Uyuni Tour, Day One
04.03.2013 22 °C
The starting day of our trip and Andrew woke up ill. He was throwing up and on the toilet, and in between, laying on the bed with a Dioralyte. Not a great start for Andrew unfortunately, but after another dioralyte and an Imodium instant, we got on our way to Red Planet.
As well as me, Andrew, Lucy and George, there were a couple of English girls, Caroline and Tash (who are in our jeep), three Canadians, Ken, Alan and Leah, a Welsh guy called Roger and a 62 year old American called Barry on our trip. Our guide Gonzalez speaks amazing English and our drivers Leonardo and Javier don't really speak any, but we can understand each other easy enough.
After picking up our sleeping bags, and changing into shorts as apparently it will be hot today, we get into our jeeps, which are a lot nicer and more comfortable than I expected. They have a lead so we can plug our iPhones in to play music, which meant that rather than listening to the drivers Bloodhound Gangs song, 'You and me baby ain't nothing but mammals...' we could enjoy Lauryn Hill, Marvin Gaye and other better music!
First stop was not very far from the town - the train cemetery, which was basically a dumping ground for old trains that used to run on the line from La Paz to Chile*. We were able to sit and jump on the trains, and some had swings, so it was quite fun and weird to see in the middle of nowhere. While we were there, they were filming some Bolivian dance routine and their outfits were pretty fancy!
We then headed over to the salt factory, and the little town there, and on the way we saw our first of many Llamas on the trip.
At the town, we were shown salt block buildings, statues (yes, of course Andrew would do this...see below!) and souvenirs, then the salt factory (fancy word for room here) where they make the salt blocks. We had a big lecture from Gonzalez, the first of many actually, about what Bolivia is best known for - someone said cocaine and he got a bit upset and told us why this wasn't true...for a long time. We bought a bag of salt from the man in the factory, who was showing us how they seal the bags of salt, for 10p and then left.
We had lunch in a room with salt tables and chairs and we ate Llama for the first time. It was really tasty! After we had an amazing homemade apple pie/crumble (pie bottom and sides, crumble top), best dessert in South America bar none. Then it was on to the Salt flats.
In the car Let's Stay Together by Al Green was playing as we drove on the Salt Flats, so I think this will always remind me now of the blindingly bright white 'lake' of salt for as far as the eye can see. Gonzalez told us it's only 120cm of salt and then something like 60 metres of water underneath, so you're almost walking on water. The salt also forms a hexagonal shape pattern on the surface, which apart from here is only seen in nature in honeycomb.
The salt flat was really beautiful and a bit surreal - I really did start to feel so far away from home - and we spent about an hour on there taking funny pictures that play with the perspective.
There is also a salt hotel, where everything is, you guessed it, made of salt. They have a bunch of flags outside but no Union Jack - next person who is British and goes there, please sort this out!
It was then took a hour or so journey to the place we were staying and throughout it there was fork lightning. I'd never seen so much, it was amazing.
We arrived at the tiny town, it seemed like pretty much one street with a few coming off either side, and the house was just for us 11 so we all got a room each, which was nice as we all expected dorms for both nights of the trip. A group of young Bolivian boys were at the gates and wanted the guys in the group to play football with them, so they headed to the football pitch and took them on. I think the guys would admit that even with their 2 foot height advantage, the boys were much better than them! When it went dark, George got his camera and tripod and took some amazing pictures of the lightning - we'll try and get one from him to show you all.
After showers we all gathered round the living area waiting for dinner and Gonzalez came in to give us lecture number two! I am joking around when I say this, as it was pretty interesting and he has a great speaking voice that sort of cuts the words he wants to emphasise in two (a bit like Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother with 'Legend...wait for it...Dary!', which kept us entertained. The talk tonight was on Bolivian history, which believe it or not started with talking about how there is no McDonalds in Bolivia, and consisted of it's former president and its new one, how what sounded like a civil war broke out in Bolivia in recent years because of the former president selling off Bolivian land, amongst many other things, and how children now have ID under the new president which helps keep them safe. Apparently people used to buy Bolivian children either to adopt them or - and I still cant quite get my head around this - use their organs for their own children. There was a lot more, it went on for about an hour, but it turns out McDonalds is no longer in Bolivia because people couldn't afford their burgers - they'd be getting 10 Bolivianos a week wage and a burger would be 70 Bolivianos. This seems unlike McDonalds to me, not to have thought about this before setting up there, so Gonzalez may have upped the price of a burger for dramatic effect.
With 11 of us from 6 different countries around the dinner table, we talked turned to our accents, our ways of saying certain things (e.g. apparently Canadians don't say half eight as a time, just eight thirty), the difference in horse riding techniques, major crimes of the last few years and some funny words we use for different parts of the body! But the 'Pierre de Resistance' (not forgotten you Jackie Kough) was Roger, who decided to wow everyone with his ability to tell you the day you were born on - he got them all right...even for Barry! - and told us he could recite Pi to 100 decimal places?! An interesting day, with lots of interesting people.
- NB all the knowledge from the Uyuni trip was given to us by Gonzalez so we just trust it's true!