Before reading this you may want to check out the first day of my tour from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile to Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia.
On the second day of our tour our dorm was rudely awaken by my alarm clock going off from inside the depths of my large backpack. It was set for 7am but as Bolivia is one hour behind Chile it went off one hour before we had to get up. If anybody was mad at me for this they did a good job of hiding it. Sleepily we got up and headed off for cold-water washes, comparing tales of headaches, sleeplessness and cold but in decidedly high-spirits and excited about the day ahead. Breakfast was served in the dining room and consisted of the most stale bread rolls I have ever had in my life, a bit disappointing after the good meal we’d had the night before but I guess you can’t expect freshly baked bread in the desert.
Our first stop was the Arbola de Piedra, which translates as the ‘stone tree’, and was a large free-standing rock sculpture surrounded by sand and mountains. The mountains in this region are spectacular: they are not brown or grey. They are red, orange, gold and blue, and they line the horizon in every direction. As well as spectacular scenery, this location offered the fittest of the group the chance to try their hand at climbing the tall rock formations (although the altitude made this more difficult) while the rest of us took photos of each other leaping off rocks and into the sand.
The tour then took us through a barren landscape, driving through gorges, dried-up river beds and canyons, and bouncing along dirt tracks. The landscape flattened out as we stopped at various high-mineral content lakes dotted with flamingos, where we ate a hearty lunch of rice, tuna, salad and fruit washed down with the ubiquitous Coca-Cola – well, we needed our fix of coca for the day! Although the lakes are undeniably beautiful, the toxins in them are deadly as we were warned by a sign of a skull and crossbone with a macabre flamingo skeleton dangling limply from it. Later on we stood on the moonscape slopes of a volcano watching a thin plume of smoke escape from the crater.
My highlight of day was when we reached a railway track that stretched as far as the eye could see in both directions. Immediately we jumped all over it like excited school children, lying down on the tracks and posing for pictures. Two large metal bars had been crossed over each other to create a see-saw that we stood on trying to balance as many of our group on as we could. It was clearly a contrived tourist-trap but we didn’t care!
The day ended as we reached the famous Salar de Uyuni—the focal point of the tour—but we would not be visiting it until Day 3. Day 2 was to end with us checking in to a Salt Hotel on the shores of the Lake, where we were looking forward to private rooms, hot showers and more good food. The Salt Hotel, as the name suggests, is constructed with salt: I licked the walls to check! The mattresses on the beds lie on blocks of salt, the cushions on the chairs sit on pillars of salt, and the floor is covered with a thick carpet of salt. It was also much warmer than the first hotel, but the ‘hot’ water disappeared after a few lucky people had showered, the rest of us suffered freezing cold water or no shower at all. We did have electricity so that we could charge our greatly-depleted camera batteries though. Dinner was more hot vegetable soup, followed by llama and chips, the llama was a bit like steak and tasted delicious. Our dessert was an unexpected sponge cake baked by the staff of the hotel for Martin, a member of our group who was celebrating his birthday.
Exhausted, and very much looking forward to a warm, comfortable bed, most of us went to bed as soon as the electricity turned off at 10pm. We would need all our energy for the Salar de Uyuni on Day 3 of our tour.