We initially planed to take a 4 day jeep tour from Tupiza to the salt flats (entirely avoiding having to stay in Uyuni). But unusual amounts of snow and ice shut down most of the national park and the Tupiza tour agencies were offering a rather underwhelming alternative 4 day program instead of cutting the trip down to 2 or 3 days. We bite the bullet and go to Uyuni as it's not worth taking again a freezing night bus to Tupiza just to join a tour that isn't what we really want. At this point one of our primary goals is to get out of Bolivia as quickly as possible. We feel that we've overstayed our welcome and are ready to leave.
|For once a fairly comfortable bus ride|
We arrive in Uyuni and are positively surprised. We expected hell on earth from what we heard and read about this town: Uyuni is indeed ugly, freezing and most locals are unfriendly, but we expected worse (hard to believe, I know).
|Monster of Uyuni,|
or welcoming committee?
We check into a room at the Hostal Avenida, which was very basic but acceptable for the 60 Bolivianos; we expected worse accommodation standards. So far Uyuni is really not all that bad.
|Can we go travel by train instead |
of a crowded bus?
We head to bed early to stay warm (under 4 thick woolen blankets). Probably the only other alternative to reduce the miserable coldness would be to join the jeep drivers in a local bar and get drunk.
At 10:30am, we punctually arrive at our agency "Esmeralda". There are only two other people waiting. After 45 minutes, we are finally shown to a jeep, but then the four of us are split up to two different jeeps... Ahh, they mix and mash customers from different agencies to fill up the jeeps.
|The salt museum in Colchani|
is closed today (Sunday)
But our luck doesn't apply to the weather. The salt desert that has 300+ sunny days a year today is completely overcast plus there is a strong, ice cold, wind blowing. We feel that the Salar the Uyuni has constantly been throwing roadblocks in our way ever since we got to Tupiza two weeks ago. But we are here now and make the best out of a day that didn't start all too well.
|No, no, the table and us two are not|
made of salt
at the Luna Salada Hotel
Our second stop is not on the official schedule. We pick up two girls from Hong Kong at their salt hotel: Luna Salada... Actually the brief look inside the hotel was much more interesting than the stop at Colchani. It's a beautiful and unusual setting since it's primarily all made from salt!
|This salt will be enough |
for me to cook for the next
| The welcoming committee|
at Isla Incahuasi
After taking some of the usual goofy pictures playing with the lack of a relative perspective we drive to the Isla Incahuasi. This island is amazing. In the middle of the endless white appears an oasis, a big rock formation covered with cactus. Some of the cacti are over a thousand years old.
|Time for lunch at freezing |
|This cactus is nearly |
1000 years old
|Incredible cacti among a desert of salt|
|Would anybody like some tea?|
We have a good hour to explore the island and take more goofy pictures (difficult among the 3 dozen other jeeps) and then head back to the original (ie. last remaining) salt hotel.
|It is a windy day!|
outside the original salt hotel
|Where are the "eyes"?|
After we drop the girls at their hotel, we head back to Uyuni. Efrain asks if we want to stop at the "cementerio de tren". It's just before sunset; and, we can tell that he's not too excited to go there. But this was supposed to be our first stop on the tour and it certainly wasn't our fault that we left 45 minutes late... So Yes! We want to stop at the train cemetery.
The cementerio de tren is an interesting collection of old locomotives (many steam types) that are now being left to the mercy of the elements. Probably a little paradise for a train enthusiast, but today it's just too cold for us. The wind is so strong today, that sometimes it feels like we are going to be knocked over. We walk around and take some pictures for 5 minutes – which is the maximum time that we can handle the ice cold wind. Anyway the sun has disappeared over the horizon.
|A train enthusiast's playground|
|All aboard! this train is leaving for Chile|
We arrive back in Uyuni just in time to grab some warm food and head to the bus station... Another overnight bus journey awaits us. The bus company Omar (recommended) promises functional heating and provided thick blankets. This time the bus is indeed heated, too much actually: Julane uses her blanket to block the heat vent under her seat – Bolivia the land of extremes.
|Our prayers were answered....|
finally, a worm and comfortable
night bus. Thank you Jesus!
As we are heading back to Peru now, we need to backtrack a bit...but we are looking forward to spend one more day in La Paz.
Our Uyuni summary:
Visiting the Salar is definitely worth the trouble. A one day trip (350B) is sufficient to see the salt flats. The 3-4 day jeep tours include visits to hot springs, colorful lakes and various interesting landscapes. Although Uyuni is not as bad as its reputation, it is not worth spending any extra time in this town.