Lots and lots of salt

As you should know by now, we’re not very good at planning ahead. Our strategy for this whole trip has been to turn up and figure out what to do in each country before we leave. This often works in our favour though as it means we have the flexibility to change plans or even add another country to our itinerary, such as Bolivia.

The major attraction for us in Bolivia was the Uyuni salt flats, which we’ve been told is the largest in the world. We’re fascinated by crazy natural formations like the salt flats, so it was definitely something we were excited for on our way south.

We arrived into Uyuni after another night bus, which I covered in our previous post. I was tired and a little bit cranky, so when we were offered our room straight away at our hostel I was eager to get into bed for a few hours. Unfortunately Mark doesn’t trust himself to make plans on his own, so when our friend sent us a message to see if we wanted to book a bus onwards to Chile for the next day, Mark wanted me to go with him. Instead of getting an extra 2 hours sleep I had to go back outside and stand around while they booked bus tickets. I got to meet an adorable puppy though, so it wasn’t all that bad.

Our tour didn’t leave until 11am, but for some reason the ticket said to be there at 10:15am for a safety briefing. Unsurprisingly there was no safety briefing until right before we left, which turned out to be “Take water, sunscreen and sunglasses.” You can imagine how annoyed I was at this point that I was sat waiting and not snoozing for 45 minutes.

Our first stop on the tour was the train cemetery, which is where old trains that once transported salt out of Uyuni now lie. As they were all old steam trains which required coal imported from Europe to run, they were slowly abandoned when petroleum became available and instead salt was transported by road. The trains had been picked apart and were rusty and covered in graffiti, which made it feel like a post-apocalyptic landscape—if not for all the people posing for selfies everywhere. We took a little walk and got out of the path of the Instagrammers to take a look at the parts of the tracks that felt like a Mad Max film.

After staring at cool old hunks of metal for 20 minutes, we then moved onto a nearby town called Colchani where various families process salt they gather from the flats. We were shown where they dehydrate it, add iodine and put it in bags, though I’m not sure how hygienic the whole process was as everyone seemed to be standing all over the salt.

We were provided with lunch in the town, which had been brought along by the driver in his jeep. I’m not sure if they’d prepared food for 6 people, but there were only three of us so there was loads of food to go around. I took it as an opportunity to fill up, considering I’m running out of money fast and don’t get many generous meals these days. I skipped the beef, but there were loads of vegetables on offer and they provided a tasty lentil dish as my vegetarian option.

After lunch we finally headed out to the salt flats, but the ride wasn’t a short one. Some time in the 40 minutes we were driving, my ability to keep my eyes open faltered and I found myself falling asleep. For a while I was just nodding off and suddenly waking up again as my head tried to roll off my shoulders.

When we arrived we had some time to walk around and take a look at the flags tourists bring along with them, as well as take photos if we wanted. This wasn’t the stop for the perspective photos, but that didn’t stop people trying everywhere. Our guide took us further into the salt flats shortly after that, to a much smoother spot to take some cheesy perspective photos.

If you’ve seen any of our travel photos so far, you might have noticed we’re not fussed on actually being in them at all. Some people love it, but unfortunately for our guide we just weren’t into it. Although he had loads of ideas, I really wasn’t up for getting that copycat photo of us jumping in the air for no reason. We did end up with a couple of cheesy shots, but my family seemed to enjoy them so I guess it’s okay. I did take one by choice of me and the little sheep my mum asked me to bring with me, though it’s quite difficult to get crazy perspective photos when the depth of field on all of your cameras is quite short.

Our next stop on the great salt journey was an island in the middle of the flats which is covered in cacti. We were given time to climb over the island from on side to another, though at an altitude of 3,656m it wasn’t going to be easy for us. Tired, hot and struggling to breathe, we clambered over the little island on unstable ground, trying to avoid slicing our hands on the long dried-out coral and avoiding using cacti for support. The view from the top was beautiful, though we were glad to finally reach the bottom once we’d finished.

Although we were ready to go, our driver had to wait around to see if he could help a vehicle from the same company which was doing a three day tour. We waited for around half an hour before they decided to switch vehicles and instead take us home in the leaking one, allowing the other group to continue in a safer car. I’m amazed the one we were switched to was even allowed out on a three day tour to be honest. The whole car felt like it was falling apart, with the backs coming off the front seats and cracks all over the windscreen.

By the time we left the sun was already on its way down, so it was a race to get back to a good spot for the sunset. Somehow we managed it though, and our guide even gave us wine and crisps to enjoy too. We actually tried dipping them in a little hole in the ground which was full of salt water, making them the saltiest crisps I’ve ever eaten.

The salt flats are beautiful in their own crazy way and added another fascinating sight to the list of amazing things we’ve seen while we’ve been away. I know I thought Machu Picchu was going to be the last big one before we go home, but Bolivia has definitely given us another wonderful set of memories (and photos).

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