The blog is not finished! But after the Theft (yes, capital letters), the want/need to update the blog took second fiddle to dealing with the Theft and just finishing the trip sans computer. Since being home, it's been hard to get that motivation to complete it. But I will. Ever so slowly. Please be patient!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Days 65-69, Walking on Water

The following takes place between Monday, January 31 and Friday, February 4, 2011

South America is full of world wonders and Bolivia does not get left out of this fact. My decision to completely skip out on going to Santa Cruz came out of the fact that in order to see Bolivia’s natural wonder, I would’ve had to take a two day bus ride had I gone to Santa Cruz. As it were, from Cochabamba, it would still be a full day of travel to get to Uyuni, the town at the start of the Uyuni Salt Flat tour.

Created when the Andes rose up from the crust of the earth, trapping part of the ocean inland. When evaporated, the water left behind an area over 12,000Km squared of salt over 7 meters deep. The Salar can be argued as Bolivia’s single most important tourist draw. And considering at least half the town’s population could be counted as gringo tourists, it’s easy to see why.

To get to Uyuni from Cochabamba, I had to take two buses. The first, in the afternoon, took me to the city of Oruro. That bus ride was relatively comfortable. A nice bus, good roads. No complaints. When I got to Oruro I wandered the bus terminal until I found a company going to Uyuni. The pictures at least looked like an ok bus. Oh, how wrong I was.

Bus was half an hour late first. Then, I got on and noticed that a good number of the windows were attached with packing tape, or were just tape. I sat in my seat. Hard as a rock. Tried to recline it to get at least some comfort to sleep. No luck. My seat would not recline. Not that I probably could’ve slept. The road from Oruro to Uyuni was worse than the one from Martensville to Dalmeny. The bus bounced, groaned, shuddered, blew out a few tires. The roof leaked during a rain storm. I didn’t sleep a wink. Arrived in Uyuni at 4:30am, and I stumbled through the sleeping town until I found a hostel I could wander into. Managed to get a room and fell asleep.

When I woke up, I walked around the town, looking for a tour company to go into the Salar. I was a little bit in a rush as my visa for Bolivia was running out and I didn’ t really want to deal with the bureaucracy with being in Bolivia with an expired visa.  I found a company and much to my surprise, they also offered transfers into Chile(actually all companies do this as I found out). I signed up to leave the next day and spent the rest of the day relaxing and having a bottle of wine with a woman from the Netherlands named Suzanne.

Day 1 – The Salar

It was a late start to the tour, as I was told. I didn’t mind. I was able to sleep in! I had breakfast at the suggestion of Suzanne at a hotel down the street. I was very happy I did. The hotel and restaurant is owned by a man from Boston. Full buffet breakfast with fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, pancakes, hashbrowns, banana bread, and. . . REAL coffee! Not the instant crap that seems to be everywhere. I was in heaven. I have missed real coffee since I left Canada(still doesn’t hold a candle to Tim Horton’s coffee. Gosh I miss my Timmie’s).

IMG_1790There were just six of us total on the tour, piled into a little 4x4 jeep. We traveled first to the train cemetery just outside the town. Uyuni used to be where trains in Bolivia went to get repaired and was a major stop on the way to Chile for transportation. Now, with newer and better trains, Uyuni was forgotten. The old trains left to rust away in the desert. It was eerie, if you ignored the dozens of 4x4s parked nearby.

After driving a bit more, and a quick stop over in a small town whose main industry isIMG_1807 salt refining to see how they do said occupation, it was time to go into the Flats. For most of the year, the huge expanse of land is completely dry and blinding white from the salt. However, for about a month and a half of the year, rain falls, leaving a thin layer of water laying on top. As the salt is too thick, the water cannot be absorbed. So it just sits on top, creating a mystical mirror-like effect. We played around with some cool effects before we had to get back in the truck, clothing completely encrusted with salt, and drive to the other side of the Salar to where we stayed the night in a little house made completely of salt. IMG_1811IMG_1826IMG_1818













Day 2 – Lagoons and Desert

After a nice little breakfast we were back in the jeep for a full day of driving. I didn’t know when booking that the actual Salar de Uyuni is only on the first day. I had assumed that the entire thing was within the Salar. Oh well, shows what happens when you assume.

IMG_1882We stopped briefly beside a field of red rocks formed from the nearby volcano, which was still active by the way. The area looked like something out of a photo from the Mars Rover. Very otherworldly.

Back in the jeep, and only non-existant roads. Made attempting to have a nap on the way next to impossible. At least the driver, Juan, was playing good music! It’s been ages since I heard good Country music like George Straight, Brooks and Dunn, and George Jones.

We finally arrived at the first lagoon, completely filled with hundreds of flamingos.IMG_1891 We had lunch here, watching the pink birds walk through the lagoon, scooping up algae for their own lunch. The area was so quiet, save for the weird honking that came from the flamingos. We ended up stopping off at another lagoon, called the “Stinky Lagoon” because of the amount of sulphur that was in the water. So much so that there were even signs up warning against smoking in the vicinity of the lagoon.

We drove from here for a good two or three hours across a vast desert before we IMG_1900arrived at what I refer to as the rock garden. Here, giant boulders are shaped by the wind and sand, one that’s famous for it’s depiction of a tree, appropriatly called the “arbol de pierda” or “Tree of stone".”  It seems unreal for such a large structure to stand up on such a narrow base. It felt like you could easily just push it over, though I felt no motivation to do so. Probably a combination of not wanting to be crushed and not wanting to be known as the guy who destroyed a famous landmark. IMG_1897

We were very high by this point(altitude wise) and were going to be even higher when we arrived at the Red Lagoon, the place we’d be spending a night. While we waited for supper, myself and three others from the group(Katy from Cusco, Gonzalo and Christina from Barcelona) played a game of dice that turned out to be a version of Yahtzee. I lost. I never have luck with those sorts of games.

Day 3 – Geothermal Fun

IMG_1913The day did not start off well in my favour. First, we had to be up at 4am in order to get to the geysers before the sun screwed up our view. Second, spending the night as such a high altitude, 4200 m to be exact, made me very nauseous, forcing me to throw up behind the dorm building we stayed in. I was classy with a capital K.

We drove over an hour through the national park, and up almost 800m past theIMG_1918 snow line of the mountains before we arrived at the geysers. The entire area was hazy from the steam shooting out of the ground. In a few places, manmade holes had been created as, according to Juan, the government was testing the feasibility of using the geothermal activity in the area as a power source. In many places, the mud bubbled from the heat underneath. It was fascinating to walk through, to look down into deep holes that appeared to have no bottom. Not the place to lose your footing, that’s for sure.

We drove out of the geyser field, passing by layers of snow, the first snow I’ve seen this close since leaving Toronto. If I had felt better, I would’ve asked to stop to make a snow angel. Not much else to do with it. Not wet enough to make snowballs.

IMG_1925Soon enough, we arrived at one of the last stops before the Chilean border, a natural hot springs. Oh man, that felt good. The water was at least 34 degrees centigrade and I couldn’t ask for anything more relaxing. It didn’t cure me of the altitude sickness, but the sore muscles certainly loosened up! I could’ve spent the entire day there but unfortunately we had to get going in order for me to catch the transfer bus into Chile.

Another jaw jolting ride over roads that don’t really exist followed, with a quicIMG_1935k stop at the Green Lagoon, so named because the type of minerals in the water make it shimmer green. We didn’t stop for very long, just long enough to get some pictures before we arrived at the Chile/Bolivia border. I said goodbye to everyone and boarded the bus, destination San Pedro de Atacama.

The entire tour was amazing, and seeing such a wide range of habitats and environments was a pleasant surprise. Who knew such a wide diversity existed here! 


  1. Pics look great, but what gives with the timestamp? Are you stuck in the 80's?

  2. I like the timestamp personally. Helps with the whole remembering when everything happened.