Warning: Very photo heavy – please don’t load me on mobile networks!
After Sucre, we headed south to a town called Uyuni, going back up another 900m in altitude from 2800m to 3700m. Uyuni itself is a extremely tiny town, full of expensive hostels and a dozen restaurants serving bad ‘Italian’ food to us tourists. I know the food isn’t Bolivia’s strong suit and they don’t have a thrilling cuisine, but seriously, not even one Bolivian or even Andes-region restaurant. Everything was ‘Italian’. The quotation marks are necessary, I promise you.
This tiny town was the jumping off point for the Salar de Uyuni trip, a three-day tour across the salt (salar) flats, over mountains and past many a lagoon and flamingo. It would also be our route into Chile. We aren’t the biggest fans of doing activities/tours with other people but it’s the only way to do this trip. Thankfully the people in our group were amicable which made this infinitely more enjoyable than our previous group trip, the Colca Canyon trek and our guide and jeep drivers were nice too, which is good because you basically have to rely on them to not kill you.
The first stop on the tour was just outside of town. A train graveyard, consisting of British trains the Bolivians had never wanted. It’s kind of a big metal playground, with sad, rusting train carcasses the apparatus. It felt like a steampunk-esque graveyard.
We hopped back into our jeeps and went to the edge of the salt flats. It’s drier here and there were piles that get dug up and left to dry out. The landscape looked very alien up ahead (a theme of this three day tour) and behind us very Mad Max-esque as we were being followed by a dust storm and lots of little dust tornadoes were being whipped up.
Back into the jeeps we went and a little further on our group got to bike ride across the salt flats to where we’d be having lunch. Riding across the salt flats was cool, it felt like being in a wasteland gang, but painful too. The ground was so bumpy it felt like my forearms were about to shatter. We stopped for lunch after our ride. On the tours, lunch is cooked by your drivers and we had a traditional Bolivian meal of llama, quinoa and some veggies. Llama wasn’t bad, a little bit tough but tasted fine, and as meals go in Bolivia this one actually wasn’t bad at all. It was much preferable to questionable Italian food anyway!
After lunch we took some photos on the flats. We wanted to try get a Christmassy themed one to send to family/friends and found a Santa in a little market in Uyuni but our idea kind of (definitely) failed. If you visit the salt flats during rainy season, you get an incredible mirror effect and I am slightly sad we didn’t get to experience it at it’s peak majesty, but it was still cool looking into endless nothing, though I actually appreciated this more at our next pitstop than our designated photo area. It’s quite cool playing around with editing the photos as you can make it look out-of-this-world with very little effort, a testament to just how infinite the landscape was. We moved on, still being slowly hunted by our dust storm!
Another jeep drive and we arrived at Isla Incahuasi, or what I’m going to refer to as Catcus Island because to describe it plainly: it was an island covered in cactuses. In the middle of the world’s largest salt flats. At 3600m+ altitude. The island was covered in coral-like rock as along with the salt flats, it was actually underneath a prehistoric lake that dried up 40,000 years ago.
The cactuses were HUGE. I put a photo of Jonny in next to one to give you a sense of the scale of them. When we were walking around the island with the sun blazing down and our focus on the island rather than outside, you almost forgot that it was in a sea of salt. The contrast was a total mind-fuck, in a great way. We then scooted over to a cave, formed of the same coral-like rock that would also have been underwater in prehistory. Maybe it once being underwater is what made this place feel so extra-terrestrial.
Our day ended on the flats, waiting for the sun to set. This is hands-down the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen. Revisiting these photos was quite a treat. It took it’s time, turning the sky to the sides of us beautiful pastel colours. The main sunset seemed to be a beautiful but nothing out of the ordinary until the last slither was hidden from view and the sky turned colours I didn’t think were possible in a sunset.
Now this was when the sky took the turn from a VERY PRETTY sunset to an OH MY GOD THE SKY IS BLOWING MY MIND sunset. The sky glowed yellow and orange against deep purple and a slither of bright moon cut a shape in the sky. It was fairly cold by this point, but I was too busy marvelling at the sky to notice.
Once dark, we didn’t see too many stars and then we got swept up into the dust storm that had been following us all day, so we headed off to our accommodation for the night.
I don’t want this post to become a full 12 page feature length magazine article, so I’ll put day 2 and 3 of the tour into another post – expect flamingos!