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Salt Flats & Desert Tour – Day Two: Lagoons, Flamingos, and the Solitary Cactus

Posted by on September 11, 2010

More backposting, they’ll start coming faster now…

When morning finally came, we were almost relieved to get up again and moving. After realising almost nobody slept, many pointed out they would have felt better if they knew that at the time – they’d been under the impression they were the only ones. I mention this because if any readers of this do go through it, be reassured you’re probably not the only one suffering!

Engine Trouble - or Miguel forgot where he hid his breakfast

Engine Trouble - or Miguel forgot where he hid his breakfast

A quick breakfast for a quick departure had been the plan. As other trucks started to head off, however, the two Tierra Mystica trucks stayed – as we’d discovered the other truck refused to start. During the night we’d heard the engines being started every hour or so – apparently to keep things moving and warm during the horribly cold night. However it’d been too much for this truck. Two French guys in the truck and the driver took the engine apart, cleaned, thought they’d found the problem, and put it back together with no spare parts, but when it still failed to start, they were out of solutions. While this went on, the rest of us amused ourselves with llama photography, and just trying to move to keep warm – testing our exercise at this altitude, just catching something thrown to you becomes more difficult. Putting on boots in the morning was exhausting!

Eventually the drivers decided our truck would continue, and we waved sadly goodbye to the others as we left them there, stranded, with the prospect of ANOTHER night there. Poor guys. We questioned Miguel about it, and gathered they’d send another truck to fetch them. He assured us though that our truck was fantastic and had never broken down. It was sobering to think that we’d had a 50/50 chance – if we’d chosen the other truck back at the Bolivian border, we’d be the ones stranded, getting to Uyuni a day later would have been frustrating considering we had to meet Blair, and others had bus connections booked, and we had no way of contacting anyone to reschedule things.

El Arbol de Piedra - The 'Tree of Stone'

El Arbol de Piedra - The 'Tree of Stone'

Contuining on, I’ll summarise what were several lagoons. Yes, they’re beautiful, but they do get a bit repetitive. However in-between we came across a fantastic and bizarre area of random rocks strewn around,and now worn down by the sand and wind. The most spectacular of these is the Arbor de Piedra – the Tree of Stone, a rock so worn at its base it’s formed the shape of a tree. We duly took our photos, shrugged, because, well, it’s a rock shaped like a tree, there’s really not much to think about, and continued through the barren landscape.

We reached THE flamingo lagoon – Laguna Hedionda, where we’d been hoping to see a few of the birds, and we weren’t disappointed. Hundreds of the red-winged creatures were wading

Flamingos!

Flamingos!

around the shallow areas, while tens of them flew around overhead, looking quite strange with their long legs. I don’t think I’d seen a flamingo flying before, and we took lots of photos – it’s amazing that all the way out in the middle of the desert, they managed to get here and find water and food to keep them going.

Miguel prepares our lunch

Miguel prepares our lunch

At the next lagoon we stopped for some more photos, and on returning to the car found Miguel had prepared lunch for us. A fantastic spread of chicken, rice, bread and more, and the standard Coke that they always seemed to give us. I suppose there’s always water as well.

The final ‘tourist’ stop was an active volcano – seen at a distance, and the vent on its slopes made for a great few shots.

Miguel and Ollague.  (The volcano is Ollague)

Miguel and Ollague. (The volcano is Ollague)

Mid-afternoon Miguel seemed unusually attentive to the landscape. In an open area he suddenly hit the breaks, opened the door and bolted out about 100m. Having no idea what he was doing – it certainly wasn’t a bathroom break, he seemed in fact to be searching for something, we asked him when he returned. He said it was something a previous car had dropped, but didn’t say what. We had our own theories…

Towards the end of daylight we reached the tiny town of San Jan, a desert town covered in sand throughout, and were offered a toilet break and the chance to buy snacks. The prices were horrendous for Argentina/Chile, let alone Bolivia, but we decided as a group to buy a bottle of vino

The landscape changed from mountainous desert into flat desert - a plateau with a light sandy covering practically as far as the eye could see. We curved around towards some mountains, but in all other directions there was nothingne

Full moon rising over desert

Full moon rising over desert

ss. It was getting dark too, and again were pleased we had an experienced guide. Driving through the desert at night was amazing, and then to top it off, the full moon began to rise over the desert. A spectacular sight, and a fantastic unplanned event – I knew it was due to be full moon, but certainly hadn’t considered the effect it would have on the open, empty desert.

Shortly we arrived at our accommodation for the night – a salt hotel! We got some sort of impression that it may not be technically a ‘legal’ hotel – apparently there’s some thing about damaging the salt flats, but here it was. And not just the walls – the floors, ceilings, beds, tables, and chairs – were all made out of compacted, crystallized salt. (We taste-tested everything!).

The shower wasn’t free, and the girls suggested a pact to not shower, as it was cold again (although not as bad, we had better insulation now and were only at 3700m), and because hey, we’d save 10 Bolivianos (about a quid). Dinner arrived, the usual table bread and some soup and other local meat cooked by the husband and wife who ran the place. He was a friendly chap while the wife was mildly scary, but neither spoke English again. It’s the best way to have it. As we finished off dinner, they presented us with a bottle of wine from the tour – to go with our other one, so we got Miguel in on it as well, before he retired to the back with the owner, along with what looked suspiciously like the package he’d picked up in the desert…

We drank wine and played cards, everyone in good spirits. Suzie had recovered from feeling ill the previous night, and aside from a couple of light headaches, and general weariness, everyone was in high spirits. Tomorrow was the salt flats, the main attraction of the tour, and the excitement was building.

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4 Responses to Salt Flats & Desert Tour – Day Two: Lagoons, Flamingos, and the Solitary Cactus

  1. Lizmo

    What solitary cactus?

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