After Sucre, caught a good ole Bolivian bus and headed off to Uyuni, passing through Potosi (highest city in the world), getting to Uyuni at about 6 in the evening. Now, the phrase “the middle of nowhere” can be used to describe lots of places, but Uyuni literally is in the middle of nowhere, or more accurately the middle of nothing. As you come over the ridge, an enormous flat open plain opens up with matching mountains in the distance and in the middle of this flatness sits Uyuni. Nothing else is visible apart from the town and desert. The town itself is nothing much to write home about (or indeed in a blog) so I won’t. We sorted out our tour of the Salt Flats leaving the next day, had a bit of llama (not sure which bit) for dinner then went to bed.
The tour was a 3 day, 2 night jaunt around the altoplano of SouthWestern Bolivia. Altoplano means High Plain which is a pretty accurate description of what it is. The town of Uyuni is something like 3600m above sea level and at points we climbed up to 5000m. Which is higher than Mont Blanc. A lot is made of the altitude in Bolivia and I’d heard tales of gringos flying into La Paz (world’s highest capital at 3600m) from sea level and turning blue with altitude sickness and having to be flown out. None of the people I was with turned blue (well not from altitude anyway) but you do feel it. Not when you’re just walking around, but climb a set of stairs and after 20 seconds you’re huffing and puffing away for real.
Anyway, back to our little tour. We were told to be ready to go at 10. Which we were. And at 12 we actually left, this being Bolivia after all. Our first stop was the highly photogenic Train Cemetery, a rusting collection of steam engines from the 19th century. Uyuni is not on a paved road, but there is still a working railway there, left over from the days when the silver from the mines in Potosi was shipped out by rail.
After we all took far too many photos there, we headed off to the days main attraction, the Salt Flats themselves. We stopped in a little village which makes a living a from extracting the salt for tables across Bolivia and Peru then drove on to the Salt Hotel for lunch. It’s one of those places easy to describe (it’s flat and white) but impossible to give an accurate feeling of what it feels like. Formed when seawater was trapped by the mountains around rising up, the water has long evaporated away, leaving just the salt. Lots of it. It’s 12,000 km2 and in places the salt is 10m deep. It’s so flat GPS satellites use it for configuration and it apparently contains 50% of the world’s lithium. Whatever that might be.
And it’s a road. Well, there are roads across it anyway. No signposts but a fair bit of traffic. After lunch (more llama) we were allowed an hour or so to take those pictures everyone takes, using the perspective to make it look like you’re standing on someones shoulder. Everyone else did, not me as my sodding battery ran out.
Last stop of the day was Isla de Pescado (Fish Island, not much of that around) which is an island standing in the middle of the flats. With all the flat around, it did feel like an island, except we drove there. It was stunning.