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Colin and Sue’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 18 Nov 2006

Location: Uyuni and the Salar, Bolivia

MapUyuni seems like a bit of a frontier town - the only reason people come here is to take a trip out onto the Salar de Uyuni (the largest salt flats in the world) and the deserts to the south. We spent ages deciding which tour agency to use - finally going with the one used by some people who we had met in Potosi.

In typical Bolivian fashion, the 10.30am start time was just a rough guideline - we got on the road at 11.30am and headed for the very missable 'train graveyard', a load of rusty metal on rails. Soon after this we had our first puncture - our driver jacked up the car to change the tyre, but soon realised that the spare was also too flat to use and so took out the inner tube and started patching it just like you would a bicycle tyre. We could also hear some hissing coming from the other back wheel, which it turns out had also been punctured, and the shifting weight led to the car falling off the jack embedding the brake disc in the sand - fortunately nobody was underneath at the time. This prompted a lot of head shaking and flagging down of other cars to get more glue! Eventually another car from the same tour company stopped and after 2 hours with their combined efforts we were on the move again, driving out onto the salt flat.

The Salar is an amazing place - completely flat and white stretching out into the distance as far as you can see with a few 'islands' poking out of it. While our lunch was being cooked we had plenty of time to take the obligatory no-perspective photos of us with a bottle of water (no Coke for us) and buy some dice made out of salt. We stopped at one of the islands, Isla de Pescado, which is covered in cactus trees - one of them is over 1200 years old. Due to our earlier problems we were still driving when the sun set and turned up at our overnight stay in the dark - a hostal with bedrooms made of salt. Had a couple of games of table football with two German guys on our tour - we triumphed!

Next day we left the Salar and headed up into the desert. First stop was at some caves - Galaxia, with strange wafer-thin stalagtite formations, and Muerte with burial chambers and skulls. Next we visited a series of lagunas each with its own colony of flamingos - we were also lucky enough to see an inquisitive Andean Fox (although the driver couldn´t understand why we wanted to stop and take pictures) and wild vicuñas in the distance. We had our next puncture at just about the highest and most remote part of the desert - this time we had to borrow a spare wheel from another car to get us on our way. Further into the desert we stopped to look at some sand-blasted rocks, including the famous Arbol de Piedra an 8 metre high boulder balancing on a narrow stem that looks a bit like a tree.

Arrived at Laguna Colorado and went for a walk to the salt deposits by the lake - they looked just like ice and it was so cold you could believe that it was ice. Next morning up at 4am to go to the geysers for sunrise - we made it in time even after yet another puncture and another borrowed spare wheel. After the geysers we braved the thermal pool - lovely and hot but getting in and out was the challenge. Had breakfast by the laguna while the driver had another attempt at fixing the spare wheel, including borrowing a pick-axe - not sure what use that was but we could quite understand his feelings. Our abiding memory of the poor guy is of him pumping up inner tubes.

We then carried on to the Chilean border - in the middle of nowhere, but our connecting bus was there waiting for us. Once in Chile we encountered something strange to us - a smooth tarmac road with white lines and barriers! We are definitely leaving behind the remote Andean cultures and landscapes for the more westernised Chile and Argentina. We arrived in Chile on 17 November, by chance exactly 3 months (and 3 countries) after leaving the UK.