The Adventures of a Lifetime: Part 2
So, after a pleasant few days in San Pedro de Atacama, I was picked up by a minibus and eventually was brought to a place where, happily, I could eat second breakfast. I also started chatting to the rest of the people in the group; a Spanish couple travelling through Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia, and a group of friends including two Brazilians and an American travelling around lower South America. After breakfast, we passed through Chilean customs and then reached the border, which looked a little like this:
Clearly security is of the highest order. I had to fill in two small papers, show my passport, and that was it. Into Bolivia I was!
After paying entrance to… I’m not sure whether it was a huge national reserve, a protected area, or whatever, but we had to pay an entrance fee… our journey through southern Bolivia started, in an old Toyota Land Cruiser, our large bags strapped to the top of the car, crossing through the Bolivian altiplano, seeing some of the most incredible things I have ever seen in my life. That day, we stopped of at the Laguna Blanca (these places have very creative names), Laguna Verde, and some geysers at almost 5km altitude before we stopped for lunch, all the while crossing through the Bolivian desert with the most idiotic smile on my face because this was something that I had always wanted to do. As you can see, the lagunas were pretty stunning.
We also visited some actually hot springs this time, which also had a pretty striking view:
We stopped for lunch at this place called the Hospedaje Nuevo Almanecer, which was basically this low building with beds and a common area where we were served food, and nothing else, though it served its purpose. After a two-hour break to recuperate from the altitude (I was feeling a little dizzy from time to time and my stomach wasn’t very happy either, but I didn’t feel any other effects of altitude sickness), we drove to this other nearby laguna, which was coloured red due to the microbacteria living in it, white due to salt deposits and other minerals, some other inexplicable colours, with pink flecks due to the flamingos residing in the laguna. It was honestly one of the most incredible sights I have ever seen.
That marked the end of the first day of the tour, apart from an early dinner and a subsequent communal moving to the kitchen to watch the semifinals of the Copa América on this tiny, 30-year-old TV with lines running through it and a very crappy signal. It was very cozy.
The second day I felt a lot better (I had taken a pill the night before), and only had some odd pangs of dizziness every now and then over the next few days that told me my body was still becoming accustomed to the altitude. After saying goodbye to the local animals (what the hell are seagulls doing at that height like hello the sea is not at 4.5km altitude and Bolivia doesn’t even have a sea though don’t say that too loudly)), we started our second day.
This day started off with a visit to these strange rock formations, which were really fun to climb up (probably not the safest thing but who really cares) and have a pretty great view of the surrounding area.
Our journey continued with a trip to another laguna (we visited quite a few of these), to some ruins by the side of the road, and to this semi-frozen semi-lake thing which allowed for some pretty great pictures.
After eating a lunch which included llama (pretty much tasted like regular beef), we drove for a couple of hours and stopped for a break to stretch our legs at this extensively rocky place, which was pretty cool to explore and, like LITERALLY EVERYHING in southern Bolivia, had a beautiful view.
We then drove another couple of hours, past a herd of llamas and up this very steep valley, where at places the road was just about wide enough for our car to pass through, and if we were to veer off too much to one side we would plummet down in the ravine and probably never be heard from again. If you’ve ever seen documentaries about roads in certain countries and twist and wind and are very, very unsafe, you get the picture. After another couple of hours of driving (we probably drove around 400km this day, if not more), we eventually reached our destination for the night, a hostel made out of salt very close to the famous salt flats of Uyuni.
The final day of the tour required us to get up at around 5:30, so that we could leave at around 6:30 and catch the sunrise on the Salar de Uyuni (for those who don’t know, it’s this enormous salt deposit, spanning about 190km in diameter, which, if it rains, gives you amazing reflections of the sky above. Sadly, it hadn’t rained). So, rather tired and sleep-deprived, I caught the sunrise on one of the most amazing landscapes on this world.
After driving for about an hour on the salt deposits (I wasn’t quite sure how our guide, Nelson, knew where we were going, because literally every single direction looked the same to me), we reached this island near the middle of the Salar. Walking to the top of this cactus-filled island took about 30-40 minutes (factoring in time to catch your breath every now and then because of the altitude (I was probably also very out of shape, but the altitude’s a convenient excuse)), and gave me some pretty astonishing views.
After spending a good hour and a half, two hours on that island, we drove for a bit to a new place and basically mucked around on the Salar and took 8 million photos (as you can play with size and distance to create really interesting effects and make it seem as though three very small people are trying to topple over a very large can of Pringles. As I wasn’t travelling in a group, I watched the other people do that whilst I sunbathed on the Salar).
Leaving the Salar, we stopped off at a famous salt hotel located on the outskirts of the Salar, which had an enormous and incredibly impressive statue of the Dakar Rally, which would be held in northern Chile and Bolivia due to political unrest and instability where it is usually held in western Africa.
The final part of the tour involved a visit to the outer regions of the town of Uyuni, where we could buy souvenirs (they had a T-shirt with the words llama sutra on it with llamas in, well… you get the idea). Finally, we were taken to a train graveyard – which was really quite depressing – and then brought into Uyuni, where we said goodbye to our wonderful guide Nelson, and were taken to a place to eat lunch. After that, we realized that every single person in our group wanted to take the night bus to La Paz, so we ended up hanging out in this hotel together (with internet) after buying our tickets (I ended up taking a pretty expensive bus as I preferred to have some comfort and safety over local Bolivian buses that may very well have been safe) until nightfall. The bus left at around 8pm (the lady told us that just the first four hours would be bumpy), and I got to La Paz safe and sound the morning of the 3rd of July, marking the start of the third part of my journey