About cold feet, flipping a coin and having the most amazing 3 day tour possible.
So after a fresh start the next morning we decided to start shopping around for our 3 day tour into the Salt flats...which sounds easy, but if you have to choose between 80 tour operators you'll start to notice that everyone will tell you the same thing and it doesn t make the decision easier. We had met a few other travellers and found we had enough people to fill up a car. After walking around for ages and listening to a massive argument between a traveler and the most reputiable company we decided to flip a coin and went with Quechua Connection. What we weren t a 100% sure of what the company was like until we were sat in the cars and luckily it turned out to be the best choice we could have made.
On the day of the trip we had one last shower (Cathas first one since weve been travelling...since Rob likes to use my towels to clean his feet!) and packed our bags with lots of water, fruit and sweets and all available warm clothes. We met up with our guides, Jose and Augusto, packed the bags onthe 4x4s and set off. After 2 minutes Augusto (Joses dad) turned out to be a lovely driver, we plugged our Ipod in and when he stopped at home to pick up 2 huge cakes, we all couldn t wait for lunch. Augustos English was as good as our Spanish...(un pocito ), but we got along very well and Jose who drove the other car spoke really good english. The first stop, the train cemetery didnt really sound very appealing to us, but as it s included in the tour we drove down there and found it to be quite a funny and quite a unique place. the cemetry is full of loads of old trains and engines standing around in the desert, but you can climb them and they re just so oldschool, think of the trains that are in Thomas the Tank Engine and you ll get the picture. After around half an hour we set off again. From the salt flats we headed onto the salt flats and after a few minutes it already seemed as if there was only white around us with the mountains on the horizon started fading into the sky (the reflection f the ground makes it look like they fly). The view was simply amazing. Upon arriving on the salt flats we visited a few salt factories (stalls where families process the salt), obviously we had to walk down the obligatory shopping mile and after we stopped at a salt hotel for lunch. The salt hotel is an actual hotel made of salt. Whilst we had a little walk around, started taking pics Jose and Augusto took 20 minutes to prepare lunch and we were then seated next to the cars, outside, in the sun having great food and...indeed the most amazing apple pie!! (All other groups were sat inside in a boring hut.) The other groups had left when our guides started grabbing out eggs, a bottle of wine, spoons, dinosaurs and numerous random objects and then they started shouting 'crazy photo'. We ended up with lots and lots of amazing and funny pictures and we began to realise that we had not only found that we had the best drivers, and cooks but the best photographers too! After all the jumping and posing we were pretty exhausted so we drove further up to Isla Inca which is a random Island in the middle of the baron salt plains the has thousands of cactusses. We were able to climb around the island which was well worth it however we were short breath due to the altitude, obviously i didnt tell Catha that i was struggling with the altitude and laughed at her when she said that she found it hard to breath. After we finished exploring Isla Inca we drove to Isla Pia Pia, which was another island in the middle of the plains but we found that we were the only group there, Jose said it s one of his fave spots and we soon saw why. There was a huge cave with coral arches , after a cheeky climb up another hill (obviously i pretended that i wasnt tired after the climb) we reached the top to find a stunning view of the sun setting over the plains. We watched the sun set in the middle of the flats was just amazingly beautiful with nothing but our two cars for miles around. The area was so quiet and when the light was almost gone the mountains gave off a violet glimmer. Augusto began to get excited again as it was another opportunity for him to start taking more crazy photos and we were amazed too as you could tell he really had as much fun as we did!!! After another exhausting photo shoot we set off again for a drive into the darkness to where we would be spending the night. We arrived an hour later to find a small cluster of huts which turned out to be twin rooms with ensuite bathrooms (obviously only cold water). The rooms were quite warm due to the buildings having thatched insulation. We sat down for the evening meal and found out that we were to be served Flamengo which was one of the tastiest meats we have had in a long while. After dinner we had a bonfire, even got some wine and and it s was great to relax and get to know everyone in both groups.
We woke up after a good nights sleep and found that the room was relatively warm. We had breakfast of bread and butter and set off at 7 for the second day. The further we drove into the salt plains we noticed that the landscape began to change with the rough rock formations combining with deep but distinct colours and smoking volcanoes. We began to learn more about the landscape and how the salt flats were formed and why the coral built up in certain parts of the deserts. Another highlight of the tour was the different lagunas we visited. The water was icy cold and you can even see a thick ice layer on the top but you can also see...FLAMENGOS...yes...we d never thought they d stay in the cold, but they were happily walking and flyng around and it just looked brilliant seeing them on the lakes, this also explained where our meal came from. We had a second lovely lunch with a top view of the laguna and in the afternoon went up to some more volcanoes, visited a tree rock (easier to explain when youve seen the photo) and shot about 20 lamas to death with our cameras. Its hard to describe, but the scenery is just beautiful and the plateau that we drove on so wide.
The red laguna was our finish of the day and we arrived in the second nights accommodation. It was a dorm with 7 beds...very basic, but we knew that (kind of)!!! Jose and Augusto made sure we had enough tea and coffee to keep warm and dinner was good again (Picque a la macho....typically bolivian....a mix of potatoes, cabbage, onion, sausage, egg...everything you wnt to fill you up.). Jose tried to convince us to watch the stars and the moon coming up....which only worked on half of the group as the temperatures had now dropped down to -12. We went outside to watch the moon rise over the mountain and were happy that we took his advice to go outside. Jose then began to tell us about the stars and the constolations and after about ten minuites of pretending we could see what he was talking about we went back inside and into bed. As you can imagine the rooms were pretty grim as we really were on top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere but we were provided with a hot water bottle and after putting on every single jumper, hat, gloves, scarfs, trousers and socks that he had we went to sleep....at least for a few hours.
We were woke up after a pretty rough nights sleep at five am as we were to watch the sun rise over the guisers (not glaciers as i thought he originally said...big diappointment early in the morning ). We were all pretty tired but looking forward to getting into the car so we could feel the heating. We set off and found out that even though the heating was on full blast the inside of the windows would ice over due to the cold weather. We arrived at the guisers for sun rise and walked around taking photos. After jumping through the big plumes of steam to warm us up we got into the cars and headed to the green and white lagunes. We found that even more Flamingoes were flapping and snattering around in the water. We were still pretty cold at this point but we knew that we would soon warm up as we were to go to the hot springs. We arrived at the hot springs and dashed straight into the water which was around thirtyfive degrees. I was almost going to complain that it was too hot but after remembering the harsh cold of the night before Rob started flapping around (best Flamengo I have seen on the tour). As we were running a little late we only had thirty minuites in the pool but it was more than enough to warm up and start to feel better. We quickly got dry and went back into the cars for the seven hour drive back to Uyuni. I think that almost everyone was looking forward to the drive back as we thought that we would be able to catch up on the sleep that we had missed from the previous night however we forgot that there wasnt any roads on the salt plains and soon found that it was going to be a long, long drive back!!! After a few hours stopped in a gourge and had lunch. We then got back into the car for the final journey. By the time we got back we were all knackered and ready for a hot shower in the hostel before the overnight bus to Sucre, but we were also sosososo happy with our tour and guides and can t say thank you enough for giving us such a great time!!!