The day started with me dragging my suitcase, backpack and daypack on my sore ankle down the street from where our overnight bus from La Paz had dropped us all off in Uyuni at 7:45am. I was feeling kind of crabby. I had low expectations for the day...and it ended up being pure magic.
Since our 2 night/3 day tour of the salt flats didn't leave till 10:30am, we decided to hang at the nearby coffee shop. The tunes were good (retro 80s) and I chowed down on garlic bread and hot chocolate (made with real chocolate). I wasn't too hungry because they had served breakfast on the bus.
After a short wait at the Perla de Bolivia tour company, our group of 11 piled into two Toyota Landcruiser jeeps. Our jeep had girls from England (Lucy)and Germany (Johannah), a guy from Costa Rica (Berney), our guide David, the driver and us. The other jeep had a couple from England(Jamie & Lara), two girls from England (Sammie & Emma) a girl from Denmark (Nina) and the driver.
I knew the day was going to be good when our guide asked if we wanted music and then started out with Queen. The tunes all day were great.
Our first stop was the train cemetery. David said that Bolivia used to be the best place to mine for tin when it was big in the old days. He said that there was so much wealth in Bolivia that after Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid escaped the USA and came to South America, they made their way to Bolivia where they were eventually killed by the Bolivian army. When the tin market crashed after WW2 some of the trains used to move the ore were abandoned creating the train cemetery.
Tunes still playing, we made our way to a town that mined the salt flats for, of course, salt! Only local family run factories are allowed to mine the salt and the town had a market to sell its salt products. We learned how salt was refined and then we were given time to check out the market.
In the market a young man was on the ground, obviously very ill from altitude sickness. Eventually an ambulance showed up to take him to the hospital.
We then went into the National Park which contains the Uyuni Salt Flats, the largest salt flats in the world and the highest at over 3,600 meters. They seem to go on forever. It had an otherworldly feel to it. If you don't wear sunglasses you can get the equivalent of snow blindness.
We drove to an area where they had the Dakar, car race a few years ago. After checking out the international flags, we went to an area where the jeeps were parked to block the wind and our guide and drivers had set up tables, tablecloths, and a delicious full lunch.
Our next stop was a remote salt flat area where we spent an enjoyable hour or so getting fun perspective shots and videos as a group and on our own. What a riot.
Driving through the salt flats to Isla Incahuasi got us deeper into the flats. This island in the middle of the salt flats is made from volcanic rock and ancient corals and covered with very old cactus that only grow 1 cm per year. I made the I'll advised decision to hike over the rocky terraine to the top. The views were spectacular but it was hard on my ankle so I sat on a rock and waited while John went to the top then helped me get down. I saw some very sweet birds.
The afternoon had grown late but the best was yet to come. We stopped in the middle of nowhere to watch the sunset. The drivers of our two jeeps pulled out the table and tablecloth and then (oh joy), two bottles of Bolivian red wine. Just when I thought it couldnt get any better, they pulled out the potato chips. I'd never heard of Bolivia making
wine but it was surprisingly good.
Sunset was spectacular.
In darkness we drove over the salt flats to a salt hotel. Yes, it was made out of salt blocks. It also had (oh bliss), hot showers.
We had a tasty dinner in the dining room but I was so tired , I could barely keep my eyes open.
A magical day.
TIPS AND COSTS
Perla de Bolivia- 3 day 2 night tour- $200 US per person (does not include Park entrance fees)
TODO Turismo- VIP overnight bus- $45 US per person