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Salar de Uyuni

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We are now in the sleepy Western town of Tupiza in the south of Bolivia. Since I last wrote we have stayed in a hotel made entirely of salt and been on a two day tour across the magnificent 12 square km Salt Flats

Wednesday April 16th
Our overnight bus was a bumpy one. The bus itself was excellent, comfy reclining seats with a meal served as we left La Paz. The further we got away from L Paz the bumpier the road became as we transferred from smooth tarmac to a bumpy gravel/dirt road. Still, the bus arrived in Uyuni at 8am, only an hour later than scheduled.

We went to the company we had booked a two day salt plains tour through, El Desierto. We had also booked into the Salar Lunar Salt Hotel with them and they informed us that a jeep would transfer us there at 11.30am. We killed time by getting some breakfast and checking news and views online.

The Salt Hotel was absolutely stunning, probably the best place we have stayed on our travels and at $95US a night, certainly the most expensive. But hey, we wer never going to get the chance to do this again and it was something we really wanted to do after seeing it on Globetrekker. I´ll add photos to flickr in the next week or so but in the meantime you can check out http://www.boliviacontact.com/en_bolivia/LunaSaladaHotel_411.html

The Salt Hotel is around 200 yards from the edge of the Salt Flats and offers magnificent views out to the horizon. The walls are made of salt bricks, our bed had a salt base and headboard, the chairs and tables in the restaurant were made of salt and......well you get the picture. We had a nice afternoon nap and at night we met an English guy called Zak and his guide Wilbur. It turned out that we were the only 4 staying in the hotel that night. We had dinner and polished off 3 bottles of Bolivia´s finest wine between the three of us, with Wilbur sticking to beer. Needless to say we slept soundly and woke with fuzzy heads.

Thursday April 17th
We had breakfast and then had some time to kill before getting picked up by another jeep to join our tour for 2 days on the Salt Flats. We were due to get picked up at 11am but it was closer to 1pm when the jeep eventually arrived and took us toa small town on the edge of the plains to meet the rest of our group - Belinda from the Canary Islands, her smitten boyfriend Allessandro from Santiago and Leia and Mikel from France. Our guide was called Oliver and throughout the two days he provided an excellent soundtrack of late 70´s disco and early 80´s pop to keep us entertained in the jeep, made on old skool casette compilations.

We sped on to the salt and stopped at an area where the workers pile the salt into groups and then load lorries, backbreaking work in blinding sunshine. We then drove further to an old salt hotel that is now a museum as it was closed for sanitary reasons. Hotels are now only allowed to be built on the edge of the flats. After that we drove to a small village called Coqueza and stayed in the Tunipa Hostal for the night, hitting the sack early at 8.30pm as we were getting up in the morning to climb a mountain. I should add that we watched the sunset over the flats and it was absolutely beautiful, the whoe area is pretty mindboggling.

Some 40,000 years ago, the area was part of Lake Minchin, a giant prehistoric lake. When the lake dried, it left behind two modern lakes, Poopó Lake and Uru Uru Lake, and two major salt deserts, Salar de Coipasa and the larger Uyuni. Uyuni is roughly 25 times the size of the Bonneville Salt Flats in the United States.

Salar de Uyuni is estimated to contain 10 billion tons of salt, of which less than 25,000 tons is extracted annually. All miners working in the Salar belong to Colchani's cooperative. Every November, Salar de Uyuni is also the breeding grounds for three species of South American flamingos: the Chilean, James's and Andean flamingos. It is also a significant tourist destination; highlights include a salt hotel and several so-called islands. As it is so flat it serves as a major transport route across the Bolivian Altiplano.

Friday April 18th
The alarm went off at 6.45am and I immediately went outside to catch the end of the sunrise. I prefer sunsets as you dont have to get up early for them! After a light breakfast we left the hostal in the jeep to drive to a car park up the hill before starting to climb a mountain to 5400 metres above sea level. The flats are around 3650 metres above sea level, so we had quite a climb ahead of us, especially at altitude.

Before we huffed and puffed our way up the mountain to the Mirador (viewpoint) to Vulcan Tunipa, we stopped off at an ancient cave full of pre-inca skeletons. After that it was onwards and upwards and it took us a good hour and a half to reach the lookout. We were rewarded with stunning views across the flats. They looked so pure and white from a distance, more like snow than salt. We also had fantastic views of the now inactive Vulcan Tunipa with it´s beautiful shades of red volcanic rock shining in the sun.

After a good rest at the top we climbed back down to the hostal for an early lunch, packed up the jeep and drove out towards fish island, rocking to a great tune called Born To Be Alive by a guy called Patrick Hernandez, that I had never heard before. We also had YMCA by The Village People!

Fish Island is an island shaped a little like a fish and allegedly home the the tallest cactus in the world. It is a tiny island in the middle of the slat flats and has a hill in the middle that offers spectacular panoramic views around the flats. We spent a good few hours there before saying goodbye to our new French friends who were joining another tour to go into Bolivia and picking up 2 Japanese tourists instead. We had gone pretty snap happy on our tour but these guys took it to another level!

On the way back we stopped to watch the sunset, the white salt turning orange and red before going dark when the sun went down fully. Be warned, there will be quite a few pictures on flickr soon!

We drove back to Uyuni and had pizza and picked up our train tickets for Tupiza. It was our first pizza since our food poisoning episode and we were relieved that it was OK!

The train left Uyuni at 10.40pm and our seats were comfortable and the carriage was warm. Lynn managed to get to sleep but I couldnt get to sleep so I listened to the genius of Marvin Gaye and the guitar pop brilliance of Teenage Fanclub on route.

Saturday 19th April
Our train arrived in Tupiza at 4am and we wandered sleepily to a nearby hostal and checked in, sleeping until around 10am. We had a wander round and booked on a day tour for Sunday, taking in canyons, mountains, waterfalls etc and also a bus to Salta in Argentina for Monday. We decided against the Butch and Sundance tour as we thought it was hiking, while it is actually two long days in jeeps to get to the sites where the robbed a bank and supposedly met their demise. We´ll watch the film instead.

After brunch we watched United sneak a point away to Blackburn, setting up a magnificent week of football. The first leg of the Champions League semi against the mighty Barcelona on Wednesday and a potential title decider against Chelski next Saturday. I´ll be making sure our room has cable for those game, or at the very least that we will be somewhere with an Irish bar!

I´ll write again when we reach Argentina.

Murray and Lynn

Posted by murray2701 13:02 Archived in Bolivia Tagged round_the_world

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