Monday, 11 June 2012

Gaining perspective...salt flats, flamingos, cacti and canyons

After another night bus we arrived in the dusty very cold town of Uyuni which literally felt like it was in the middle of nowhere and it pretty much was! It was the gateway to the 3 day salt flat tour which we hadnt intended to do originally but we had had it recommended by so many people that we thought we couldn't miss it out. we spent ages trying to decide which tour to go with as we had heard that the quality of them can vary so much but we finally settled on one and we were in luck - we had four other people in our jeep and they were great fun - a couple from Australia and a couple from London like us. it was a good thing we all got on as we would be in the jeep for hours on end for the next 3 days as we had such big distances to cover. we also had a friendly driver who only spoke Spanish so Millie and i were the translators which was generally successful with one very funny mis- translation which i"ll get to later.

Our first stop was at a site with loads of abandoned trains hundreds of years old. it was pretty surreal walking round the train grave yard and it definitely looked like a film set or music video location. Next we headed on to the salt flats. The flats go on for miles and it was hard to make your brain understand that it isn"t snow and that it is in fact salt. They are the largest salt flats in the world. we all got stuck into trying to work out how to do the perspective photos and got more and more inventive as we went along with different props coming into it. The salt flats completely mess with the perspective and as you can see you can make yourself look smaller than an apple or a toy dinosaur or even look like you are standing on somebody's tongue (like I am on Jontys)!!

After hours of driving across the white expanse and feeling like we were never getting anywhere we made it to our hostel made out of salt - of course!! Jonty and I hiked up a hill with cacti and got a great view of the flats and then as the sun was setting we walked across the flats. We felt like Arctic explorers as it was so cold and the whiteness just stretched on for miles! We had a fun evening chatting with our group and the other people staying in the hostel.

Our second day was a day of lakes and volcanoes. we had breakfast at sun rise and then set off in the jeep. The landscape was incredible - desert with massive mountains and rock formations and no roads - just occasional tracks our 4wd could follow. It also felt like you were never getting anywhere as the landscape just stretched on for miles and miles. We got to this stunning lake which was full of flamingos and it was here that jonty and i turned into wild life photographers or thought we had! We couldn't stop taking photos of flamingos so i challenge whoever is brave enough back home to sit through the medley of flamingo images!!! We visited two more high altitude lakes and spotted lots of llamas and vicunas - the posh llama.

It was as we were singing along to some driving music that we spotted another creature on the side of the road and this is where the language miscommunication started. I got out to look at and take a picture of it as it looked so cute and rabbit like (in the attached photo) but i then heard panicked shouts from the other 5 in the car telling me to get back into the car quickly as the creature is highly dangerous. i couldnt believe it, as they looked so cute, so i stayed outside but at a safe distance. Admittedly i was slightly prepared if they did spring at me and bite me, which had entered my mind after the frenzied warnings from the others. It turns out that the guide had mimed eating because he was suggesting that we could feed the creature if we wanted to but the others had thought that he meant that it was a 'killer rabbit' and would attack me! We all found it absolutely hilarious that we had been worried about this fluffy animal. Luckily our spanish served us better over the next couple of days.

That evening it was unbelievably cold and a few hours in we were wearing pretty much everything we owned. Cameron even had his board shorts on over his jeans! But, despite the cold we had a fun time playing cards and drinking warming red wine.

Up at 5am on our final day and it was still sooo cold but after a short drive (to 4950m) the sight of bubbling mud pots and incredible geysers and sulphurous clouds really woke us up! It looked like an alien landscape and it was strange as nothing was roped off and you could get as close to them as you wanted to or were prepared to. The Bolivian safety systems, this and what we saw on the death road, were vastly different to the cotton wool safety of the UK!! But, we of course didnt go crazy and get our early morning shower there. Instead we visited some hot springs a little further on. After a few more stops at some striking rock formations we made it back to Uyuni and relative warmth of a hostel with heating!

Up at 5am again and we caught a slightly scary bus to Tupiza a town famed for being where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid met their makers. It was a big bus that didn't have much room to spare as it wound its way along cliff hugging roads. We frequently had to do 3 point turns on the side of a cliff and one Australian couple, sat at the front of the bus, woke up and shouted as they were stunned that they couldnt see the ground!! Luckily the driver was very used to these roads and we made it there safe and sound. It was hot and sunny in Tupiza and Jonty and I were so happy to feel warmth again. We checked into what has to be one of my favourite hostels so far, that even had a swimming pool and spent a lovely 3 days in Tupiza relaxing by the pool, walking through the impressive red canyons and dry river beds and visiting the markets. Cameron and Millie from our Uyuni tour were also in the same hostel so we had a fun meal out with them too one evening.

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