Traversing the Bolivian desert and salt flats day 2

On the second day, we woke up at 8am. We were informed that we were now done with the salt flats and would be off to the Siloli desert. The desert is part of the Atacama desert, and is characterized by rock formations produced by strong winds in the region. There was a bit of morning drama as one of the people in our group wanted to go see some llamas that were in a church compound, and we were  running really late. Everyone else said that they would rather leave, but the offending party insisted on going. By the time she came back to the car, tensions were high. I read my kindle. I don't like drama, and didn't want to get involved in any. Thankfully by later in the day things had cooled off, but there were definitely three camps in the car 1. The "we were meant to leave here at 8:15 and it's 8:17am. I am going to fume and sulk" camp, that had one occupant. 2. The next camp was the "Wow. Who cares about time. I am going to do a bit of yoga and meditation at every place we stop....and only start looking for the loo at the exact time we are meant to be on our way" camp. This camp had one occupant. The rest of us were in the "I'm not too bothered as long as we get to see everything" camp. It was not a trip without drama. 

The day was amazing! Among other great sites, we got to see amazing volcanic rock formations in the Siloli desert. The most beautiful rock formations were the "Arbol del Piedra" and the "Desierto Dali." I had the most amazing pictures, but unfortunately my phone crashed within hours of leaving the desert, and I was only able to salvage a few pictures...which I am sharing here. I hope to upload the rest in future when I hopefully get my phone fixed in Nairobi. We passed amazing volcanic mountains on our way with the most stunning being Volcan Uturuncu that stands at over 6000 above sea level and also Volcan Licancabur that stands at around 5900M above sea level. We passed many beautiful lagoons in the desert with some having quite a few pink flamingos. It was great to see wildlife given that none can survive in the salt flats where we were the previous day. We also passed some really cute animals that look like gazelles. 

In the evening we got to our accommodation for the night. This place was by Laguna Colorado and was REAL...like really REAL...no real electricity, no showers, no meat for dinner. It really dawned on me that we were in the middle of the desert. At this place all 6 of us were kept in one dorm room. I was actually happy to have so many people in the room because I thought it meant we would be warm....wrong......That was the coldest I have ever been since leaving Boston in 2009. We ate dinner - spaghetti and onion stew....The next day we were to begin our journey at 4am...breakfast at 3:30am. We went to sleep by 9pm to be up in time. I saw everyone get into their beds with sleeping bags. I really wished I had a sleeping bag. I slept in all my warm clothes...which wasn't much. There was a guy who had a silk sleeping bag. Definitely buying one next time. It's really light weight, and silk is an amazing material - warm when you are cold, and cold when you are hot. 

Before I slept, I took my phone to the kitchen to beg for them to charge it for a few hours so that I could use it the next day for pictures. Big mistake. The power was only going to be on in the kitchen for 2 hours and the connection seemed dodgy...wires hanging out, loose sockets etc....and they said the power was solar. The next morning when I picked my phone, it had not charged at all....and the next day is when it lost its damn mind. I think the connection in the Siloli desert did my phone in - more on that drama in my next post.

All in all, the salt flats and the Siloli desert was the most beautiful place I have ever been to in my life. The colors, the vastness of the desert, the tranquility. Bolivia really does have the most stunning landscape. At so many points, one felt like they were on the moon. I have never seen anything like it. 

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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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