Saturday, 18 February 2012

Salar de Uyuni tour : The Good, the Bad and the Stomach Problems

Let’s start with the good. Our three day tour of the Salar de Uyuni salt flats and the desolate Southeast corner of Bolivia allowed us to see and experience some startlingly beautiful natural wonders. The Salar itself takes the prize for the most mind-blowing thing I’ve ever seen (apart from Vincent doing the Carlton dance). 

In dry weather, the flats are an expanse of blinding white salt that extends to the horizon in every direction. During the rainy season, which was in full force during our trip, the salt was covered with about six inches of clear water, turning the flat into a veritable mirror and reflecting the sky so perfectly that you literally did could not ascertain where the earth ended and the heavens began. Don’t believe me?
In every direction we looked were eerie, dream-like reflections; it felt like we were on drugs (without the physically destructive side effects, of course…). 
The landscape was so unique that we couldn’t help taking loads of pictures, making use of the surreal surroundings. It was simply magical.

Decidedly less magical was that evening, when one of the tour meals of chicken and rice (always f-cking chicken and rice) gave me a nasty bout of food poisoning that kept me awake the entire night. The next morning, I begged Vincent to negotiate with the tour agency to let me recover in the hostel that day and continue the tour with another group the next. Unfortunately, the village we were staying in had lost all electricity in a storm three days earlier and there were fuel shortages that barred new tours from starting. We would have had to wait three more days in a tiny desert shit-hole without electricity before maybe having the opportunity to hitch a ride out of there. Needless to say, I dragged my sick, sorry rear-end out of bed and into the jeep for the second day’s tour.

Which proved to be a disaster. It had poured down rain the night before and the dirt road we were taking was a slippery mud pit. About an hour and a half into our journey, the other jeep in our group slid right off the road into a muddy ditch. The drivers and guides, in all of their Bolivian wisdom and planning, did not have anything to get the jeep out: not a rope, not any wood planks, not a knife, not even a working cell phone. We were stuck. And then it started to rain again.
Three hours of waiting on the side of a nearly deserted muddy road in the cold rain, one makeshift rope constructed from a seatbelt (which was cut using a knife borrowed from one of the tourists), and one flooded engine later, we finally managed to pull the jeep out. You should have seen it, the crew was celebrating like they had won the Olympics, without any recognition or remorse that they had gotten us in that situation so woefully unprepared in the first place.

As we were three hours behind schedule, the driver flew through each remaining site like we were being chased, allowing us just enough time to jump out of the cars into the cold driving rain, take pictures, pretend like we didn’t hate life, and then jump back into the car in our wet, muddy clothes. This went on for seven hours, until finally, thankfully, we arrived at our lodge, which was essentially a concrete bunker. But at that point, we were so happy to be out of those damn jeeps that our basic lodging seemed positively luxurious. 

The next day was an early wake-up call to see some geysers at 5,000 meters (16,400 ft) and then move onto some hot springs where we were able to soak away our annoyance of the previous day. 
We then drove through some more striking landscapes before our jeep dropped us off on the Chilean border to meet the bus that would take us across the border to the Northern desert town of San Pedro de Atacama.

Despite the rain and rush of the second two days, we did see some breathtaking views: colorful high-altitude lagunas, teeming with pink flamingos; towering boulders shaped into unearthly forms by the wind; 6,000 meter high volcanos whose snow-capped peaks struck an unexpected contrast against the desert sands; seemingly water-colored mountain slopes, painted green, orange, pink, blue, yellow with mineral deposits. Every new sight was not only unlike anything we had ever seen, but was also completely unlike those that came before and after it, like the region was just a series of individual natural wonders with no relation to each other.
When our tour finally ended at the Chilean border, we were hit with the realization that we were leaving Bolivia for the last time. While we loved our month in the country, the last two days of experiencing Bolivia’s special relationship with logic and initiative helped ready us to move on to more advanced countries. Just the sight of a smooth, paved, lined Chilean road across the border was enough to have us practically skipping into border patrol to get our exit stamps. Helloooo Chile!


  1. Great photos! Sounds like quite the adventure! Hope you're recovered now.

  2. Nice to do some cach-up reading!lad to hear some sights are even more mind-blowin than vincent's carlton-dance,haha! So not too many FYB-moments or ketchup tricks and survived the 'toughest' country?good for you!!!

  3. Ps,how did you guys add the photo-album to yourblog,??

  4. Quelle angoisse le voyage en jeep en plus surtout que tu etais malade!!! mais quelles photos fantastique et encore j'imagine qu'en realite ca doit ne sais pas si les mots existent mais la maniere dont tu le decris nous permet de bien imaginer!

    Merci et surtout TAKE CARE!

    Gros bisous