A relatively short run to Uyuni (Photos here.) which is on the edge of the world’s largest – over 4,000 square miles – and highest – 3,656 metres above sea level – salt flats. We arrived at the Tonito Hotel – allegedly home of the best pizzas in Bolivia – some claim as there must be 50 pizza restaurants in tiny Uyuni alone.
A complete contrast to the mine this was Bolivia under bright blue skies and a truly fantastic experience. Starting with a visit to the train cemetery just outside town which has trains abandoned when the mining industry collapsed in the 1940’s a truly spectacular location for photography. In fact so good I didn’t think we had long enough there so sneaked back on my own the next morning for a brilliant 45 minutes with the place to myself. I had agreed $15 soles (£1,50) with the taxi driver for the ride out, waiting the hour and the ride back – I was so pleased with the visit gave him $20 to make his day too !
Then onward onto the salt flats a truly amazing place, first to the area where the salt is dug by hand for processing we were given a demonstration of the process and bought a small bag of the salt for the princely sum of $1 or 10p. The guide explained they can produce as much salt as they want, the issue is distribution and marketing is so limited. The salt “factory” was in a building behind the street market which also advertised a public toilet – there was a dispute as to wether we had paid to use the facility or not (we had) and Tony and Heather ended up locked in the toilet block for ten minutes until we found the guide we had paid to let them out. Bizarre.
This was followed by a visit to the market and we started our collection of hats for the family finding the perfect multi-coloured sun hat for Jim to go with his eccentric choice of shirts.
Then an hour long drive out in Land Cruisers at 80 km per hour to the Isla Incahuasi a rocky outcrop that pokes through the 27 metres deep salt bed and supports the only vegetation for hundreds of Km in the form of giant cactus which grow to 10-12m high all over the island. It looks featureless but clearly the drivers know their way, at one point we passed two small crosses in the otherwise empty desert our driver crossed himself and explained it was the scene of an accident when two land cruisers had crashed head on resulting in a number deaths.
Quite unbelievable considering the absolutely vast open space and difficult to conceive how the collision had occurred even if one of the drivers was asleep at the wheel. Shortly after this our driver was definitely a bit sleepy ( it’s hard to concentrate across miles of featureless salt plain) so we kept up a running stream of questions in Spanglish to keep him awake !
The island is well worth a visit although there is a slight surprise to find there is an additional entry fee for the island which includes the otherwise not accessible toilet. Although in reality people did use it as like a lot of things in Bolivia control is extremely random and its luck of the draw whether tickets will be inspected. It’s not the amount as a mere £3 it just should be included in the tour price and no-one would have blinked. There a couple of shops and a restaurant selling basic snacks – this is the middle of truly nowhere. Lunch was a mini feast of chicken with pasta and vegetables conjured out of the back of the Toyota, whilst the ceoliac’s got steak and potatoes – we are still not sure why Bolivian chicken wasn’t considered gluten free! Probably something lost in translation………….
After lunch and a great walk around the island we drove back towards Uyuni and stopped en-route to take advantage of the natural infinity effect of the salt plain to take some optical illusion photographs – some with greater success than others. I got a couple that are OK – or will be with some editing, Tony had some better results and there are some fun ones at his blog http://tonyhays50.blogspot.co.uk. For me the funniest moment was when Anthony did a streak right past Karen, Jane and Colin busy taking photos and none of them noticed…………………evidence on the odyssey bl0g post “Breathtaking Bolivia” http://odysseyexplorer2012.blogspot.co.uk/
A last stop at the salt hotel (yes built from salt blocks) but otherwise have no idea why you would stay there and a view of the spectacular sunset behind us coupled with an equally impressive moon rise in front of us.
All in all another brilliant day topped off by dinner with Vanessa and Heather as most of the group were trying the Pizza’s in the hotel at a birthday celebration for Leslie but the Pizza only menu no good for Karen or Vanessa. We toasted Leslie in absentia! One thing the Bolivians can do is brew and serve ice cold beer. Lots of Photo’s here.
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