(BTW: this post has some cool videos, so best to look at on computer rather than mobile device I reckon)
The next stop for us after La Paz was to go down south to the salt flats in Uyuni:
I’ve seen lots of pictures of these salt flats before we went there and even though I had heard nothing but rave reviews from anyone who had been there, obviously I’m still always skeptical of what it would really be like. But as you will soon see, this area was absolutely incredible. Never have I ever been so taken back by a landscape before. It was an awesome place to visit and see with your own eyes for sure.
Even from the plane, I thought I was just seeing more clouds, but no – it was the salt flats beginning and the white extending out until the horizon. (Btw it was soooo much better to fly there – 45min direct, rather than a 12hr bus)
First things first…pizza! And because the owner was an American dude, he had a cool salad bar option too which we loved. Great to have salad. Got to try some spicy llama pesto pizza too which was nice.
We started our three day/two night tour into the bolivian wilderness the next morning.
Just outside the town of Uyuni is this train cemetery, which I was skeptical about visiting at first because how exciting can train junk be? But actually turned out to be a cool place to explore.
Now for the best part of all – the actual salt flats. It had rained that morning so our first stop was a bit soggy, but it made it nice to walk around barefoot – but of a salty pedicure and foot massage.
We stopped at a nearby town where they actually process the salt into a saleable item – they have to process thousands of kilos a day or something in order to even make any money from it, since it is such a cheap commodity. Pretty hard living I reckon.
Next was the first (and now illegal) salt hotel that was built in 1983. They are built out of bricks of salt and looks kind of cool, but they are very damaging on the ecosystem, so they banned them from building more of the same on the actual salt flats themselves. Later that night we did stay in a different salt hotel but it was not on the flat itself, so it is fine we were told.
Emily getting in the Malaysia representation there, with the bolivian and awesome bolivian version of the Incan flag there.
Driving over the salt flats was such a cool experience – I had no idea how expansive the salt flats would be. It was mesmerising.
The salt flats originated from the remains of ancient lakes that were in the area, and soon enough we hit upon one of the islands that used to be amongst the lake. It was called Incahuasi (inca house) and walking to the top of it gave us a great vantage point across the whole salt flats area.
It is also covered in thousands of years old cacti which was also pretty cool.
Now for the fun stuff! We only had a few hours to play around with the perspective thing here so we just ran around trying a few things here and there, some of them working out better than others. I sort of didn’t really get why these perspective photos are a thing out here on the salt flats before I got here – but being out there you totally get it. It’s literally that there is nothing between you and the horizon to disrupt line of sight and the land and horizon just merge into one. I don’ know…actually it’s still hard to explain, but it just works for whatever reason.
Our guide was a total pro (it’s like he had done this before or something)….and he directed us all into making this cool video. Check it out:
My favourite picture of them all for sure:
You had to really get down and lie on the salt to get these perspective shots, and I couldn’t get these salt stains out for the next few days. Oh well. Totally worth it.
We drove on….and on…and on over the salt flats – they just seemed never ending. And then we hit this awesome patch that had just a thin layer of water over it which provided a perfect mirror surface to reflect the sky.
The scenery out there was some of the most beautiful I have ever seen and it was so hard to stop taking photos.
I confess that I stole this next photo from one of the couples in our group who had gone out on a sunset tour the night before, and they did some magical tricky things with their SLR and managed to get this amazing shot with the stars and sunset.
I thought our tour was going to be nothing but salt flat goodness, but turns out that afternoon stint was all there was going to be and it was onwards and upwards (or downwards actually) towards other Bolivian goodness. We started out the second day with apple flavoured soy milk…so weird. Closing my eyes, I would have sworn it was just apple juice alone.
Bolivia is beautiful and we drove through and past so many amazing mountains and scenic views. We drove down to the Bolivian/chilean border (as demonstrated by Jason and Emily there) and stopped for crucial refueling (all up the total round trip was 1000km and we had to carry all the petrol we’d need with us on the roof)
The tree-like rock:
Awesome lakes and mountains:
The perfect vantage point for Wile E. Coyote to watch out for the Road Runner, I thought.
Really bizarre, random green mossy thing that just seemed to pop up out of nowhere around these rocks. It only grows 1mm a year! So these huge mounds are thousands and thousands of years old. Craziness.
One of the biggest lakes in the area – the Red Lake – where thousands of flamingos migrate to. Hard to tell, but there are huge flocks behind me in the lake scooping up all the briney shrimpy goodness of the lake. On a sunny day, the lake would have been as red as my jacket apparently.
We then reached the highest point any of us had ever been to in our lives – 5000 metres high! (16,400 feet!!!)
There are these sulfuric hot spring geyer things up there – it was a strange mix of being absolutely freezing walking around there, but then feeling heat radiating out of these volcanic hot springs bubbling furiously away next to us, spewing out massive clouds of sulfur. So other-worldly.
Jason and I decided to play the highest game of tag ever – we got puffed basically instantly, but I figure that a 10second game up at 5000m is equivalent to an hour game at sea level, so we definitely did our exercise for the day.
Our accomodation for this second night, turned out to be the next best highlight of our tour aside from the salt flats. That’s because..well first of all, as you can tell from these photos..the surrounding landscape was ridiculously beautiful. But secondly, there was a hot spring pool right in front of that little house there that we went to later that night.
First though Emily dished us all out some tasty soup for dinner, and then we rugged up to go swimming, as one does when you’re in Bolivia. The winds and general outside temperature was close to zero degrees so the walk to get down to the hot spring was kind of freezing…but the water then was close to 40 degrees and it was unbelievable.
It was a completely cloudless sky, with a new moon – meaning there was no extra light to diminish the stars. So the milky way was out in full brightness, and we saw heaps of shooting stars. To boot, there was even a crazy lightning storm happening right in front of us on the horizon that just added to the drama and brilliance of the whole experience.
Ok…last day of our tour which was basically stacks and stacks of driving to get us back from where we were deep on the border with Chile…and then to drive back up north to get back to the town of Uyuni.
These are called the Salvador Dali mountains, not because he visited them (which he didn’t), but because they look like they’re a painting, with all their varied colours. It was so true – they are so beautiful.
This area has also been used by NASA to simulate their Mars projects, because it really is like the surface of mars out there. It’s crazy.
A group “evolution of man” photo
An andean fox getting up close and personal with our car
Then what we thought was going to be our lunch when we arrived at the nearest town – these ladies had literally just finishing killing a fresh llama and were grilling it all up while we waited for our lunch. But alas, turns out we had tinned tuna instead. Bummer.
Hard to tell our exact path from that map there, but we followed the red loop line from Uyuni down to the southern part and then back. For 1000km trip on super dusty rocky roads, I thought it was amazing that we only got one flat tyre. Our driver was pretty great.
We flew back direct again (love it) to La Paz the night our tour finished and stayed in another great city apartment with a great view, with a conveniently placed korean restaurant right on the ground floor.
And then with our last day in the area, we went on a day bike trip out to at the “Most Dangerous Road in the World” aka the Death Road. I thought it was called that not necessarily because it was going to be that dangerous for us as riders, but because of its history – some stories of which include the fact that Paraguayan prisoners of war were brought to build the road and they either died building it or were all executed at the end of it. Also there is a story about Bolivian opposition leaders being brought out there to be given the choice of either jumping off or join the government, and they chose to jump. Turns out it’s all of those above stories plus the fact that it is actually a “death road” for cyclists too. Yay…..
Every year some cyclist or two rides off or slips off the edge and we saw crosses and memorials all the way down. Hmm…definitely turned out to be more dangerous in hindsight than I had thought when we were starting that day. But we began it all with a shot of 96% alcohol (I just let it touch my lips, but I didn’ drink any…seemed like a ridiculous idea to be tipsy and ride down this rollercoaster of a mountain) and then drain some out over out tyre to the earth to thank Pachamama (mother earth) and bless our ride.
But the good thing was that our company, Gravity Bolivia, was highly rated and they gave us great bikes to use:
So the whole ride is basically a 4hour non-stop downhill ride, going total 60-ish kilometres, from an elevation of 4,700m to 1,200 m! Quite a fast drop. And as you can tell from the fog behind Jason and Emily on the left, we started in freezing conditions (it had been snowing there only two days before), and then ended in the hot humid jungle below. Crazy.
I had an icecream headache to start and my fingers were freezing! But we soon warmed up.
There is a section where one can choose to do an uphill section of 8km – but I loved the fact that our entire group was like “nah..screw it” and we sat instead on the bus which drove us up it, and we chowed down on sandwiches instead. Best decision ever. Using those super heavy-specifically-designed-for-downhill bikes, in that altitude, to go uphill for 8km?! Forget about it.
This was the first bike tour I have ever done where I didn’ attempt to take my own videos or long-arm photo shots while riding. I instead gripped on for dear life, focusing like a hawk on every divet, rock, puddle, curve and edge on the road so that I literally did not die. But one of our tour guides had a camera and he took the good photos and videos for us.
It was an awesome experience, and we definitely went faster down that road than I had anticipated especially given the rockiness, dustiness and overall slippery-ness of it. Our guide would pepper the trip down with stories of people falling to their death, slipping and breaking their backs – and we always felt very un-pepped after his “pep” talks, but I think it did help make us more focused and careful and not take anything for granted. And so we all made it to the bottom safely! (except one girl did fall and potentially maybe get a minor wrist fracture…but I’m sure she’s fine wherever she is now…)
Driving back I have to admit, I was nervous because we go back up the very same road we cycled down, but this time in a bus! And even though we cut it close to the road’s edge so many times, I just couldn’t look away. The driver was super skilled though and we obviously made it back all good. Still a very nerve-wrecking drive.
Phew…and so brings us to the end of Bolivia! So glad we went there – it’s an amazingly beautiful place that still seems very untouched and under explored. I would highly recommend it to anyone going to south america for sure.