Death road and salt flats

We spent our last night in Rurrenabaque and had some nice pizza and chilled at a bar called funky monkey, which was nice but admittedly a bit dead on a Wednesday night like everywhere in this place apparently! Then had a night at a much nicer place called hotel oriental (would avoid hotel tucanes!) before flying back to La Paz the next day to chill, and I went to a really nice Mexican place called Kalakitas.

The next morning I said goodbye to Lisa and Mike, the last two that remained from the original group but were heading home today. Today it was time for the Camino de muerte bike ride: a bit of a cycle down the new road (tarmac) before getting to the main event of 33km pretty much all downhill on gravel. I’ve never really done proper mountain biking before, nor ridden a bike with proper suspension on both wheels. I was amazed at how well it handled the rugged terrain. It was awesome!! Can’t believe how quickly it went but was so fun. I pushed it a bit too much round one of the corners where there were a lot of loose stones and stacked it, coming away with a couple of “souvenirs”, but the protective gear took the worst of it for sure. Lunch was at a hotel on the way back and we relaxed by the pool with a beer, and I find out quite a few of the group were staying at the same hostel as me that night (wild rover, they have a few round this part of the world and have quite the reputation). 

I got back around 7, grabbed my gear from the previous hotel (estrella andina, which was really nice) and made my way to the hostel. I was given the tour, then spotted tonight’s theme was black and white so threw on some relevant clothing and headed to the bar. I was straight away asked if I wanted to join in a game that was just about to get started, and bumped into an American girl from the cycling earlier. The game was flip cup, and she felt it paramount we win for US pride, which we did despite my best efforts to cock it up as last man in the counter-long team against the bar staff. The evening continued in a similar manner with some familiar and new faces and the occasional free shot being doled out by someone running down the bar with a bottle of something disturbingly fluorescent. Then we headed to te after party at a place called Plan-b and afterwards five of us made it to a further spot called Pagoza (I think) making it to bed around half 6. Awesome night. Slow morning.

I spent the afternoon figuring out next steps re accommodation/ transport and chilled with a couple of people from the night before, ahead of getting some pool in with a couple of stalwarts from the pagoza leg. I met some more cool people and after a couple of beers felt pretty keen to go again but eventually managed to tear myself away when someone bought me a tequila shot (no shortage of other takers following my rejection) and I made my way to bed, lauding my own good sense given te 6am taxi to the airport… but still slightly in two minds. I can see how people regularly extend their stays here and even work a short time. This was exactly what Freddy behind the bar for most of my drinks had been doing, and my first night was just first one not as a tourist! Anyway though, not to be this time as I was off to the Salt Flats of Uyuni.

I flew to Uyuni in the morning and after 25 minutes waiting someone as the company (Altitude or Perla de bolivia) had clearly cocked up and no one was at the airport to pick me up. I eventually took a taxi with a couple of other people who had been equally stood up. The driver by chance worked for Perla de bolivia and told me no one had told him anything! But fortunately it also meant I didn’t need to pay and faff with refunds as he just sorted it directly.

Our first stop was the train cemetery where a few old trains that used to service the area are quietly corroding in peace. It’s insanely windy around here and every now and then you have to stop and protect your eyes/ mouth from the dust. Then on to the salt hotel, which is the only one of its kind actually on the flats and is now a museum as it was decreed a while ago that none are allowed there anymore.
From there, we hit the salt flats themselves and took a load of classic photos. At its deepest the salt is 110m deep, and covering over 10,500 square kilometres holds 10 billion tonnes of salt.

We then visited one of the “islands” which stands above the salt and wandered about around the giant cacti.

Then it was on to the hotel and dinner. We got to know each other a bit over a bottle of Bolivian wine and the pisco I’d bought a while back, then headed to bed. Our rooms that night were made out of salt bricks and despite it being freezing out actually kept it relatively warm inside.
The next morning we headed to the Stone soldiers (soldados de piedra) so named as this area was effectively the battlefront in the fighting between Chile and Bolivia over the ability to mine in this mineral rich area.

We visited some lagoons with a variety of colours which was generally determined by the mineral content. I also learned that they are called lagoons instead of lakes because they remain shallow throughout. Always wondered that. There were loads of flamingos sifting through the water in the hunt for microorganisms, and actually one of the lagoons was red/orange as a result of the colour of these organisms themselves.
That night was a bit less comfortable with all six of us sharing a room barely bigger than the beds occupying the floor… the 5am start and 4,300m altitude didn’t help matters much either. However, we had a nice dinner and a good time chilling there beforehand.

The fumaroles were the first stop of the day, big natural steam vents and hot pools caused by the volcanic activity underground. Quite a lot of sulphur too so it was pretty eggy. Then on to another desert, a quick stop at the hot springs and we dropped off Julian at the Chilean border who was making his way there as opposed to coming back with us on the long drive to Uyuni.

We had a nice dinner at a place called minuteman pizza (not too exotic!) then headed to the bus area where everyone except me was heading back to La Paz whereas I was staying over a night and going in the morning (have had enough of night buses!). I needed a hard copy of my bus ticket for tomorrow apparently, so I thought I’d be smart and get it directly from the company that night. but had no internet and my confirmation email from “tickets bolivia” unhelpfully did not have the company name (just a link to the ticket) so I went asking around to see who had a bus leaving at my allotted time, which was quite comical. I eventually found it and it was shut!… so headed back to the hotel and managed to convince the guy at reception to let me come round, find the email and between us figured out how to print my tickets on the last two pieces of blank paper left in the hostal. Victorious I returned to my room, treated myself to an almost warm shower and headed to bed.
The next morning I was up early to go straight my first bus which was going to potosi and found out it was delayed… but the joke was on them as it gave me a chance to have a nice breakfast at a cafe nearby ahead of commencing the journey. I am not sure what the altitude was like but definitely felt the familiar pangs of headache en route so sought out some sugar and didn’t overexert myself trying to read a new Spanish book I’d bought “el alquimista” – about a young Spanish shepherd who travels around Andalucía with his flock, seems good so far!
The change over at potosi could have been a bit hairy but fortunately I bumped into a French guy doing the same thing and was just leaving the “wrong” bus terminal so we shared a cab to the nueva terminal which was the “right” one. We swapped a few stories of what we’d been up to in Spanish despite almost certainly being able to communicate more effectively in either of our native languages… but that wasn’t the point!
We split up before he next bus as he went with a different company and I managed to snag a bus that left two hours earlier and enjoyed the improving weather as I journeyed on to Sucre. I wandered around the terminal until finding a taxi, and suddenly two German girls said hi and seemingly started hijacking it as I loaded in my suitcase. I eventually clocked that I’d met these two the day before at one of our stops on the tour and we were sharing the cab to our hostels. Ok… cool! Despite mine having a German name, they were off to a different one ahead of catching another night bus on the trot at 6pm (sucks to be them!).
Now I’m chilling with functional internet at last having sorted life out. Apparently this place has free salsa classes (yessssss!) tonight so will be checking that out…

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