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Salt Flats of Uyuni - Day 4

Written on: Thursday January 10th, 2008

A journal entry from: Kevin and Julie's RTW

Location: Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia 

Author: Kevin and Julie 


The alarm went off and Kevin bounced out of bed, grabbing the camera on his way out.  Looking up at the Southern sky we are always amazed at the clarity and the shear number of stars visible in the desert where there total absence of light pollution. He snapped a couple of shots of the night sky and then helped the driver load our bags onto the truck. There we sat, waiting in the dark for the driver and the cook to finish packing their bags.  They had rushed us out of bed when they were not even ready themselves. The reason for the early waking was because we wanted to visit the Solar de Manaņa geysers which are only active in the morning.  We were all still pretty tired and slept for the most of the ride there.  When we arrived, I was a tad concerned about walking around the ground and had read about other travelers who walked off the trail and had fallen through the ground into boiling pools of water. I stayed in the car but Kevin, Thomas and the driver walked right up to admire the boiling steam shooting from the ground. 

We only stayed for a few minutes because there wasn?t much to see other than one active geyser which was only seen by flashlight. We got back into the car and drove two hours to Laguna Blanca, white to borax, where we would stop for morning breakfast. This laguna was known for its geothermic hot springs and we had the opportunity to take an early morning dip. I was hesitant since it was so cold outside and I really hoped the hot springs would be hot enough to defrost the chill in my bones. We arrived just as the sun was starting to rise. The vapours from the hot springs were being illuminated by the first lights of day and far off in the distance was a group of flamingos. We were the only truck there and we had the quiet area to ourselves. We walked across a makeshift path of stones to the heated pool to discover that although the water was warm it wasn?t warm enough for any of us to strip down to and jump in. Also, the natural pool had not been used much lately and the bottom of it was covered in a green slime. We were still happy to be there as the surrounding mountains and the laguna were being slowly colored by the first raises of the sun. We spent half hour there and a few trucks joined us. It was our breakfast stop as well so we enjoyed hot cups of tea and instant coffee as well as bread and jam from the back of the truck. Before leaving the area, the driver decided to top up his gas tank for the return trip to Uyuni (but he would drop us off at the Chilean border). He climbed to the top of the truck, attached a hose to the extra tank of gas and tried to empty it into the gas tank of the truck. The cook was trying to help by siphoning it through the hose with her mouth, but failing to get gas. Kevin walked over and offered his help once again. First sucking with his mouth, he then quickly dropped the hose into the gas tank opening and turned around to spit out a mouthful of gas. Within the few seconds he had turned away, the pressure from the gas in the hose caused it to detach itself from the opening and started to spray the outside of the truck, the ground, those standing near. He ran over to catch it and jam it back into the opening and in doing so he splashed the box containing all of the cookware and condiments. The cook wasn?t very happy sine everything she needed was gas-soaked. Oh well, these things happen, just more often to us than others.

Our last stop of the tour was at Laguna Verde, a beautiful aquamarine laguna coloured by arsenic, lead, copper and other heavy metals, with white crusts of salt along its banks. Looming overhead was the perfectly cone-shaped Volcano Licancabur (5960m) and its reflection shimmered on the lake.  The scenery was stunning and really helped us to forget the crazy music being played repetitively on the tape deck, the car troubles, and the crappy food. Most of us walked by ourselves, meditating on our own thoughts and absorbing the beauty so hard to put into words. We spent a few minutes there, communing with the altiplano and knowing that in an hour we would at the border saying good-bye to Bolivia.

We hopped back into the truck for one last time and took to the badly eroded road towards our last stop. The road circled the volcano and soon we were at the border outpost. It was not much more than a little hut with a dirt road leading in and out and a simple wooden gate. We handed over our passport, had our exit stamp we had received four days earlier checked. Part of the cost of the trip included a bus from the border into the Chilean town of San Pedro de Atacama. It was supposed to arrive within the hour so we unloaded our bags, said our good-byes to Laura and wished her well on her return trip to Uyuni. She had a pre-booked bus ride back to Lima yesterday and she was hoping that like the driver had said she would be able to do a date change and not have to spend more money re-booking herself for tonight. We figured that they would drive away at that time but the driver stayed around. Was he waiting with us till we got our bus? No, a few minutes later that question was answered when he came over to ask us if we had liked the food. We answered yes to be polite then he shocked us by saying loudly that ?his tip was missing?. Our mouths dropped open and we stared at him like he had grown two heads. Was he really thinking that after everything that had happened: his lack of interest towards us, the fact that Kevin had to be the one to fix the car, that he spent most of his time flirting with the cook and in general having had a disastrous 4 days, that he really deserved the money and that we would actually pay him? Kevin, Thomas and I said no quietly and walked away. He stood there for a few more minutes till he gave up, got into the truck and drove away. I felt really bad for Laura, knowing that she had another 12 hours of bumping along with them till they arrived later that evening. Hopefully, there were no more truck problems.

Our shuttle bus arrived within the next thirty minutes. We threw our bags onto the roof rack and got settled in for the one hour drive to the town of San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.  


From Laura on Feb 21st, 2008

Oh what memories! I still can't get the song "Crazy people, crazy music' out of my head - and now neither can you!!!! To fill you in on my trip back to La Paz, the short version, we waited at the border with Chile because he was trying to pick up extra passengers to return to Uyuni. He managed to get one, a nice travel agent from La Paz, but it meant I couldn't lie down on the comfy seat, so I climbed in the back. You are right, it's much bouncier there. We soon came back to another hot lake, one we had passed earlier that morning and he had asked us if we wanted to stop and we said No. Well, he asked me again, I said No - keep going - and so we stopped. Driver and girlfriend and nice travel agent all got into the hot springs and stayed there for about 45 minutes, but before they went he turned up the Bony M real loud! I sat and sulked and turned the music off. I tried the cat trick of willing them to come out by staring at them but nothing worked. In their own time we got back in the car and set off again. We passed lots of broken down jeeps along the way and each time the driver stopped to offer help, 'How nice' I thought. But the first time he could help by giving someone a spare Jack we had, I realised he was charging money for it! He also managed to pick up 2 more people and took them back to Uyuni so we were 4 in the back again, and he wasn't cheap. I can't remember exactly how much but I do remember thinking it was a lot of money! The travel agent tried to help me by saying he would come to the bus station with me to make sure I got a ticket that night but the driver said it would not be necessary and had all been arranged - yeah, right! We dropped the nice travel agent off and the driver drove me back to his agent. When I asked about the bus station, he just said, "No, agent" so I just sat there in the office, regaling all their future customers with tales of our journey until someone came to try to shut me up. They took me back across Uyuni to my original agent who said she had been so worried about me that she kept asking the other agent what had happened to me and they said nothing. So of course she hadn't changed my bus ticket back to La Paz. She said that all the buses were full until saturday night, this was Thursday morning, and I said that wasn't good enough as I was flying back to NZ on Sunday morning. Anyway, she really didn't want me to tell the agent in La pAz about the trip and I said I wouldn't complain, I wouldn't ask for money back - JUST GET ME ON A BUS TONIGHT. Eventaully, she got me a ticket on a public bus, no reclining seats here, no movie, no dinner and get tucked up in a blanket. Instead, i was in the driver's mate's chair. You know the one, the tiny one, 4 inches from the windscreen with no arm rests let alone a back rest. So yes, I sat there for 12 hours, I got knocked every time someone got on or off the bus, I fell off if I moved an inch either side, and for about the last 6 hours I had an old woman chewing coca leaves in my ear, the smell jsut made me feel sick. Anyway, I got back to La Paz in time to catch my flight, but I did break my promise and complained to the agent in La Paz. I thought that was the least I could do after that journey back. I bumped into some other people who had been at the wedding I went to before Uyuni , they had been to Uyuni and been delayed by 2 days and missed their flight back to New Zealand and were told there wasn't another until FEB 24!!!! I felt quite a bit better after that Love the photos Laura (Humphrey)