2004 Journey Bolivia Erik's Travels

El Salar de Uyuni

Last Friday June 25th I left Potosi headed for Uyuni to find a tour to the Salar de Uyuni (the desert and salt flats). I took a taxi to the bus station only to find out that buses to Uyuni left from a different office about five blocks uphill from the station. So I wandered over there and bought a ticket for the 11:30am bus. About 12:30pm the bus finally showed up and we started the journey. Everything went fine for the first few hours. We blew a tire later in the afternoon but it was easily fixed and we were on our way again. About 5:40pm we encountered a roadblock on the road. We waited a few minutes and then the bus turned around to find an alternative route around the roadblock. It was about 6pm by then and the driver told everyone what they were planning on doing. All of the locals on board started getting really upset then because they thought that the other road we would take was too dangerous to travel on and they wanted to wait for the road blockers to go home. Which for some reason they thought would be at 7pm. So after a bit of arguing the driver decided to wait it out. So we sat on the bus until about 6:45pm. The road blockers had left and all the men from the bus went outside to clear the rocks off of the road. Some of the people who were cold started lighting up the small bushes that lined the desert to stay warm. There were not very many rocks on the road and we had about a dozen of us moving them. I was thinking “This is too easy!” when we discovered the huge pile of sand blockading the road. The sand was about four feet high, a bit wider then the road and forty feet long with rocks buried on the inside. The bus tried to drive over it but was not even close to making it so it backed up and two shovels were produced and we started digging. It took about an hour to dig out a path for the bus to drive through. We finally made it to Uyuni about 9pm and were greeted by a throng of tour operators. I already knew what company I wanted to go with and headed over to the Colque Tours office with three English folk I met on the bus ride (Roger, Fiona & Libby). They had spots for the next morning so we signed up for the same four day tour.

We left around 10:30am on Saturday June 26th. There were only the four of us plus our driver & guide Raul so there was plenty of room in our Land Cruiser. Our first stop was the train graveyard just outside of town then we visited a tiny village where salt was processed and bagged. Then it was on to the amazing Salar de Uyuni which is a huge salt flat. Workers scrap the salt into piles and then load it into trucks to take to the little village. All the work is done by hand and each huge pile of salt sold for only one boliviano each (about 15 cents).

The salt flat was amazing and we spent our first night in a hotel on the edge of it. We drank them out of beer after only three bottles so we had to switch to $2 boxes of red wine. But then magically towards the end of the night more beer showed up. At 10pm we were sitting there drinking and hanging out and they shut off the power generator without telling anyone so all the sudden there were half a dozen drunk people stranded in the dark. But we managed to make it to bed and the next morning our group (everyone else was drinking tea) was the last to get up and head out.

The second day of our tour we left the salt flats behind and headed across the desert. We visited several lakes and the Arbol de Piedra which is a rock sticking up in the air that looks like a tree. The whole area around there had just amazing rock formations. We arrived that night to the “cold” hotel where it supposedly got to below zero temperatures at night. There was nothing to do and no beer to drink so we all went to be before 9pm and tried to stay warm.

Day three we got up nice and early and headed out at 7am to go and see the geysers. About 15 mins away from the hotel our car quit working. Raul tried to fix it for a bit then walked back to the hotel to get help. So I waited in the freezing car for an hour while the English recreated lawn bowling with rocks. Raul finally came back with some help and the guy in the other car unhooked his radiator hose and sat there holding it while all the steam poured out. While he was doing that Raul jacked up the back of the Land Rover. Then he started to tighten up the fan belt. I asked them what was wrong and they said there was ice in the motor. Not sure what all the other stuff was doing to get the car working but after a while they gave up and towed it back to the hotel. The Land Rover that had come to rescue us had a group of gringos waiting for it back at the hotel so they went off on their tour and Raul went with them to try to find us a new car. So we were left with the little Bolivian family that ran the hotel who kept laughing at us. So we pulled a table our into the sun and drank coffee and played cards until Raul came back with a new car and driver at 11:30am. So we pilled in and continued our tour to the geysers, a hot springs and some more lakes. Around 4pm we met up with another car from our same tour company which had Ned the 19 year old Welshman and Yuval the Israeli. Everyone else from the four Colque tour cars had continued on to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile so the six of us were the only ones left to finish off the fourth day and head back to Uyuni. So we said goodbye to Raul who went back to take care of his car and headed off for a three hour drive to our lodging for that night. At our hotel we were fed and they had an amble supply of beer. So we ate and drank and then a musical group from the villages school came to entertain us for a bit with Bolivian folk songs. Monday night was my sixth month anniversary of leaving home and well spent I think. We had loads of fun that night.

Our fourth and final day, Tuesday, was mostly spent driving back to Uyuni. We stopped at a few different villages along the way and got back to town around 2pm. We hung out during the day at a restaurant with a very smoky fire pit and then I caught the train to Oruro at midnight with Roger, Fiona and Libby. They headed off to La Paz on the bus and I went off to find a Hostel. I slept for a bit and then hung out around Oruro. It is a very cold place and not too exciting.

Today I am going to head off to La Paz in a bit and chill out there for a few days.