The Americas travel blog

We arrive at Uyuni and are met at the station and transferred to our Hotel. We check in at around 3am and straight to bed as we have a big day later today. We got a fair bit of sleep on the train so we don't feel too bad, but a little more sleep is always welcome. At 8.30 we have a walking tour of the city of Uyuni. Uyuni is the starting point for most of the tours to the salt flats. It had a long tradition with building rail cars which are no longer built here but there is a rail line, and the train leaves here and crosses over into Chile. We visit the market and see some of the 500 types of potatoes grown in this area and many fast food stalls (definitely not KFC or McDonalds) that the locals like to use.

At 10.30 meet our driver Freddie and his 1998 Lexus 4 wheel drive that will be our vehicle for the next 3 days. There are two seats in the front, three in the middle and the rear has two more seats with not much leg room. Joining us is Zeeshan a 23 yo student from Canada who will be sharing the vehicle with us until the border with Chile. All our luggage is put on the roof rack on top of the vehicle and enclosed in a tarpaulin. Off we go and our first stop is the Train Cemetery. Here lie the abandoned steam locomotives, preserved in the dry climate, dating back to Bolivia's gold and tin mining days. It's eerie to see them left unused and forgotten. A good photo opportunity though!

We continue on to Colchani village at the edge of the Salar de Uyuni. Here we see a family that collects the salt and bags up to 5,000 bags of salt a day (between the 10 family members). They dry the salt using heat as surprisingly it feels quite damp. They sometimes add iodine and then package and heat seal the bags for sale. One boliviano for 250g or A18 cents. Cheap!! We start our adventure on the salt flats. A total of 10,000 square kilometres of white salt as far as the eye can see. We see the odd 4 X 4 vehicle out on the flats but apart from the mountains in the distance there is white, white everywhere. It hurts the eyes, its so bright. After a while we stop as there are some areas where the water below the salt has broken to the surface. The water is freezing cold, although the air temperature is about 16C. The salt can be up to 40 metres thick in the middle of the flats so there is plenty of it. What an amazing sight, something we wouldn't see anywhere else in the world.

We have a lunch stop at an old Salt Hotel. It is no longer used as a Hotel as the impact on the environment was too great. The building is now used as a lunch and toilet stop. They have flags from all nations flying out the front which is a colourful sight against the all white terrain. Our driver Freddie has some chops and vegetables for our lunch. He sets everything out on the tables provided and we enjoy a nice lunch.

Our next stop is in an area that is white as far as the horizon to take some photos. We have a great time setting up some photos. One of the highlights of Salar de Uyuni is an endless horizon that allows photographers to play with perspective and depth of field. We have a dinosaur chasing Phil and I, Phil trying to eat a 'Penny' sausage, Zeeshan trying to stomp on the rest of us, or even trying to eat us. Good fun and we got great results. Freddie also uses his muscles to chip off some salt from this area. It's hard, cold (the water is freezing) work but using a crowbar he manages to break away some large pieces of salt which shows perfect cubes formed underneath.

Soon we arrive at Incahuasi Island is a hilly and rocky outcrop of land in the middle of the salt flats. It looks like an island in a salt sea. The island is covered with cactus and is the top of the remains of an ancient volcano, which was submerged when the area was part of a giant prehistoric lake, roughly 40,000 years ago. We are now at 3,656 metres and climb up the hill on the island to get an amazing view of the salt flats.

It's now late afternoon and we stop at a place where salt has recently been removed by machinery which has left a small rectangular pool of water. The temperature is rapidly dropping and we wait till 6.20 when the sun sets over the mountains. It is a beautiful sunset and worth waiting and freezing for.

Tonight we have basic Hostel accommodation at Canquella. The floors of the Hostel that we stay in are like salt gravel. We have our own room with two single beds and there is a communal dining room with tables and chairs and a table with some power boards for everyone to recharge their electronics. There are some 'toilets' but no showers. Dinner is soup first, followed by a platter with chips on the base topped with meat some vegetables and finally some hard boiled eggs on the top. Food is tasty but not much of it. I did say the accommodation was basic! However, we do manage to buy a bottle of red. We toast together with Marco and Eilis (the only other red drinkers) and the tradition is to tip a little of the wine onto the floor. This is supposed to bring good luck. This is not a problem on this type of floor. Within seconds the wine soaks in and we can't see it. I need this type of floor at home, just rake it daily! Early to bed as it is cold but the bedding provided keeps us warm enough.

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