Day 2 began early in the dark and cold. Breakfast was terrible and the hostel workers were hostile, so we were on our way without delay. The theme of the day was rocks and more rocks. The pictures don’t do it justice, but it was magical to drive for an hour or more seeing this:
And then suddenly to see this:
The magic of nature! It was fascinating how the elements and time combined to plop down these rock playgrounds at random intervals. We had a blast exploring although the rest of the group was definitely more adventuresome than we were. Climbing is not among my skills.
“And if you go chasing rabbits, and you know you’re going to fall
Tell ’em a hookah-smoking caterpillar has given you the call”
Go Ask Alice was my mental soundtrack often throughout this surreal trip.
This view reminded me of a sand art picture someone had when I was a kid.
Despite the desolate landscape, we saw some animals on the trip in addition to the flamingos and viscacha.
One challenge of the long drives is the lack of bathrooms or shelter for a “natural” bathroom. We were all desperate on the second day, which wasn’t a big issue for the men but a hardship for us women. At one stop we found some scrubby bushes, but when I saw evidence of prior use, I managed to hold off until we hit a store about 2 minutes from our hotel. Not a moment too soon!
We stayed in a salt hostel the second night. The tables, chairs, beds, and interior walls were all made of salt. It was still frigid, but the accommodations were slightly better – we had a private, windowless room – and the workers were friendly.
In order to see the sunrise from Incahuasi Island, we were on the road shortly after 5 a.m. on the third and final day. Of course, there was no road; we were driving in the dark across the salt flats. It was disorienting: I felt as though we weren’t moving because the landscape never changed – the salt flat is over 4,000 square miles! I spent the entire day convinced we were on a frozen lake as opposed to a salt flat. I kept expecting to see some ice shanties and snowmobiles.
The island was amazing. It was the top of a volcano back when the salt flat was covered by a sea. Now it is covered by cacti, but you can still see the coral and other fossils. We got there and hoofed it to the top to get perfect pictures of the sunrise. For some reason, I had a hard time getting to the top, possibly due to the altitude or because I am not a morning person, but I managed to get there in time to see the sunrise along with a crowd of tourists. I tend to find sunrises overrated (don’t get me started on the Grand Canyon sunrise trip!) but this one was spectacular.
After breakfast we zoomed across the
ice salt to get to the “perfect” spot for our photo shoot. Due to the expanse, the horizon is messed up and the shots are surreal. We played around for a couple of hours. Beatriz and Jorge came well prepared – shots off the salt flat!
After a fast stop at a salt hotel, which apparently was only open for the Dakar rally, and a small town for trinkets, we were on the outskirts of Uyuni at the Train Graveyard. This is always the part of every trip when Matt and I would call it a day, but the tour operators want to give you your money’s worth even if obviously not everyone welcomed tourists.
Uyuni was a desolate, depressing town. While there was plenty of space because it was surrounded by the salt flat, there was garbage dumped on just about every corner. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would live there if they had a choice. I asked our guide if he lived there and he spoke with pride as to how healthy it was there and how people never get sick because they have a good quality of life. I was stunned, but to each their own. We checked into one of the nicest salt hotels in town (at about $55 a night) and enjoyed the hot shower and comfy beds!
“What a long, strange trip it’s been” sums up the Uyuni salt flat tour perfectly!