In the very early morning we dress in all our layers to brave the cold night. It’s a 50 minutes drive to the place where we stop to see the sunrise. In the car we listen to Bolivian folklore music and see the light coming up on the horizon. It’s unreal, the white salt everywhere around us is slowly illuminated in red by the morning sun, the sky is endless, the hills sun-kissed. The Salar de Uyuni is huge, 12,000 square metres.
Frozen we get back in the car, driving to Inkahuasi, the cactus Island. It’s 1000 years old and huge cactus are growing on this unexpected Island in the middle of the white salt. We can walk up to the viewpoint, my feet hurt as they are too cold but the rest of my body is fine. And it’s such a cool place! The sun is getting stronger and warms us up so that it’s actually quite nice to have the breakfast at the bottom of the hill, looking at the saltflat.
We then drive into the middle for a long picture session. The vastness combined with the flat white ground allows some funny pics playing with the perspective.
After all that fun we make a quick stop at the salt hotel (where a big Bolivian family wants to take pictures with us, the gringos), the Dakar rally monument, a village and the train cemetery. The trains are all about 100 years old and make a good spot for more pictures.
We have lunch in Uyuni (the town, a sad place) and I am picked up at 2.30 pm by a driver who takes me to Tupiza. Plenty of buses go to the bigger cities in the north, but to my next destination only a few buses leave. I neither want to stay over night nor take a bus that arrives at 2am in the middle of the night so Marcello our driver arranged the Jeep for me. It’s 200km on a dustroad, about 5h. The road is great, beautiful landscape, Lamas, river crossings, red hills, green bushes….. There are construction works to build a proper asphalt road with bridges, so in between we are driving on asphalt. The Jeep is now full with other passengers picked up on the way. They don’t talk to each other, I don’t speak their language and so we just listen to the music. The driver luckily speaks English and as he stops at a small roadside shrine, he invites me to follow him inside. He comes here after every tour for 14 years now to thank God for a safe journey. How? He brought a lot of things: first we light some candles, then I get a bundle of coca leaves and have to select the most beautiful ones that are then put on the shrine. The others are chewn. Then I have to open a beer, pour a bit around the shrine, drinking a bit and then putting it on the shrine. They are also lighting cigarettes and letting them burn while having one themselves. Their idea of thanking is sharing the “good” things. I am very happy to have been invited to be part of their ritual and discover how people live here and their beliefs. And I have to thank the universe for being able to discover the beauty of the earth every day. I am coming from a rich country, I am able to afford myself a year of travelling and it’s becoming more obvious now that I am in Bolivia, much poorer than Chile or Argentina. The Bolivianos are also smaller and dressed more traditional. In the streets of the small town we stopped, people stared at me while I walked to the toilets. I am very tall, still have some blond hair from the New Zealand sun, blue eyes…
Entering Bolivia we also changed timezone by one hour. It’s horrible because it means sunset is now at 6.30pm. Soon we are driving in the darkness until we finally arrive at 8pm in Tupiza. It’s much warmer here although we are still at 3000m altitude. The driver recommended a hotel and although it’s more expensive than a hostel, it’s very nice, clean and in the end paying 12€ for a single room (shared bathroom) is cheaper than most of the dorms in Chile. And I need to rest after the Uyuni tour! The guy at the reception is asking why I am travelling alone but when later we talk about hikes in the area and I try to explain to him that a 5h hike is not too much as I usually go hiking for a few days with my tent, he tells me no wonder that no friend came with me. I am too adventurous! By the way, we had this whole discussion in Spanish. Bolivian Spanish is so much easier to understand (plus the guy is making an effort) and I talk with my few Spanish words, throwing in some English words in between.
I am not even going for dinner, I just eat some crackers while using the Wi-Fi and then sleeping happily in my own room.