have a night in. It was all going to plan until the lights cut out just as the delivery man came… The power cuts we due to nearby storms. The lightning was visible from there and it’s quite common for power shortages to occur. At least the hot water was working- managed to have a shower in the dark!
So whilst we loved the experience we had on the desert crossing, I’m pretty sure we will never ever ever ever do that again… It’s the altitude!!! It definitely doesn’t agree with me. I’d like the experience the salt flats again when it’s dry or at leath froth free but that might not be for a while….