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Kel and Rob’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 07 Jan 2006

Location: Salar del Uluni, Bolivia

MapAgainst other travellers warnings, crossing the border from Argentina to Bolivia was as simple as paying for groceries at the supermarket.

It is quite amazing how towns on each side of a border can be so opposite. The Argentinian side, although dusty, felt safe. The Bolivian side was dirty, smelly and full of what we assumed to be Bolivian drug dealers. Now in Bolivia, and feeling a bit peckish, Rob decided to try his luck and devour some Empanadas (South American equivalent to a Pie) from a street vendor (this proved to be a rather big mistake - more on this later) while Kel took the safer option and had some pann (bread) with nutella smeared over it.

From there we caught a bus to Tupiza where Rob hoped to ease his headache and acclimatise (we had just risen over 3000m in a little over a day) before joining a tour around the salt flats in a day or two. This was until we met Canadian Will who informed us that there was still seats left on their tour leaving in 30min.

Before we knew it, we were rocking and rolling up the nearest Mt range on our way to over 4300m chatting to Will and Dean from Canada and Nick from Holland (Dutch are everywhere). Nothing like a slow accent. When the headache got worse, and the dizzyness, nose bleeds and tingling sensation set in we realised that we had made a gross error. Just to top it off, that night Rob's Empanadas from the street vendor came back to haunt him and he spent most of the night exortist style projecting from both ends (sometimes simultaniously) with no electricity, no running water and having to put the used toilet paper in a cardboard box next to the toilet!!!

Contary to all this the scenary was spectacular with each new ascent showing beautiful canyons, mudbrick villages, flash floods from rain upstream and a spectacular sunset and lightening show.

The next day, with Rob a little worse for wear and now chewing coco leaves faster than they could be supplied, we headed up higher to 5000m!!! First stop was a deserted Spanish Village where a walk DOWN the hill left us all gasping for air. After more scenary we visited our first lagoon with pink flamingo (muchos foto senor), followed by a bath (the first in 4 days) in a thermal pool and the highlight of the day, the geysers at 5000m. To Robs failing body it was thankfully all downhill from here.

With an alright sleep had by all that night the next day we visited a number of different coloured lagoons (more pink flamingos and llamas) and had lunch under the shadow of an active, steaming volcano. That night we all snuck out of the camp and visited the ancient catacombs (complete with skeletons). It was at this stage that Rob started to feel better and handed over the sickness stick to Kel, who spent the night with a high fever, dizziness and a little vomit thrown in - gee Bolivian food has been kind to us!

The final day was spent at the Salar del Uluni (Salt Flats). These salt flats are 12000 sq km wide and 8-10m deep and use to be a huge salt sea (hence all the islands). We watched the sun rise over Fish Island, saw 1200 year old cactus, visited a salt hotel (thank god we were not staying there - "to come inside you must buy something" said the sign!) and saw how they processed the salt. This would be a great job and I believe they are taking resumes if anyone is interested - 50kg of salt shovelled (in the baking sun) pays 1 bolivianos (0.12US) and you only work when they need salt!

Arriving in Uluni yesterday we checked ourselved into the nearest hotel and allowed our bodies some rest and a decent toilet (still not good and really nice sitting and having a meal together with one of us having to make a runner to the toilet every so often)