Flashback Friday! The blog will now but a mix of the old and the new! This post is remembering my amazing journey into Bolivia and the fantastic group that I traveld with. Tomorrow one of my closest friends from Baltimore, Courtney will arrive and we have quite a packed schedule for Semana Santa – Holy Week. I expect we will do lots of laughing, gossiping, snacking, explore and by the end of trip I will be fully caught on The Bachelor. Lots more crazy adventures to come! Thanks for reading! Love from Colombia!! xoxo
When I was planning this trip – what feels to be about a million years ago at this point, I read a lot of blogs. A LOT. So much research. Where to go? When to go? How to get there? What to see? What to skip? One of the places that kept popping up was the Salar de Uyuni tour in Bolivia. A lot of people think of it as a salt flats tour and it is but that is only 1 of the 3 days. The other two days are spent traveling around beautiful landscape and visiting many, many laguanas (lakes). Typically the tour is done north to south going from Potosi, Bolivia to either Argentina or Chile. I did it the opposite, leaving Chile and arriving in Bolivia. It is without a doubt something that should be on every South American traveler’s list. It’s beautiful and I loved it!
When I set out I wasn’t thrilled to be leaving Chile. I loved Chile and I knew I hadn’t seen nearly enough of it. I would love to get back to Chile in the future, ideally with a little more gingle-gangle in my pocket because while it ain’t cheap, it is beautiful. That said, the time had come to leave so I booked a trip to cross the border from Chile to Bolivia via a 3 day Jeep trip. There would be six of us plus the driver. We were gonna have to get cozy. I was happy that I already knew 2 of the 5 other people in jeep. Joel, a super nice guy from France and I been on several of the same trips around San Pedro de Atacama together. Camilia, from Brazil I had met on one of my SPA excursions and we had immediately hit it off. The newbies were Joe from the UK who would turn out to have a hilariously dry sense of humor and love for cats. The final two rounding out our group were Cyril and Donacian. Two silly and good natured friends traveling together from France. I had heard some stories of people being in cars with only couples, an isoloated group of five friends or there being no common language in the jeep so I was nervous. Thankfully we all spoke pretty good English, decent Spanish and got a long really well.
Our first day started with an early morning pick-up. We stopped at an immigration office just outside of town and turned in some papers. From there we drove to the border which was just a few small, one room houses with a Bolivian flag. Everyone else just needed a passport stamp but thanks to Uncle Sam’s immigration policies I was required to get a visa. Most casual visa appointment ever – basically I handed over the cash and the border guide told me in Spanish – Don’t worry sweetie, you don’t have to finish filling that out. He put a sticker in my passport and I was on my way.
At that point we met our adorable 22 year old driver/guide named Arian and set out. The pace for most of the trip would be – drive 2 hours, get out and look at something cool, drive another two hours, have something to eat at a pretty spot, drive another hour, look at something cool, drive another hour and arrive at the place we would spend the night.
On that first day the scenery was amazing and we were all in awe. We chatted, laughed and sang along to Arian’s impressive music collection. One of the first things we did was arrive at some thermal baths. The air was really cold so we changed into bathing suits as fast as possible and jumped into the warm water. Ahhh. So nice! From there we left and pulled over at several pretty lagunas. One of my favorite things – so many flamingos! They were everywhere. Our final stop was at Laguna Colorada. It is a huge, amazingly pink lake full of flamingos. Flamingos turn pink because of the tiny fish things they eat which is what also makes Laguna Colorada pink.
We climbed all around exploring at the lake. The area near the water was really boggy and at one point my whole foot sank in all the up to my ankle. Ekkk! There was a bit of a struggle to stay upright but I was able to get my foot out of the muck. My shoe decided not come with me. The guys were able to pull my shoe out while laughing hysterically and from that point on I was a little more focused on my footing! Another fun thing about the lake was the llamas that just roamed around. Herders use pretty ribbons to distinguish their llamas from another guy’s herd. Joe tried to feed them but I think we were far more interested in them then they were in us.
That night we would stay at an incredibly big but basic motel/hotel. It was pretty chilly – enough that we had to always have our jackets on and by nightfall even a hat while we were inside. The hallway was filled with picnic benches and that was where we hung out and had all our meals. The food was actually really, really good. Nice soups and always something hot for dinner. We had arrived around 6pm and besides dinner there was nothing to do. No place to charge cell phones, no internet, no music so we played cards. Lots and lots of cards.
Mid card game the power was shut off without any warning – turns out 9pm is lights out! We stumbled around in the dark until someone found their cell phone which was our only source of light. We were like kids at summer camp – lining up to brush our teeth and use the bathroom. It’s now 9:20pm, no power and a bunch of nearly dead cell phones. Guess we’ll go to bed? The six of us had a shared room with thin mattresses on concrete slabs. Get cozy! There was no heat and it snowed that night. Freezing, we all got in bed in long pants, long sleeve shirts and winter hats. It took maybe 2 minutes before we realized no one could actually fall asleep. Continuing with the summer camp feel – time for vespers! We played two truths and a lie which was hysterical considering A#1 we’re adults and B#2 there were 3 different native languages and 4 different cultures represented in the room. Lots of clarification necessary. We played for about an hour, laughed a lot and then shivered ourselves to sleep.
The next day it turned out that half of the group had sleep really terribly. It’s not uncommon because we were at a high altitude. Being at that altitude some people can’t sleep and get headaches. I lucked out because I slept great! The next day we realized that our only option for a shower was an ice cold, drizzly, scary looking room that appeared to be straight of out a prison movie. We all opted out. Thank God for bobbie pins.
The second day was our longest car ride day. We stopped at the Arbol del Piedra – tree of stone a naturally occuring sandblown shape that ended up looking like a tree. It was probably the most icon photo opt of the trip besides the salt flats themselves. Besides the tree there were lots of very large rocks that the boys immediately started climbing. Camilia and I decided it was the perfect location for a 90’s boy band music video and shouted directions from below.
Arian was a great driver and always seemed to get us to a stopping point ahead of all the other jeeps. We usually had 45 minutes to ourselves and then suddenly 10 more jeeps would show up at the same time. It was perfect – we could get our photos, explore a bit and head out soon after the other groups arrived. After the Arbol del Piedra we stopped at a pretty lake with a cute little hotel for lunch. Joe made a cat friend. Everyone was happy!
That night we stayed at a hotel made almost completely of salt. Salt floors, salt walls, salt tables, salt chairs, salt bed – salt everything. We had another good meal, drank a bunch of wine and chatted well into the night. I don’t know why but the vast majority of the people on the tour were French. The guys would overhear and translate their conversations for the rest of us. That night there was a very serious group discussing immigration, Israel and Palastine, adoption policies and the morality of traveling in developing countries. All the while we got a bit drunk and translated dirty jokes and pick-up lines into different languages.
We were very excited to learn that the salt hostel had a (non-saltwater) shower and outlets to plug into. So we learned the salt hostel wasn’t all salt after all. We’ll take it! We had to pay to use the shower and each person only got 8 minutes of water. So you had to be quick but at that point any hot water was amazing.
That night was my turn to have serious trouble sleeping. Wine + altitude = headache city. We had to leave the next morning at 4am so we could drive onto the actual Salar and see the sunrise. It was beautiful. From there we went to the cactus island in the middle of the salar. We went for a hike while our guide made breakfast. The hike was up-up-up and while it wasn’t so high we were already going on a lack of oxygen from altitude of 12,000ft and for me a lack of sleep from the headache. Thankfully the view was gorgeous and we didn’t have to rush.
After that we went for a long walk along the Salar. Got in the jeep, drove around some more and finally it was time for the photoshoot! We had all seen pictures online of crazy things to do so we spent the next 2+ hours taking photos. In order to get most of the photos you had to lay flat on the ground which was totally salt. The salt was cold, after enough time kind of burned and later to make your clothes all white and stiff. Thankfully for Camilla and I they boys were total gentlemen and did almost all the laying down! Gracias chicos! The photos came out to be super funny.
Our final stop was the train graveyard. Again, super fun to climb on and take more photos. Basically you have to embrace your inner 10 year old fully enjoy the Salar de Uyuni and our group was great at that!
From there we spent about 1 hour in Uynuni – the little dirt town that we ended up in and took a bus to Potosi. Potosi at 13,500ft Potosi is one of the highest cities in the world! Crazy. We found a map, found a hostel and headed out as a group. What we didn’t quite realize is that the hostel was at the top of a huge hill. We walked straight up for about 15 blocks – with our backpacks and without much oxygen. There was a lot of huffing and puffing, we really did the Big Bad Wolf proud! We have been climbing this hill for what feels like FOREVER. The hill has become a mountain and it is endless. We reach a town square, I saw a sign for a hostel and I officially declared I would NOT be walking any further. Thankfully everyone felt the same! It turned out to be the sketchiest hostel I have stayed in my entire trip. We slept in the basement on cots. The shower was another cold water – prison quality situation. Yup, we’ll be skipping that. Potosi as a city really didn’t appeal to any of us. The next day I had to head early for a bus to Sucre where I would start volunteering. The other 5 decided to stay one more day and tour the mines. It was strange to take a bus ride again without the “Dream Team” but we reunited the next day in Sucre.
I spent about 6 weeks in Sucre. It became one of my favorite places of the trip. I worked, I studied, my ATM card was eaten by a machine, I hosted my first Thanksgiving and I was lucky enough to meet incredible people that I hope to stay in touch with for a lifetime! So… lots of stories to come!