Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Four days, 210km, 5000m above sea level.  One jeep, 6 people:

Jen (Ireland) – I meet Jen by a pool in Tupiza. She is travelling with a guy; Arnaud.  

Arnaud (French) – Is on a mission to take naked photo’s of himself in various places around the world. At first we indulged him in this, by day 4 we thought it perfectly normal.

Dorus (Holland) Teaches me how to play Texes Holdem. Patience of a saint.

Raphael: Off-road driver extraordinaire and super mechanic. He can change a tyre in 2 mins flat and repair breaks in the middle of the desert. Thank god.

Maria: We are terrified of her. She screeches  ‘Chicos’ at us a lot and goes mad when we don’t eat her food. We try and cheer her up by playing her Blondie and Santana tracks with her name. She’s not amused.

Tuesday:  We set off from Tupiza, armed with an eclectic mix MP3 players and an open road. We travel though hundreds of miles of mountain cliff edges, dusty dirt tracks, and vast deserts.  We see packs of Llamas and ostriches race across grassy planes. Just a mountain or two separate us from The Atacama desert, Chile.

For 12 hours we all get to know each other, we take pictures, we laugh. We laugh rather a lot actually, before noticing that things wouldn’t normally be that funny? This is our first taste of altitude. A few words on this. At first we just felt thirstier, our skin felt dry, we lip glossed 10 times an hour. Then coke starts to fizz uncontrollably, and our electronics all went haywire.  Apparently, camera/phone batteries don’t like being under 5 Celsius. Bit like me then.  We chewed Coca leaves like the locals – it’s meant to help – but all it seems to do is send our mouths numb and space us out a little, kind of in a good way.

We spend the night in the tiny town of Quetena Chico and sleep under 5 blankets each. Despite the daytime sunshine, the temperature drops so much at night that we lay in bed and see our breath freeze.

Wednesday: The highlight of my morning, and possibly ever, came at the Thermas de Polquies. Two words for you; Hot Spring. I am in Jacuzzi heaven in a natural mountain pool of 30c. I did ask if they could just leave me there.

We also visited the Geisers Sol De Manana – boiling mud pots that bubble like lava at. At temperatures of 200c Raphael usefully warned us not to fall in. Apparently this happened recently. Not a great way to go. Plus the smell of sulphur might kill you first, even if the heat didn’t.

The most surreal moment of the day came at the Laguna Colorada. It’s a huge lake surrounded by mountains, which glows red in the evenings and is home to thousands of pink flamingos.  Jen and Dorus are keen photographers and are keen to stick around for sunset, but it’s only about 3pm. We spend a couple of hours at dusk all huddled in the back of the jeep in the middle of the Bolivian mountains watching the Motorcycle Diaries on my laptop. It’s funny watching Raphael laugh at the Spanish, before the English subtitles.

We spend the evening in one of the remote places I have ever been, the tiny settlement of Huayllyara. It has all the makings of a horror movie with the 4 of us in the middle of no-where, and only two hours of solar powered electricity. We have a few sips of whisky and coke to settle our nerves.  Luckily at this altitude it’s all we need to be out cold asleep by 10pm.

Thursday: Despite the movie landscapes, monotony kicks in. I have forgotten what it’s like to have more colours than earthy brown and photoshop blue sky in my colour spectrum.  Passing through such desolate ‘towns’ like San Cristobel makes me long for the big city. We kill a couple of hours and a few 100 miles leaning out of the Jeep to mouthfuls of dirt, attempting to get the perfect photo of the mildly amusing  ‘beware of Llama’s crossing’ roadside sign. We are definitely going a little stir crazy.  

Thankfully then, we have tonight’s accommodation to excite us. We are staying in a Salt Hotel on the East bank of the Solar in Colchani. Yes, a hotel made of salt! Of course the first thing I do on arrival is lick the walls. And the salt furniture.

Friday: We finally reach the promise land for sunrise at 5.30am; the Salar de Uyuni. The world’s largest Salt flat. There is nothing but white for as far as the eye can see, as the sky meets the horizon. Rather than marvel at this environmental wonder then, everyone spends a couple of hours taking silly pictures that mess with the lack of perspective, i.e. making things/people look giant or really small. The flaw in this is that after 4 days and no showers everyone is definitely rocking Bolivian llama hoodie and legwarmer look. Together with festival hair and inches of Bolivian desert sand in my pores, they are not the most photogenic pics, but after 4 days and such a epic journey it’s hard to care.

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An.an.tas.in : The Anantasin is the name of a shipwreck just of the coast of the Sensi Parasise, Mae Haad Bay, Koh Tao, Thailand. It’s one of my many favorite places.

Lit.tle: Just because it’s cute.

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