It was time to head off on our three day tour of the Uyuni Salt Flats. Our jeep was loaded with our bags and many gallons of drinking water. We felt ready for the desert lifestyle with no luxuries; limited hot showers, electricity and no wifi.
The day started with a stop at the train graveyard where we learnt about the history of the Bolivian mining industry. There was something eerie about the blackened derelict steam locomotives left behind, slowly rotting away and now a tourist attraction which is swarmed by hoards of tourists trying to get the perfect selfie.
The Salar (salt flats) is considered one of the main highlights of South Bolivia and we couldn’t visit it without a demo of how the local miners (I think that’s what they consider themselves) process the salt at a local village. Its surprisingly interesting to see how the salt goes from being a white desert to the salt on your table; and of course we left with a little souvenir packet of the freshest salt you can get.
After the village stop we were finally ready to enter the desert. It’s a wonder how the jeeps manage the journey without getting lost. Once you enter the salt flats the view is the same in all directions for miles around, no landmarks to help you find your way here.
Armed with our props, we spent a gruelling hour under the beating desert sun trying to master the optical illusion photography which most people come here to achieve. The vast flatness of the planes provide a perfect setting to distort proportions, producing entertaining images. As simple as this sounds, we found it to be very testing! Lying on the hard pointy salt crystals, keeping the camera perfectly still at just the right angle while shouting instructions to move in millimetre accuracy was certainly a test for any relationship.
Eventually we got some shots, although Jason felt somewhat deflated as he wasn’t able to try out all of his ideas. A piece of advice if you ever visit, pre-plan the shots you’re going to take and practice before arriving.
To forget the stress of the photoshoot we hiked up Cactus Island to see the 12m tall ancient giants which have dominated this land mass for the past 1,200 years. The cacti were spectacular up close with giant spikes long enough to be knitting needles.
As the first day drew to an end, we took the opportunity to enjoy the serene sunset. You couldn’t ask for more peaceful surroundings, with the volcanoes and mountains disappearing in the distance as a blanket of darkness descended on the salt flats.
We were excited for our first night of accommodation and our only chance on the tour for a hot shower. The salt hostel we stayed in is best described as a glamping style hut made of salt bricks (which came with a strict no licking policy – although I wish I had now) and a salt floor in the bedroom, yes that was as inconvenient as it sounds. It was a novelty which soon turned in to a game of ‘the floor is lava’ as we left the bathroom showered and had to navigate to our beds without being well seasoned to taste.
Leaving our last taste of luxury and comfort behind, the next morning we were back on the road visiting numerous rock formations, mountain landscapes and flamingo filled lagoons. Despite being at nearly 5,000m altitude and the lagoons freezing over at night, the flamingos are able to resist the cold. Although, they do occasionally get frozen in the lagoon and have to wait for the ice to thaw before they can move again. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see this but chuckled at the though of it hehe.
Our last night was spent in the remoteness of the desert at 4,800m altitude. Due to the freezing temperatures causing burst water pipes, our accommodation didn’t have any hot water or showers. It also didn’t have any electricity or heating, with the dorms lit only by a dim light bulb powered by car batteries. This certainly was the basic desert lifestyle, but for one night it was manageable and still better than the airport hotel in Manchester!
Before getting snug in our sleeping bags, Jason wanted to enjoy the stars whilst out in the pitch black. Heading out into the freezing cold, a crisp sky free from light pollution and a thinner atmosphere rewarded us with an amazing view of our own galaxy! It was a fantastic scene with the stars feeling so close, almost within arms reach. However, by this point our arms were so numb that it was time to head inside to warm up in front of the wood burner stove and get some sleep.
A 4am start the next day saw us warm up in the hot steam from the geysers and a relaxing dip in the hot springs overlooking a lagoon. This was really enjoyable until we had to come out and face the bitter cold, dripping wet and in swimsuits.
Standing shivering head to toe was a good time to find out that Jason had left certain vital clothing of mine out of our day bag – we’re still trying to work out who’s fault it was – so I made do with what I had and spent the day feeling a little chillier than expected. The rest of the day was spent on the road heading back towards Uyuni, seeing some final views along the way including where Nasa test their space rovers.
We eventually reached Uyuni in the afternoon where we parted ways with the group and jumped on the night bus back to La Paz. The three day trip had given us some amazing memories and a great time, but we were more than looking forward to some hotel comforts and a bed that wasn’t on wheels!