Friday, September 23, 2011

Salar de Uyuni, aka the Bolivian Salt Flats Part 1

I´m back in San Pedro after an amazing adventures traveling through the salt flats of Bolivia.

There was so much that we saw and did that it´s hard to believe that it´s Friday afternoon and we´re back from leaving for the trip Tuesday morning.  Why am I saying "we"?  My tour was with 4 other people: 3 people from France, and a Chilean guy that has been living in France for the past 5 years.

The tour started when I was picked up from my hostel at 8:30 Tuesday morning.  Our first stop was the emmigration office in San Pedro, where we showed our passports and filled out the paperwork for leaving the country.  After that, we got to the border where we had to show our passports again.  As a US citizen I also have to pay a $135 tourist visa fee.  When I got into the office the customs officials closed the door behind me and offered to let me pay half the visa fee and enter and leave the country without getting a stamp in my passport.  Essentially they were offering me an illegal half price discount that they would pocket.  I didn´t feel right about it so I declined it, telling them that I was planning on coming back to Bolivia another time so it wouldn´t be worth what they were offering me.  It turns out they didn´t have the facilities there to process tourist visas, so I would have to go through the immigrations office in Uyuni once I arrived there.

My new best friends for the next 3 days

That small shack on the left side is the border patrol.  Notice the Bolivian flag overhead.

While we were getting that taken care of, our guide Edwin was setting up our breakfast for us.  He set up a table with tea, instant coffee and milk, bread, and ham and cheese.  It was a basic breakfast but was still filling.

After a ride in the jeep, we stopped and saw some lagunas, a rock deser, and some hot springs.  The landscape is amazingly beautiful, and it´s nice to see areas that are still untouched by modern civilization and globalization.

These hot springs were much hotter than the ones I visited on Monday, and the water was clear.  It was really relaxing, but I forgot my camera in the jeep.  The people I traveled with are supposed to send me some pictures once they are back in Santiago.

After the visit to the hot springs, however, altitude sickness began to rear its ugly head.  After having experienced it last year in Peru, I was careful to eat very little and only drink clear liquids.  My efforts were to no avail.  I had a strong headache and pressure in my head, and I didn´t get out at the next stop to see the geysers.  When we got to the hostel where we spent the night, I spent most of the afternoon laying down in bed.  Lucky for me the tour guide and my fellow travelers were checking up on me.   They gave me tea with cocoa leaves as well as another drink that has a native plant that´s supposed to help with altitude sickness.

After resting while they took a tour to the laguna colorada (the colored laguna) and finally vomiting up a bit, I had recovered.  I wasn´t really that concerned about my health since I had experienced altitude sickness before, and it was bit comforting that all of the other people traveling on the tour with me were doctors.  :-)

Once I emerged from the shared room, I was able to better take in my surroundings.  The hostel we stayed at was very basic.  When I say very basic, I mean the following:

mattresses on stone slabs
a lightbulb hanging from the middle of the room (that didn´t always work)
no electricity besides the aforementioned lightbulb
no hot water
stone floors in the rooms

Our jeep and our lodging for the night

There are stone slabs under the matresses.

Notice the light bulbs hanging in the middle of the room.

After a dinner of spaghetti with tomato sauce, we sat around and played cards.  I taught them Egyptian War, and then we played another game whose name I don´t remember.  We communicated mostly in English, although between them they also speak varying degress of Spanish and German.  It was nice to just relax and have simple entertainment with people without the distractions of ringing cell phones, internet, or any of the other things we usually take for granted.

We turned in around 9, satisfied with our first day of the tour.  We were excited to be continuing the tour and our travel adventures, and I´ll be updating bit by bit as I can.

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