The bus to Uyuni was pretty bad as it was freezing! We also got dropped off at 5am rather than the promised 6-7am, and it was still really dark and cold with nothing open. We were meant to be getting picked up by our tour guide as our tour started that day but they didn't show. We decided to walk to their offices in case they were open, they weren't but thankfully a coffee shop next door had its lights on. Our hearts sank when we tried the door to find it was locked. However, on hearing us at his door the owner came to let us in. He put the fire on which felt amazing as none of us could feel our feet anymore. We then stayed in the warm cafe drinking tea and eating breakfast for the next 3 and a half hours! The cafe really.was a lifesaver, as we had started doubting whether anything would be open as the town was so quiet and dark. We all admitted that we were so freezing and concerned that nothing would be open that we had begun thinking of ways to keep warm. The ATM booth was one option, although we'd have to take turns as its too small to fit us all in or find a church somewhere!
We had booked ourselves onto a 3 day tour of the salt flats which is the worlds largest salt flat at 4086 square miles and is elevated at 3656 metres above sea level.
We started the tour by heading out to the 'Train Cemetery' where trains and carriages have rusted away. They use to take 'supplies' (drugs) to Chile but there was a crackdown and they've sat there since. The area made for great photos.
We then headed to a small town that processes the mined salt. They don't get much money for the salt but it still makes them a living. We then headed out to the main salt flat and saw where they work. They cut out squares by hand, put the salt into piles and then shovelled it onto a truck.
We continued on and into the wilderness. All you could see was salt in every direction. We drove to a salt hotel where we took all the funny photos and had lunch. We'll upload some more photos when we get back. We ate Llama chops for lunch for the first time inside the salt hotel which was pretty cool. The guide then helped us take more photos and a video.
We drove a little further where we got to see the classic dry salt flat view where the salty brine under the hardened salt crust squeezes up to create hexagon shapes. We took some more pretty cool pictures. We forgot to mention that since Macchu Picchu our camera has been making clicking noises everytime we turn it on to autofocus. It draws attention and we have to explain every time!
We drove for about an hour on the salt flats and came to an island called Incahuasi Island which had giant cactus all over it. The oldest one was 900 hundred years old and was 9 metres tall. Every August local people take Llamas to the top of the island to sacrifice and spill the blood there. The Llama is a symbolic offering to Pachamama (mother earth) to ensure a good harvest in September. Pachie mama is female due to her fertile soil in which they plant their seeds. Spilling the Llama blood represents, believe it or not, Pachamama period before her fertility! Nice!
We got to our salt hotel for the night which consisted of salt walls, salt floor, salt chairs, table etc. It was pretty cold so after dinner we were all in bed at 9pm!
We were up and gone by 7.30am the next day and drove past a few smaller salt flats. We had a nice picnic lunch by a lake where there were a couple of flamingos. After lunch we drove to another lake which had hundreds of flamingos. We could get quite close and took some good pictures.
We drove higher until we reached an altitude of 4600 metres which would be the highest point on day 2. We were driving through desert at this point as the scenery changed once again. We drove all afternoon with the Chilean border just over the mountains to our right.
We stopped to see some strange rock formations one of which was called 'tree rock' and did actually look like a tree from the right angle.
Our day ended at Red Canyon which was a lake that looked red. It a really nice setting with the mountains behind it. We spent the night nearby and got taught the 'Mafia' game by an Australian girl on the trip. We had to start the game again as Emma was given the Mafia role and told Karen she was going to kill her which is meant to be a surprise! After dinner we drank red wine and chatted with an Australian couple on the trip.
We had a lot of driving to do on day 3 so got up at 5am and it was freezing! Don't they know we are meant to be on holiday?! It was just getting light when we made it to the geysers. They were pretty cool and noisy. It was still freezing though so we took pictures and ran back to the car!
A little while after that we passed a pile of rocks that marked we were at 5000 metres above sea level! That was the highest altitude of the trip and were glad we were in the car and not walking at that altitude!
Our breakfast stop was situated near a natural hot springs. Kris and an Australian couple on our trip got in whilst everyone else chickened out. It was very relaxing in their and nice to feel clean after 3 days of not showering! Eew! After breakfast we went through more deserts and drove for a long time until we reach the green lake and last mountain of the Andes in Bolivia. The vista was again fantastic! We then got back in the car and drove the 6 hours back to Uryuni stopping for lunch en-route.
The salt flat trip was really good. The mountain views and the salt flats were amazing and it was an experience to spend the night in a salt hotel!
We had our farewell dinner with Karen and went our separate ways. We have really enjoyed having Karen join us for 3 weeks on our trip (Kris was forced to write that). For Karen it was back to La Paz and for us it was on to Argentina!