Marc & Nora ROUND THE WORLD 2005/2006 - Join us!

Bolivia-Travelogue  |  Travel time: September 2005 - July 2006  |  by marc and nora L.

BOLIVIA: Salar de Uyuni (Uyuni Salt Lake)

We had heard reports/rumours the day before that the Chile/Bolivia border was closed due to heavy snow fall so we reported to the tour operators office at 8am with low expectations for departure that day. On arrival we were told that it had snowed and that we had to come back at 10am for an update. At 10am the situation was unchanged but we were told to come back at 1pm as they were trying to clear a path through the snow. We went back at 1pm and were told that the border was now open and that we had an option of departing now, 5hrs late and risk missing a few sights, or postponing until tomorrow. The clouds over the Andes looked pretty heavy and so we decided to go right away and not risk snow over night which would again close the border and we would be stuck. Over the past couple of days we had been hanging out with an English couple, Alistair & Tara, who were actually honeymooning around the world for 10 months (not bad huh?) so we were in this together!

We made it to the border in the mini-bus ready for our swap over into the 4x4 vehicles. The thing with these trips is that they are notorious for over booking. Every office will promise that there will be a maximum of 6 people + driver per vehicle and many people arrivre at the border only to be squeezed in a vehicle with another 8 people + driver. For 3 days cross country 4x4 driving that is not an ideal situation to be in. So of course 15 of us turned up at the border only to be told that there were only 2 vehicles instead of 3.....but of course they weren´t expecting our secret weapon which was travelling with us......Nora. Just type in the coordinates, remove the safety pin, stand back (No really stand back) and FIRE........5 minutes later there were 3 vehicles waiting to load us and our luggage on-board! "DIRECT HIT!!"

at the border - getting started

at the border - getting started

some geysirs

some geysirs

some more geysirs

some more geysirs

the bizarre landscape

the bizarre landscape

big geysir and small car

big geysir and small car

So with Nora, myself, Alistair, Tara and Julian (French guy) safely installed in one vehicle we hit the road (well kind of road). We had quite a bit of distance to make up before dark as we were already 5hr delayed. Luckilly for us it turned out that our driver was the pick of the bunch. Little Marcial was a star! He was the convoy leader, the mechanic, the fixer and the best guide out of the 3 by far. He took his time to explain things and stopped whenever we asked so we could take photos.....and he smiled....this seemed to be quite an exception!

our driver marcial - fixing everything
bolivian cook next to him

our driver marcial - fixing everything
bolivian cook next to him

fixing our flat tyre

fixing our flat tyre

So day one was a race through the altiplano visiting the Laguna Blanco, Laguna Verde and a geyser field before heading towards Laguna Colarado (All lakes deeply coloured, white, green and red, due to the mineral deposits held in their waters). It was close to Laguna Colorado where we spent our first night in a refugio where we were told that the temperature would drop below -25deg c during the night. Before we had to face the freezing night we had to face the food which was about to be served up...we had all heard bad things about the food on these trips. Well I think that we were all shocked as freshly made soups, pastas and breads were served up along with red wine! Things were looking up!

laguna verde

laguna verde

Something else that was served up was Matte de Coca and dried coca leaves. Yes this is the base for cocaine production but in its raw state it can be used as a remedy for altitude sickness (perfectly legal) which is often quite a problem above 4000m. It can either be taken with hot water as a kind of tea (Matte de Coca) or simply placed leaf by leaf in a corner of your mouth until it turns into paste from which you squeeze out the juices and swallow. It is quite a bizarre as you slowly lose all feeling in your mouth as if you had just been given the biggest anethstetic from your dentist. The ´professionals´ then swallow some kind of ash along with it which then acts as a catalist and when digested along with the juice actually takes away any feelings of hunger and physical pain (See Potosi and the mines).

With dinner finshed and full of wine and coca we all headed for our beds. We were in a shared room with 6 others and were relying on the principle of body heat to keep us alive during the night! With about 20kg of extra blankets piled on top of us and wearing almost every item of clothes that we had with us we attempted sleep. No chance.....with the exception of Alistair who snored happily I don´t think any of the other 7 people in the room slept a wink. I guess a combination of high altitude and sub-arctic temperatures kept us awake for the whole night and I could swear that I could actually hear the building, especially the windows, turn to ice as the night progressed and the temperatures dropped. I seemed as though I counted every single minute on my watch thatnight from 10pm till 7am when it was time for breakfast...no happy faces that morning and a serious amount of coca tea was consumed in the hope of relieving the headaches and eye ball pain.

getting dressed for bed

getting dressed for bed

ready for bed - still not warm

ready for bed - still not warm

marc ready for the night

marc ready for the night

our window in the room the next morning - the white thing is ICE which was INSIDE

our window in the room the next morning - the white thing is ICE which was INSIDE

Our window close-up from the inside (!!)
YES - it was pretty cold at night!

Our window close-up from the inside (!!)
YES - it was pretty cold at night!

Day 2 was a visit to Laguna Colorado and its resident flamingos before heading off on a long drive across the most amazing altiplano landscape stopping for uncountable photos along the way....the landscape it so sureal at times you just know that a photo will never capture the real image! Around midday as we were speeding our way across some pretty harsh and rocky terrain there was a pop and the driver pulled over straight away. Of course it was inevitable that we would get some flat tyres and this was our first (and luckily our ñast as we only carried one spare). The efficient Marcial was out and had it fixed within minutes. Just as he was putting the tools away he asked us how many of our vehicles had passed whilst he was changing the wheel. Only 1 of the other 4x4 vehicles in our convoy of 3 had passed by and he looked concerned. It meant that the remaining one vehicle was in trouble as it should have passed by already. With Marcial being the mechanic he got us all back into the vehicle and turned around and headed back in the direction from which we had come from. After about 10 minutes we could see a collection of about 3 cars far in the distance with people standing/sitting/lying around them. As we drew close Marcial let out a long groan as he spotted that one of the vehicles (our missing one) was a complete wreck. Its passengers we sitting on the ground looking as white as ghosts and the driver was holding a cloth to his head which was soaked in blood......S**T! There was broken glass everywhere. The story unfolded. The driver of the vehcile had taken a different path to the other 2 in the convoy and travelling too quickly in deep sand had lost control spinning the car around and eventually flipping it over 3 times in the air before landing on its side! The driver, his wife (the cook) and their toddler baby who were sitting, unsecured of course, in the front passenger seat had been thrown through the windscreen. Once the vehicle had come to a complete stop the 4 passengers (tourists) in the back scrambled out to safety through the hole where the front windscreen had been. Luckilly, Amazingly, Unbeliveably, Incredibly with the exception of the driver´s cut to the head nobody was injured...not a scratch! The baby who was travelling in the front seat seemed oblivious to it all!

getting ready every morning - packing our stuff on the roof of the car

getting ready every morning - packing our stuff on the roof of the car

a fox

a fox

a llama

a llama

a bolivian child

a bolivian child

laguna colorada (or laguna roja)

laguna colorada (or laguna roja)

another snapshot from laguna colorada

another snapshot from laguna colorada

strange stone formations

strange stone formations

a similar landscape can be found on dali paintings

a similar landscape can be found on dali paintings

some flamingos

some flamingos

With one car and it´s a driver a wreck things were re-organised. Three of the effected tourists were moved into vehicles belonging to another tour operator who had stopped to help, one was moved in with us and Marcial (our driver) had to drive the wrecked car taking the injured driver his wife and baby. That left us with no driver......oh s**t! It was open to volunteers and I so took the wheel (I know....what a hero. With strict instructions to drive slowly (as if I would drive quickly after whatwe had just witnessed) we followed the other vehicles across the desert...scary? Yes! Fun? Yes! Expected?...absolutely not! I didn´t have to drive for long (probably about an hr) before we reached our lunch stop.

Thankfully the wrecked vehicle was abandoned and we got our driver back to continue the rest of our trip. The rest of the day was spent driving through the altiplano towards the salt lake itself where we would spent the night in a salt hotel. This was a pretty scary drive in itself as we were late and the sun had already set by the time we arrived at the salt lake. Well on arrival at the hotel I think that we were all very pleasantly surprised which what awaited us. After the shock of last nights "hotel" the salt hotel was pure opulance and luxury (relatively speaking of course). Private rooms with beds of salt (really!) along with Salt floors, salt walls, salt chairs, salt tables....really cool! The food they served up this night was again unexpectedly tasty and was devoured and washed down with red wine before we all hit the sack for a well earned sleep.

our salt hotel

our salt hotel

desert, snow-capped mountains and far away some dust from a car

desert, snow-capped mountains and far away some dust from a car

lakes and volcanos

lakes and volcanos

and believe it or not - we even passed some tornados

and believe it or not - we even passed some tornados

6am departure so that we could make it for surise in the middle of the salar was pretty rough but we all made it of course and it was well worth it. Today was the day when an empty camera memory card was needed! We took soooooo many photos it was ridiculous. After some nice sunrise photos we jumped back in the jeep and headed for Isla de Pescadoras which sits alone in the middle of this mass of honeycombed patterned salt. The island is a strange oasis for some enormous Cactii which can grow up to 10 or 12 m in height. We had a fantastic breakfast of pancakes here before heading back out in the endless white of the salt. The salt lake is so huge (12000 square km) and so you have absolutley no sense of perspective making it perfect for lots of imaginative and silly photos some of which you can see below. We had lots of fun playing around and posing for the cameras for hours before driving through the lake towards the salt mines where men work at scraping the surface of the salt into pyramid shaped piles (which lets any water drain away) before shovelling the salt into trucks ready to be taken to the processing plants....tough work in the baking sun with probably about 90% of the sun`s rays being reflected back up from the bright white salt surface! After that we stopped at a small village back on the "mainland" where we had lunch and bought a few hand made salt souveniers from the locals. Next stop the town of Uyuni with a short visit to the train cemetary en route. Trip finished......and we survived.....now the fun of Bolivia begins!

sun rise at the salt flats

sun rise at the salt flats

another sunrise photo

another sunrise photo

breakfast at the "isla de pescador" (fishermen island)

breakfast at the "isla de pescador" (fishermen island)

La isla de pescador

La isla de pescador

a giant cactus

a giant cactus

lego man - needs some explanation (see below)

lego man - needs some explanation (see below)

ok - our driver marcial was our hero - as mentioned before he fixed everything and was a really good driver as well - thank god!

but what do you do if you have booked a 3day tour and your driver appears with a crash helmet and is dressed in a fire proof racing suit? I honestly would sh** myself!

this guy (named Lego Man from us due to his ridiculous appearance) is apparently new and for protection he is wearing a crash helmet whilst driving the jeep...
...but his passengers in the back dont get any crash helmets - there werent even seat belts in the back!
This must give you confidence, huh?!

Luckily the guys that had Lego Man as a driver arrived safely - this weird guy didnt even take the crash helmet off when visiting the Fishermen Island - in fact we have never seen him without it...maybe he has something to hide!

enjoying the view - the salt lake is 12000m2 big!!! Incredible!

enjoying the view - the salt lake is 12000m2 big!!! Incredible!

marc in front of a rather huge cactus

marc in front of a rather huge cactus

us approaching in the middle of nowhere

us approaching in the middle of nowhere

us getting closer

us getting closer

here we are

here we are

miniature man craving for a drink

miniature man craving for a drink

kissing miniature man

kissing miniature man

on the salt lakes mysterious things can happen..

on the salt lakes mysterious things can happen..

red bull gives you ideas...

red bull gives you ideas...

weighing up...who is heavier? Marc or Al?

weighing up...who is heavier? Marc or Al?

as we said before - the salt lake gives you mysterious strength...

as we said before - the salt lake gives you mysterious strength...

our group - 2 canadians, Julien - a crazy french guy, al & tara, the 10month honeymooners, me & marc and Marcial, our driver, mechanics and hero

our group - 2 canadians, Julien - a crazy french guy, al & tara, the 10month honeymooners, me & marc and Marcial, our driver, mechanics and hero

salt hills

salt hills

bolivian woman in traditional dress

bolivian woman in traditional dress

bolivian girl

bolivian girl

bolivian children

bolivian children

a local woman doing handicrafts

a local woman doing handicrafts

a typical bolivian woman (on a rather small bike)

a typical bolivian woman (on a rather small bike)

marc about to commit suicide (the altitude you know...)

marc about to commit suicide (the altitude you know...)

the train cemetary

the train cemetary

another image of the train cemetary

another image of the train cemetary

© marc and nora L., 2005
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The trip
 
Description:
Hello - 5 more days!!! On the 12th of September we are setting off! Our plan is to travel round the world for a period of 10 months. 1st stop: Thailand (1 month) and cambodia 2nd stop: Via Singapore (overland) to Australia where we plan to stay for approximately 4-5 months. 3rd stop: New Zealand (2 months) (north and south island) 4th stop: South America (approx. 3 months) (Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and if time and money allows we might visit costa rica)
Details:
Start of journey: Sep 12, 2005
Duration: 11 months
End of journey: Jul 31, 2006
Travelled countries: world-wide
United Kingdom
Thailand
Malaysia
Cambodia
Singapore
Australia
Australia & Pacific
New Zealand
South America
Chile
Argentina
Bolivia
Peru
Ecuador
Canada
The Author
 
marc and nora L. is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 15 years.
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