Traversing the Bolivian salt flats and desert - day 1

I got into the town of Uyuni around 11pm on a Sunday evening, and was off for a desert expedition early the next morning. I left my hostel around 9:45am and walked to the place where we would be departing from. We were to leave at 10:30am but by 11:30am there was still no progress. In La Paz, I had been told that the trip would be in a 4*4 and that we would be 6 in total (excluding the driver.) I eventually met the other travelers as we waited for our transportation to arrive. There were 2 German girls (one who was more Australian than German given she had a really strong Aussie accent, and had lived there a long time), one German guy, one Uruguayan guy, one French girl, the Bolivian driver and myself. By the time we departed, there was a long line of jeeps leaving the town for the salt flats and the desert. I am a tourist, but I must confess that I feel a bit upset when I realize that I am not unique.....all a thousand plus of us heading off to see the same sites:-) Our driver was really great so pretty soon we were able to lose the long lines of jeep.....vroooooooom.....Eat our dust:-)

Our first stop was the train cemetery. Construction of the rail was completed in 1892, and the trains were mostly used by mining companies. In the 1940s, the mining industry collapsed and many trains were abandoned here.  It was such a beautiful sight. All these abandoned trains in the desolate space. It looked like something from an old Western film. It was beautiful. After this we drove for hours and all we could see around us was salt. We passed some little salt hills in the beginning, but after that the landscape was all flat. It was amazing - as far as your eyes could see, the ground was all white. I have never seen anything like this - except for snow - and even with snow, there was always buildings or cars to break the landscape. In the car, one of the other travelers began talking about all the really creative pictures one can take given the never-changing background. I was about to eat a banana I had in my bag when she mentioned that it would be a great prop for pictures. It is the fascinating little beat up specimen you will see in pictures below. When we got out at the spot where people mostly take such pictures, I was amazed. The ground was solid salt and we were told that it extends even more than 9m deep into the ground. It was solidified salt. We had a fun time taking crazy pictures here before sitting down to enjoy our lunch - a little picnic on our salt carpet. Brilliant! During lunch hour the Uruguayan guy and I ironed out some differences.....Suarez is the devil for what he did to our Ghanaian brother - Asamoah Gyan, but I don't blame all your countrymen.... just him.... and malipo ni hapa duniani (payback is on earth:-)

The Uyuni Salt Flats (Salar de Uyuni) is the world's largest salt flat at over 10,000 square km, and an elevation of more than 3600m (~12,000 feet above sea level.) It was formed as a result of transformations between several prehistoric lakes. The salt is extremely rich in lithium. 50-70% of the world's lithium reserves are found at Salar de Uyuni. 

After this we drove for half an hour and arrived at the Incahuasi Island that was full of giant cacti. This was where I learnt for the first time that I had been doing it all wrong in South America. For a while I had wondered why in many washrooms, water pressure was too low to flush toilet paper. Many times I had waited for cisterns to fill 2-3 times before finally being able to get rid of all toilet paper. In the loo in the island, there was a sign that read, "Do not flush your toilet paper. Put it in the waste basket." I asked one of my fellow travelers about it, and she said, "Yeah, you should never flush toilet paper down the loo in most places in Central and South America." I was clearly confused, but I have taken it as it is......though I must say a latrine would be a much better option than having a pretend toilet that doesn't flush toilet paper.....who wants to have a bucket of crap in a loo......literally...

Enough about random crap. That island was amazing! Just imagine being in the middle of hundreds of miles of salt flats, and suddenly seeing an island with giant cacti in the horizon. I think Uyuni salt flats and the desert are an amazing site for sci-fi movies. I have never ever seen anything like it. The island was a hill, and in the beginning I had no intentions of going all the way to the top, but I somehow climbed up the whole hill. Every few meters I went up, I would look down and see the most stunning views of the island and the salt flats - I just had to keep going till I reached the summit. I sat at the top for a few minutes and marveled about nature. When one finds such beauty, you just want to save those images in your mind (and in your camera) forever!

Other amazing sites we saw were Devil's cave - a pre-Incan cemetery from about 500 - 800 AD. 

Again we drove for hundreds more miles in this amazing landscape and finally got to the Salt Hotel around 7pm. True to it's name, most of the hotel was made of salt. Our beds, were pillars of salt. The ground was granules of salt. The benches were pillars of salt. Something had been bothering me for the better part of the day. Within minutes of leaving Uyuni (around noon), my phone network had gone off, and had not come back since. I had enquired about it and someone told me "duh. We are in the middle of nowhere.....of course there is no phone network." I panicked and wondered "Oh gosh. Does this mean we also won't have wifi where we are staying?"  She added "In fact we probably won't have any electricity for the next few days." Now, I really panicked. I had been using my phone as my camera,and the battery was almost done by the time we got to the Salt Hotel. There were no sockets in the room. Thankfully a kind lady in the kitchen agreed to charge my phone for me for a few hours. 

I slept moderately well that night as the salt in the room made the temperatures bearable. 

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