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Vicki’s Travel Diary

Monday, 03 Mar 2008

Location: Uyuni, Bolivia

MapWEEK 7: SALTA (ARGENTINA) - UYUNI (BOLIVIA)

Another week full of adventure and long train and bus trips! Ben and I spent a few days in Salta, in the north west of Argentina, and then journeyed up into Bolivia to Uyuni where we did a tour of the famous Salt Flats.

From our hostel in Salta we organised a one-day horse riding expedition, which was based at a ranch about 40 mins outside of Salta. We rode without helmets as apparently the risk of catching hair lice on these types of expeditions is high... luckily no one fell off their horse so we made the right choice! After a few hours of gentle riding, our instructor encouraged us all to bring our horses to a gallop which was great fun although my arms hurt a little the next day from holding onto the horse`s reigns for dear life. Our butts and inner thighs also got a good workout, although the benefits of this were probably outweighed by the Argentinean beef BBQ feast they provided for lunch. In typical Latin American fashion we finished riding at 6pm and weren`t picked up by our driver until 9pm, but we passed the time playing a traditional Argentinean game similar to horseshoe - the rancher`s son of about 3 years old put me to shame. At midnight we boarded an 8 hour overnight bus to La Queca, an Argentinean town on the border with Bolivia.

After arriving in La Queca pretty exhausted, we headed to the border crossing unsure of the visa situation for crossing into Bolivia, as our guidebook said that whilst we shouldn`t have to pay any money to cross, you can`t be sure as things in Bolivia are never certain. But our concerns were unwarranted as the crossing process took about 5 minutes - we had our passports stamped on the Argentinean side, walked across the bridge (which acts as the border crossing), and then had our passports stamped on the Bolivian side. I`ve never experienced such a relaxed immigration process! We spent the morning in Villazon, the town on the Bolivian side of the border crossing, and caught a train that afternoon headed for Uyuni.

We arrived in Uyuni at about 1.30am the next morning and stepped off the train to be greeted by a very cold wind at an altitude of about 3600m. We naively thought that, as with ever other town that we`ve arrived in, we would find numerous people offering accommodation at the train station. But no, not a person in sight. So we, along with about 20 other equally naive travellers, started wandering the streets of the town of Uyuni, knocking on hostel doors hoping to wake someone up so that we could get a bed for the night. We were freezing cold and half asleep, and after about half an hour we came across an open hostel - I`ve never been so grateful for a hot shower and a bed!

The following morning we got up early to organise a 3 day tour of the Salt Flats and were lucky to find a tour company that was happy to accommodate our request for a private tour and an english speaking guide. We had heard stories of 6 or 7 people cramped into the back of a 4WD, which didn´t really fit with Five Star Falvey`s way of travelling (or mine, I must confess). Our guide, Juan, was fantastic. He was a local from a community near Uyuni and he had studied tourism at university, so he was very knowledgeable and told us many environmental and cultural facts during the tour. Getting an english speaking guide was worth the extra Bolivianos, as we spoke with fellow travellers who opted for the cheap and cramped tour option and heard stories of guides that only spoke Spanish, didn´t explain anything throughout the tour, or spent their time drunk behind the wheel! Our 3 day tour of the Salt Flats and surrounding areas was majestic, but freezing cold as we were at an altitude ranging between 4000m and 5000m throughout the tour. The salt flat we visited was the largest in the world, about the size of Northern Ireland. The first night we stayed in a hostel and the building was made entirely from salt! We awoke early at about 5am each morning of the tour to watch the sunrise and see the geysers, so as a result were in bed pretty early each night. Luckily Ben and I did not suffer from altitude sickness, just a mild headache first thing in the morning, although this could have been from getting up so early... During the tour we also visited coloured lagoons (blue, green and red) where you can see flamingoes feeding, hot springs and we saw an active valcano. Please look at the photos as I can`t do the scenery justice with my writting!

After a days rest in Uyuni at the end of the Slat Flats tour, we boarded another train (this time at 1.30am) destined for Oruro and arrived the next morning. Then quickly headed to the bus station to catch a 4 hour bus to La Paz. With all this night-time travel and interrupted sleep I have, quite happily, developed the Gotterson habit of nodding off to sleep while sitting up and so have been squeezing in extra sleep whenever possible. Upon arriving in La Paz we decided it was time to treat ourselves to some luxury and checked into a top hotel for 2 nights, for some R&R. Next we move to The Brew House hostel in La Paz for 2 nights, a hostel where they have their own micro-brewery on site and welcome you with a beer on arrival. We`re also doing "The World`s Most Dangeours Road" mountain biking tour here in La Paz so we will be sure to have some good stories from that for our next blog so stay tuned!