South America | Bolivia | Salar de Uyuni (Reserva Avaroa) – A big white expanse
The trip to tour the Salar d´Uyuni left early Friday morning the 28th of February. We hitched into town on a bus along with another four or five people the bus driver picked up. I had signed up the day before for the four day trip to Uyuni in Bolivia and then back to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile via some extraordinary sights, including the Salar d´Uyuni, one of the world´s biggest salt flats. Antonia, a British friend, decided to go with me as well. We boarded a mini bus, got our stamps in our passports to leave Chile at the local immigration office and we informed by our driver we would be quickly going up to 4500 m and if we started to feel ill to let him know. That instantly had us drinking our bottles of water, hoping to help hydrate ourselves and hold off any altitude sickness.
We went straight up the mountain keeping the local volcano to our left as we quickly ascended in the minibus. Turning off the paved road, I didn´t know at the time that would be the last time in four days to see a paved road, and I needed to say hello to bumpy, rocky dirt roads. We got our stamp for entering Bolivia in an isolated little building in the middle of nowhere in between two mountains. It literally was at the invisible line separating the two countries. Our driver explained that Bolivia had kept the rights to the natural gas in these mountains, and would not sell it directly to Chile because of their history of disagreements and war. In fact, Bolivia sells its natural gas from these mountains to Argentina who then sells it to Chile!
Our fascinating sights started as we went slightly downhill to Laguna Blanca, and traded our minibus for our Land Cruiser. I had no idea the long day ahead of us. We got in the truck and headed around the lake and through the mountains on rough roads, taking in the amazing sights. Vast expanses of rock and sand, red mountains with some snow on their otherwise desolate peaks, llamas and vicunas occaisionally running across the high plains and the rare hitchhiker. We had to wonder, where did these two guys come from, as we had not passed a house yet. We didn´t pick them up, but assured them our truck was not the last of the days transport going down this road.
We had lunch at a remote location, tomato, cucumber and avocado sandwiches, yum! The avocados, or Palta in this part of the world, are so delicious, and you have them with everything you may eat. Starting back up, the group in our Landcruiser started to get to know one another a little better. We had myself, an American, two German sisters, Sylvie and Birgit, the British lady, Antonia, another American living in Santiago, Diana and a British maximum security prison officer, Andy. Quite a group, and we were in for some fun together.
Our long day included me showing everyone my iPod, and sharing my music, when we tired of hearing the ONE tape our Bolivian driver had of Peruvian dance music (this includes what sounds like a school gym full of 9 year olds screaming every 20 seconds, not sure where this makes it good music). Our scenery included more mountains, streams we had to cross the very rare village, many ¨pee room¨ stops because of all of the water we all drank, and lots and lots of dry expanse ahead of us. Towards the end of the day as the sun got low on the horizon, we noticed the mountains behind us and a very flat road ahead of us. Mirages appeared in the distance of water on the horizon, and smaller mountains could be seen in the distance.
We pulled into Uyuni, Bolivia, and as our driver had told us, the Carnival festival appeared to be going on in full force! I stepped out of the truck and an older lady instantly pulled me into the passing parade of ladies decked out in the finest big puffy skirts with huge flower bundles tied to their backs. They danced while holding even more flowers raising them up and down while spinning around to the music the men played. She would not let me go, and had me dancing a full block with them, before she did finally let me go and get my backpack.
After checking into the hotel, Diana and I headed out to see more of the festival and parade. People lined the streets, water balloons flew in the air, little kids sprayed everyone with the Carnival foam, Bolivians in typical dress danced in the streets, entire bands played, clowns marched down the street, and everyone who wanted to joined in with the lines of dancers going down the street. We had walked into one of the best Carnival parties in Bolivia and South America. Fireworks went off, and then the party died down for the next hour. After dinner with the group, the party appeared to pick back up, with more dancers in the street and the bands playing again. Luckily, I had packed my ear plugs, so that when I did finally go to bed, I got some sleep.
We had a nice sleep in and headed with our things across the street to our Land Cruiser. Let´s just say, the Walk of Life by Dire Straits will remain a fond reminder of this trip since it was one of about 6 songs total on the cassette our driver played for the next three days. (I will insert more later)
Last thought, my ankle seems to not be as bad as I originally thought. It hurts every now and then, but seems to be healing nicely.