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Salt flats! Tupiza! Uyuni!


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Backing up a bit, it is about time I told you something of our tour through the salt flats.
We left the jungle-animal-ranch-paradise of El Roble in Paraguay to spend a night at El Jardin Hostal in Asuncion (one of our favorite hostels! Run by a supercool and sweet Swedish couple, they serve fresh-baked rolls (integral! Seeds! Actual substance!) for breakfast in the morning, grow their own fruit in the garden free for picking and are just incredibly friendly and helpful in every aspect) while figuring out exactly how to get to Tupiza, Bolivia. As it turns out, the journey would take us three days more or less, including four buses, a nightbus, a short night at the border town of Bolivia and walking across the border in the early morning to catch the Bolivian bus that would take us the last bit.

Well arrived in Tupiza we were more than happy to check into our HOTEL. Yes. Hotel Mitru: Double room with giant cushy beds (the most comfortable so far) (and after, for that matter), really clean, beautiful outside garden area with a sparkling blue pool surrounded by big woven sunbathing/relaxing-chairs. Cheaper than a dorm room in Brazil. It was like paradise, and we actually considered pushing our salt flats tour a day forward just to be able to sleep in those beds again.

Well good thing we didn't!! We booked a tour for the next day and ended up with the greatest random travel group EVER. Three jeeps, each with a group of four people in them, departed from outside our hotel (we booked with Tupiza tours who also run Hotel Mitru). Asia does a great job of introducing the people in our group in her blogpost and I recommend you to read it because its great and far more detailed about the salt flats than this one could ever hope to be :)
Let me just state that our (whole) group (12 people) consisted of people from all over the world, all between 24 and 34, all loving life, joyous, open minded and curious about people and the world, quick to laugh and share jokes and experiences including ones that might be categorized as "failures" or "embarrassing" by other people bothered with overbearing pride. Safe to say, we had such a wonderful group, the interactions and dynamics were amazing, we basically laughed our four days through the desert. I haven't laughed so much and so hard while at the same time broaching more serious, interesting and intriguing subjects in a long time..
Asia and I have so many stories, so many jokes, so many little tiny hilarious things that have to do with that tour and I SO want to share them, but I think that task will be too great for me to achieve in a blog post. It would, literally, be like when you try to explain a joke to someone who doesn't get the point. Usually the person will get the point after the explanation, but its not funny any more. I wish that wasn't the way of things, but it is, so you'll just have to take my word for how much fun we had :)

So, to the tour itself. The tour is named for being of the "salt flats", or "Salar de Uyuni", but this name is actually a bit misleading. The salt plain of Uyuni is huge, you can dimly see the mountains surrounding it when in the middle, but you can still easily drive through them in half a day (less if you don't stop). If I remember correctly, they are more or less 80 km wide and about as long (Asia may have written the exact size in her post - like I said before, she kept notes through the whole thing! Amazing!). The traditional salt flats tours are 3 days (from Uyuni) or 4 days (from Tupiza). You can see that this doesn't exactly add up.

The answer to the mystery lies in actually only spending one day (well, one half to be precise, if 5am to 1 pm counts as only half) in the actual Salar de Uyuni. The rest of the days are a journey through the ever-changing landscape of that part of Bolivia. Mountains and valleys interspersed with mines (13 metals and minerals are mined in this area, including silver, gold and copper) all "covered in desert" (I just can't think of how else to explain it) but a surprising amount of brush as well (the rainy season just ended). Llamas graze all over the place; a family or community will have a large herd that is kept inside a low, circular wall at night and let out during the day. Nobody ever seems to be watching them, and apparently the herding in in the evenings is done by car. Anyway, the greatest thing about the llamas is that they all have bright pink and purple (sometimes other colours) little tufts of yarn/string tied to (through?) their ears. It looks like they're all ready for the party of the year! Add the llama's particular peculiar gait and stance, and we were having a riot watching them. (Which is funny in itself because you wouldn't think the farm-animals passed by by chance as one of the most appreciated "attractions").
(Oh, and joke of the week: point at a llama and say "┬┐Como se llamas?") (=what is it's name?).

Enough about llamas, lets talk about lakes, or Lagunas, as they're called here. Karol (an irish guy in our group) is a firm believer as to the fact that he has seen enough lagoons to last him a lifetime and a half, but while he has a point, they really are incredibly beautiful. I can't even describe them without taking up way to much time and space.. Look at the pictures instead and then imagine a multitude of more and deeper colors, steaming water surfaces with flamingoes going about their business half-shrouded by the mist. Then imagine everything given an ethereal ambiance from the sun high overhead, an all of this to a backdrop of the most magnificent, gorgeous mountain peaks I have ever seen in my life. It is breathtaking and glorious. For those experiences, I can handle stopping at up to ten or fifteen lagoons in two days ;)

All in all, what we did for four (3,5) days was sit in a jeep for approximately 10 hours a day. Without getting bored. Just staring out the window and marveling at the landscapes, talking to each other and our driver, stopping to have lunch outside in the glorious sunlight, going to bed at about nine (when there is no electricity, 9 pm feels line deep into the night, let me tell you!) and then get up at 5 or 6 to be on our way again and catch the sunrise.

To those of you who don't know it, this is my second time around visiting the salt flats. Five years ago I took a three day tour out of Uyuni and loved it. People keep being astonished at the fact that I've gone back to do something twice, but.. I would gladly go back and do it a third time. That is how beautiful an experience the salt flats are, and how wonderful the people you tend to meet there are.

Fem av fem toasters.

Posted by Irmelin 18:48 Archived in Bolivia

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