Visiting dead trains, staying at a Salt hotel and walking on a moon-scape with broccoli – all in a days travelling in Uyuni, Southern Bolivia….
We wake up in Uyuni, Southern Bolivia, still high up on the Altiplano, a real hot, dusty frontier town.
Best thing – our friends the Bremners are in the room next door! We email each other to confirm whereabouts and Lara runs off to find them and go off to breakfast with Sarina and Max!
It’s only been a week since we said goodbye in La Paz but we are all gabbling ten to the dozen over breakfast, catching up on each others news! They have been driving their way south, visiting mines in Potosi (not for the faint hearted!) and we have had our extra time on La Paz to tell of and our bus and train trip!
We have a bit of a dispute with the hotel who,after losing our reservation and putting us up in two rather than one room last night, but assuring us it would be the same total price, now want us to pay double. It’s our first argument in Spanish in South America and probably rather comical to any onlookers and we finally agree to a compromise! I feel a bit bad the Bremners are coming back in a couple of days and it rather comes back to bite me when I realise I left my fleece in the room and have to go back a couple of days later to ask for it! Bizarrely we found later some personal belongings of whoever had been wearing it including memory sticks that had some dubious home movies on but I was lucky they gave it to me!
We all head off to the high street and after we’ve booked our Salt Flat trip for tomorrow at the same agency Quechua Connections so we can go together, we head off for the morning in the Bremners’ car to the ‘train cemetery’. I was sceptical having read reviews that only in Bolivia could they turn a rubbish dump into a tourist trap but actually, it’s fab!
In a deserted, dusty, desert landscape sit some disused rail tracks leading nowhere and a load of rusty engines and carriages left to rot in the hot sunshine! Someone has added some swings! It’s a huge adventure playground – climbing, swinging, exploring and a complete danger zone that would send a western health and safety expert or cautious parent apoplectic! But that’s half the fun! The kids are up, inside, on top of engines and carriages, jumping from carriage to carriage, thinking they’re on the set of Polar Express (no it’s too hot) their usual adventurous fear-free selves. Unfortunately we do have a casualty when Max slips whilst climbing down and ends up with scraped ribs and a cut knee so we eventually abandon the trains extremely glad that we can fix the cut with some steristrips and it’s not bad enough for hospital or real stitches!
And we almost have a second casualty when Martin poses for the camera, rather than holding on!
We head back to town and share a pizza lunch at one of the many pizza joints. This seems to be the only type of restaurant in Uyuni, tucked between the multitude of salt flat tour agencies!
Then our two families head off to check into our respective Salt hotels, The Bremners in their lovely 4WD and us crammed into an old taxi! We were horrified at the $25 price tag and turned down a few taxis before finally agreeing to $20 with a friendly driver and his especially clapped out taxi, but on the road we realise why – a 30 minute bump and bounce into the middle of what seems like a dusty nowhere!
We pass through Colchani, the tiny quiet village in the dust where they process the salt and soon after, in the distance we can start to see the whiteness of salt and some whitish buildings… We bump along, draw closer and are very happy to disembark at the Hotel Luna Salada.
The Bremners are a couple of kilometers away at the Salt Palace, we can just see it across a barren moonlike landscape!
The salt hotel is weird but lovely at the same time. It should be at the price! Our most expensive to date but it seems like a must-do-experience for a night and we’re glad we did – it reminds Martin of the ice hotels of the Nordics. Everything is of course made of salt. There are lots of cosy seating areas, crumbled salt on the floors, walls made of blocks of salt. Even our beds are made of salt but luckily not the mattresses! We arrange for the Bremners to join us for supper and Ben, Zoe Lara and I leave for a walk towards the Salt Palace to meet them.
‘It’s like being on the moon but with broccoli, isn’t it Mum?’ Lara declares!
It’s a wonderful feeling walking across this spongy wilderness with distant snowy mountains, a glorious sky, whitish brown soft earth with occasional cacti and broccoli-like green plants, without stems. No sign of other life, just an occasional dot moving on the horizon…which we realised are 4WDs returning late from trips onto the flats or from the hotel.
The Bremners don’t appear, and it’s unclear where the different tracks lead. We try to stay close to the most likely tracks and see a couple of distant 4WDs. It’s getting dark, we’re frozen and almost at their hotel. I text Andrea because amazingly there IS a mobile signal and eventually Mark, Sarina & Max appear in their car. They’d been sent a different route because the direct route was apparently blocked, they’d been at our hotel and back to look for us once already but just not seen us in the bleak landscape! We must have merged with the cacti!
We have a wonderful night in the salt restaurant at a huge salt table. The fire roars to keep us warm and our kids give their friends a tour of our hotel before they head off across the moon-with-broccoli-scape – under a starry sky. We watch them drive the 2km or so back to their hotel, flashing their hazard lights occasionally to us! After a quick table tennis and pool match in the salt games room, we turn into our very cosy double salt room with extra mattress, for which we paid a premium for the view! This makes us especially laugh as there are views everywhere but from our room, it’s rather obscured by a dirty old water tank! Never mind, we snuggle up in our warm beds feeling excited about tomorrow’s trip on the Salt Flats!