Buckle in for a long one kids! Starting with when we left Sucre...
We had a fabulous send off by our Ñanta friends who threw us a going away BBQ. I ate more at that BBQ then I have since leaving Canada! It was a fabulous time but hard to say goodbye. Or, not goodbye...but until we meet again...
Took us awhile to pack properly - how is it that nothing ever fits back into bags like they used to? We have purchased very minimal items, but our bags seemed infinitely heavier! Could not sleep well at all that night with all of the excitement of our next journey upon us (except for Pete, who was of course asleep in 5 seconds as per usual).
A curve ball was tossed our way the next morning. We were meant to only have a short trip on Monday to Potosi in order to be able to explore the historic town as well as break up the longer trip to Uyuni set for the following day. Thankfully, our French friend Guillemmette (who, from now on will only be known as G, saves a lot of typing!) had gone to Potosi a couple of days ahead of us and called back to the hostal to let us know that bus drivers were due to go on strike the following day and thus we needed to leave that night! The strike was apparently due to the upcoming election. While Potosi supports the current president Evo Morales, they wanted to be sure that they are not forgotten and thus decided to take dramatic steps in order to secure his support (money!) for the region. Luckily, we were able to get our hostal plans changed accordinly and G secured seats for us on a bus from Potosi to Uyuni.
Another sad goodbye to our gracious hosts at the hostal and we were on our way. We opted out of taking a bus to Potosi and chose to take a private taxi instead for the 2 1/2 hour drive. Only $15 CDN and totally worth it! An uneventful ride save for the constant honking to warn the goats, cows, dogs, people, etc. that we were coming.
Got into Potosi (towering at 4,000 mts elevation) without issue, thank goodness! Took some preventative measures regarding altitude sickness and so only suffered from shortness of breath. Was able to explore the town center only somewaht - given all the hilly roads, the fact that we were short of breath and that our packs weigh a tonne, there is only so far we could go! The one museum we wanted to see was closed for the day. We met up with G in the town center, had a quick bite to eat and then took a taxi to the edge of town to catch our 6:30pm bus.
No bus at 6:30...7:00...7:30...finally at 8:00pm we were loaded to the rafters (with many people standing) and on our way. A mix of toursits and locals, all being anxious to get out of town before the strike the following day.
We had only about 1 hour of paved roads and then we were on washboard/sand for the rest of the way. Only one bathroom break along the way - without bathroom! Squatting at the side of a road in the middle of the night is a little more difficult when there are cacti to worry about! Pete slept some, I slept little. The bus driver seemed to believe that playing the Bolivian version of the Spice Girls into the wee hours was a good idea.
What was promised to be a 6 hour trip took 8 hours, thus with the start delay we arrived in Uyuni at 4am. We stumbled around the dark streets until finally finding our hotel. We crashed into our beds at 4:30am. Wanna know how I knew it was 4:30am? The damn neighbourhood rooster, thats how. We can never seem to get away from them. I need a gun!!
There is not much to see in Uyuni - a quiet, dusty town that did have about 30 tour agencies crammed around a small plaza. Thus, the following day was a very lazy one as we caught up on our sleep. Our crazy French friend, G, was up early and did all the homework for us to help choose from the multiple tour agencies to take us across the salt flats and into Chile. We checked out a couple of more when we met up with her and then made our decision.
Up and on the road the following day at 10am, our tour group was made up of a local guide/driver and cook, us, G, a Peruvian, an American, and a Brit. We first drove a short distance from town to the train cemetary. When Bolivia did have access to the coast (many years ago!), they would ship many minerals (mostly silver) to the port city of Antofagasta (which is now part of Chile). Since Bolivia lost their land on the coast, the trains were left here to die!
Our next stop was a small demonstration center where we learned how they dried and bagged the salt. The salt flats in Bolivia are the largest in the world, left over from a large lake that dried a million years ago. Here is Pete trying to land a job...
Shortly afterwards, we were driving on a desert of white - the salt flats! The effect of the salt is truly unbelievable. We made several stops along the way - searching for salt crystals in small open water pits and to start taking a few of our numerous pictures that can only be done in the persepective of vast nothingness!! Here are some samples, more to be on our FB album soon!
Onto Fish Island, where we stopped for lunch. We toured the island while our cook prepared a feast of llama, quinoa and fresh veggie (yes, I tried llama! Not bad!) The island had hundreds of cacti and many beautiful view points.
After lunch we were back in the car for a short while before stopping for more crazy pictures. We took too much time doing that apparently, because we missed some caves, but we were having way too much fun with that anyways!
We drove on until we reached the small town of Aguaquiza - about the size of Brownvale! At first I thought they were joking when they said this was where we were staying - they were not. In the middle of the town we bunked in a salt hotel where the walls and floor were actually made of salt! (Of course, I also have the requisite picture of Pete trying to lick the walls).
Climbed a small hill to watch the sunset, then returned for dinner of vegetable soup (complete with french fries!) and lasagna. After dinner, some local kids came dressed in traditional wear to entertain us with a dance. Their dance was more of an unorganized shuffle and many of the kids were too shy to do anything. They were still damn cute though, and toured the tables afterwards for tips.
Up at 6am, breakfast of pancakes and fruit and on the road at 7. First stop was at a small museum of preserved caves dated before the Incas. Incredibly beautiful, yet terribly creepy.
Next was a petrified algae forest. And then a field of just really cool rocks (maybe volcanic? Missed that part)
We climbed steadily, breath getting shorter as we went. We then came across a series of lagunas with brilliant colors and thousands of pink flamingos! Each vista was more magnificent then the last, all the while shrouded by incredibly changing mountains. By each change in angle or light the colors changed - reds, blues, oranges, greens, pinks, purples and every shade in between! And all the while looking velvety soft - I wish the pictures could do it justice...
As the day neared its end, clouds and wind arrived. Our last stop before the hostal was Laguna Colorada - 60 hectares of many colors! If the sun was out we would have seen brilliant red, instead we just had to settle with bright red. =)
Arrived at our hostal at 5pm, we were told it would be basic accommodations, but had no idea it would be like this:
Turned out it was clean and comfortable enough...so comfortable in fact that I crawled into bed at 7pm and did not get out, missing dinner. I missed out on many bottles of wine and beer had by the others, but I was definitely thankful for that the next morning when the wake up call was 4:30am!!
We got up early so as to see some volcanic geisers in the morning light. What an amazing sight - and sound! Took a video of the bubbling volcanic clay just so that I could hear it again. The smouldering pools and rocks had to be some of the coolest things we have ever seen.
The stop at the geisers was our highest point on the trip (just over 4,800mts, which I believe is higher then the highest mountain in Canada).
On to more amazing sights as we continued our way across the desert - stopping at the Salvador Dali Desert for more pictures!
More lagunas followed, finally stopping at a hot springs for a breakfast of buñuelo (fried bread dough - just like schmooshgeedles! I do not know how to spell that, Mom). One last, massive laguna before we said goodbye to our tour friends and started making our way to the Chilean border.
Overall, we could not have asked for a better experience with better people - traveling together in a 4X4 for 10 hours a day can be trying - we were glad to be with the friendly people we were! We all had similar tastes in music and took turns DJing, which perhaps our Bolivian guides might not have appreciated when we got into the Rage Against The Machine! We were sad to leave our group, but come away with new good friends, which we are always grateful for.
And now we are in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile - where it is a sweltering 36 degrees and we both just enjoyed our first showers in 3 days! It feels like an entirely different planet being on this side of the border. Blessed tarmac! Street signs! Fast internet! All kinds of crazy modern things!! We plan to be in San Pedro for 3 nights before making our way to Arica for 7 days of lazy BEACH time....you know, we are due for a holiday from our holiday... =)
P.S. as you can tell, we went a little picture happy and with faster internet, it is so much easier to show them!! I will be adding a bunch of pics to our FB album soon, and will let you know when they are!