The Road to Salar de Uyuni
Updated: Dec 5, 2019
While in San Pedro de Atacama, I was desperately trying to book my next flight out at the end of the week. Sound familiar?
I had very specific places I wanted to cover in my short time in South America so, finding flights was proving be complex. It didn’t help that I had been on nonstop tours from the moment I stepped foot in San Pedro and did not have easy access to the internet. [Click here if you missed San Pedro de Atacama].
The morning of my border crossing from Chile to Bolivia, I finally found flights, YIPPEE, however, I wasn’t able to book them online. I was able to get through to the airline call center, we booked the flights, and as my driver arrived to pick me up, the rep gave me the booking number and advised me to make payment online.
All is good, right? Not! The booking number was missing a digit!
Before crossing the border I tried to contact the airline again to no avail and guess what? As soon as we crossed the Chile border into no-man’s land, immediately there was NO internet and none for the next three and a half days until I returned back to Chile!
Oh joy! Nothing to be done now except wait and hope the flights would still available.
I was surprised by the distance between the two borders; once you left Chile and before arriving at the Bolivian border it was about 20 minutes.
If you got stuck in between borders, where and what country would you be (in)?
My time in the desert continued with a 4-day/3-night drive on unpaved roads through the middle of a cold desolate desert!
Wait, did I say unpaved roads, what am I talking about, there were no roads per se.
The only souls around were a few other tourists in 4×4’s, that we’d see periodically, flamingos and other creatures.
The description given on a website describes it spot on: ‘You will be travelling to a very remote and sparsely inhabited part of the planet, its part of the sheer beauty of it but also means there are no shops, services or anything apart from the limited no. of accommodation options.’.
Once I got over the shock that I was in isolated territory again, I began to enjoy the beauty.
On this adventure, I am travelling with five others. An Austrian/Italian couple, a French couple who have already been travelling for 10 months straight, and a ‘black-sheep’ brit, who has been living in the Brazilian rainforest for her work, along with our driver who speaks no English.
Regardless of what all the agents advised, very few spoke English and we were told by one group we met that their driver, could speak English but refused, because people visiting his country should speak the language. Oh well, of course we all made do and had a great time.
We are very happy with our driver, he was pleasant, kept us safe and made sure we are fed!
One of the first stops we make in Bolivia, as we drive through the Dalí Desert, was to the Hot Springs “Polques”. I think you can take a guess by how cold outside temperatures are by the way people are bundled in their coats below, but the springs are incredibly hot.
I’m thinking ‘should I bother unbundling myself to jump in’? Oh go ahead, why not, YES, YES, YES, it was worth it.
We passed through a number of lagoons, one being a Laguna Blanca [white lagoon] and Laguna Colorada [red lagoon] as well as a Laguna Verde [green].
I found it fascinating to see flamingos and llamas in the same scene, let alone against a red lagoon!
We stopped to view a couple of ‘geysers‘. Definitely not a place where you’d want to trip!
We passed lots of rock formations.
Can you guess what they call this one? What shape does it resemble like? Any sports fans out there? Any football / soccer fans? Is that enough of a hint for you?
This was a perfect place to stop for a picnic lunch! I loved it and had a strange sense that there was a ‘presence’ of indigenous people here long, long ago which were still present in spirit today.
More interesting ‘creatures’.
Our accommodations were ‘very’ basic.
I dreaded the idea of having to get up in the middle of the night to make a dash for the toilets and showers as they were outside; burrhhh.
Oh and no hot water for showers! More burhhhh! We all made it without ‘smelling’ too bad before we reached one night in a hostel made of salt with toilets & showers inside the main building!
Along the way we passed a couple of isolated ‘towns’, that look like a scene from an American Western movie!
Finally, finally on the morning of day 3, we wake up early to see the sunrise over Incahuasi Island and Salar de Uyuni. What an amazing site! Incahuasi provides a fantastic panoramic view.
Next stop after the salt flats is the infamous train ‘graveyard’. In my opinion it should be called the train ‘junkyard’ but I suspect that wouldn’t look so hot in marketing. Here’s a good description from Atlas Obsura.
Our last stop for this day as a group is a nice lunch. From here most of the group continue on through Bolivia. Myself and one other head back to Chile and arrive the following day.
Being in this remote and expanse environment, once again, reminds me of how small we really are in comparison to what the earth and universe has to offer.
I’m grateful to Tango at Sol Andino Expecdiciones for all his assistance in San Pedro, to the great group I was able to share this experience with and to our driver who kept us safe throughout. A BIG Thank you!
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