Wow. That was a good long sleep… I think the fuel-like miners’ alcohol we were forced to test in Potosi (where I last blogged from) knocked me out for about six or seven weeks, and I’ve only just surfaced again. Ahem. Or I can just blame the awful internet connections, and my lack of time in general, for the total distintegration of my main link with home. Sorry, it wasn’t intentional, and if you thought I’d been kidnapped by some kind of gang of South American bandits I can tell you it never happened (I’m totally worthless to them!) and I am, in fact alive and writing again. Hurrah! You may wish that I had been taken hostage though, because I intend to attempt to curb my current massive bout of homesickness for South America by revisiting the stories you missed because of my altitude ‘coma’.
So, where were we? Chapter two of the Salt Flats experience? Vamanos.
After arriving dirty, cold, late and exhausted in the salt hotel (even after a day in the snow it’s blindingly white, and the whole interior – right down to the tables and stools, but not the mattresses, thankfully – is built entirely of salt) we pretty much collapsed. After the Colditz-like breeze block cabin of the night before, this place was palatial. I’d even go so far as to say it was one of my favourite hotels on the whole trip – that’s high praise – even with its rubbish trickle-like showers, which are the only way to rinse away the mud and excess geyser sulphur. Eventually cleansed, fed, and excited for the next day, we pass out in our salt cabins until the alarm shocks us into wakefulness the next morning, which is…
SALT FLAT PHOTO DAY! It really does deserve the capitals. Everyone’s been looking forward to this for weeks. I don’t know what’s so exciting about the prospect of taking photos which play with, and rely on, bizarre perspectives on an endless white backdrop, but it gets every single person I’ve met who has been there, done that and got the pictures. And it’s stopped snowing, which is incredible. What’s not so incredible is that while repacking the backpack, my back decides it’s had enough of the salt flat fun and games and goes into spasm. NOT good, and definitely not what I need today of all days, so I choose to take the pain management plan of ‘ignoring’ it… hmmm.
Weirdly, after the last couple of days of frozen wasteland weather, it feels like it could be quite hot, and while we’re driving, still unsure about the temperature outside, Little Piglet decides to check if it’s windy… by sticking her arm out the window of a moving vehicle. Erm, that’s not going to work Liz! Cue a fit of the giggles, and then, as the party car drives towards its first stop of Isla de Pescadores, our reverting to childhood by playing with and battering each other with some of the props for our photos later – toy dinosaurs! I blame the altitude (again) – 3,653m above sea level, you’re bound to get a bit giddy.
We tumble (well, the others jump, I stagger) out of the car into blazing heat and take a mini climb up to the top of the Isla de Pescadores, with its cacti and stunning views of vast white plains of salt, and experience the first of taste of climbing at altitude – it’s a killer, but let’s not dwell on that – before zooming over to the open expanse of salt that’s been picked for our photo fun. Here, out come the cameras, wine and pisco bottles (props only!), Snickers bars, frying pans and, best of all, plastic dinosaurs! And the fun begins. It’s harder than you think to take these photos (yes, I am making excuses for my shoddy camerawork), but after a bit of practice we get some pretty awesome shots… and an amazing Japanese-B-film-style spoof of three of us running away from a dragon/dinosaur attack (reminds me, I need to get hold of a copy of that).
A long while later, cut by and covered in shards of salt, we’re done, so everyone piles back in the cars to get to our lunch point (where I realise I actually cannot move without wanting to scream, and look like John Wayne swaggering down the street of this deserted tiny town), before heading towards the train cemetary, our last stop ahead of our overnight destination, Uyuni. The only problem is, after all the car antics the day before, we’re seriously low on petrol – as in, totally out. We’re not sure if we’ll even make it to Uyuni. There’s not a petrol station for miles, and we can’t even siphon any from the other cars because apparently the drivers did that earlier that morning, so they have no extra, either. Crap.
By some kind of miracle we make it to the petrol station (big sighs of relief) and then, car recharged, carry on to the train cemetary where in the middle of a windy wilderness, the rusty and graffitied carcasses of old steam trains have been laid to rest… or to create a giant playground for travellers to run around in, and take more silly photos (which is what we did). So surreal, but definitely worth the visit.
The random landmark topped off the three days of salt flats craziness perfectly, and set us up for our overnight stay in Uyuni, and a much-needed round of drinks at the Extreme Fun Pub. Yes, that is its real name. No, it’s not actually extremely fun. But it did provide the backdrop for our first taste of local (not great) drink, Chuflay, and the most complicated game of 21s and revealing game of I Have Never, ever. Those stories aren’t mine to tell, though. Although I have plenty of those for next time…