We're just back from our four-day tour from San Pedro de Atacama in Northern Chile through to the salt flats of Uyuni in Bolivia (and back again), which was a once in a lifetime experience. Really glad we did it and we saw some amazing sights - but it was pretty rough travelling at times so we're glad to be back in the world of hot showers and comfy beds!
Early the first day, 11 of us got a minibus across the border from Chile to Bolivia, where 4x4 jeeps were waiting for us. After our introduction to the lumps 'n' bumps of desert terrain, we stopped off at a couple of beautiful lagoons - one white, one bright turquoise (because of the various minerals in the water). Then, after more driving through stunning scenery including a volcano or two, we took a dip at a hot spring. It's not often you start your day in woolly hat and change into a bikini... We'd kind of expected the water to be lukewarm but it was properly hot bath temperature. Open air changing was a delicate balancing act though...
After that it was on to a cluster of sulphurous geysers which neither of us had ever seen before - clouds of volcanic steam and gurgling pools of boiling mud bubbling furiously. Apart from the otherworldliness of the sight itself, it's even weirder to hear the loud boiling noises coming from deep underground.
Our accommodation was very basic - six to a room in beds with concrete bases, with no heating or showers etc. - but it was good fun getting to know the others, a mix of English, Kiwi, Australian and French Canadian.We were at very high altitude (around 4000 metres) and a few people really suffered but luckily we got off relatively lightly with headaches and sleeplessness.
The next day held more strange sights in store - weird Daliesque rock formations and thousands of flamingos. Turns out they are actually called flamencos in Spanish so Roland hadn't just made that up before! It was really cool to see so many of them in the wild and also to get right up close.
That evening's accommodation was equally basic but held the so-called novelty value of being made of salt which at least seemingly has some insulating qualities as it wasn't quite as Baltic as the previous night. Anyway, there wasn't much time for sleeping as we were up at 4.30am to get to the Salar de Uyuni (salt flats) for sunrise.
It was pretty special to be totally in the middle of nowhere and see the sun come up over a vast expanse of 1200km squared of pure white. By chance, one of the people travelling in our jeep is a geologist and he said that the salt flats weren't, as we'd assumed, land that had been covered by sea. Instead they are where the shore would have been and where the tide would have come in and out, so the land would have constantly gone from being wet to dry and so contracted and expanded, and that cracking is what causes the tessellating hexagon shapes you see.
Anyway, geology lesson over. Apart from the beauty and strangeness of the salt flats, they also have the added bonus of allowing people to take daft photos as there's no sense of perspective.
All in all, it was a brilliant trip taking in some fascinating and stunning sights. It was a long, bone-shaking slog getting back to San Pedro but totally worth it - but we're very much looking to a lie-in (by that I mean anytime after 5am) tomorrow...
Hope all is good back home, and feliz cumpleanos to Dad.
lots of love
Helene and Roland x