The border crossing from Chile to Bolivia is pretty basic to say the least. It was the first stop on our Salar de Uyuni tour which would take us from the desert of San Pedro de Atacama to Uyuni a town by the famous salt flat in Bolivia. Before embarking on our three day, two night tour by Jeep we had to formally exit Chile and enter country number six of our travels, Bolivia. The immigration office was a small wooden shack in the middle of nowhere surrounded by 4X4's and tourists. We queued in the wind to receive our stamps before breakfast by the Jeep and being sorted into our tour group. We were put with two Italian guys and two Brazilian guys and we met the man who would take care of us; for the next three days he would be our tour guide, driver and cook.
We jumped in the Jeep and first visited a clear lake surrounded by mountains, the next stop was a desert-like landscape. The third stop was a colourful lake, the yellow grass clashed with the azure skies. While many people took a dip in the thermal pool we decided instead to admire the stunning scenery. Craig was in awe of the colours in the landscape and couldn't stop taking photographs. We had lunch in a building by the lake and I for one was very impressed, mostly because there was mashed potatoes. I haven't had mash since leaving the U.K. and at home it is one of my favourite foods! We continued on to a geyser field and walked through the sulphur smelling steam, it was like walking among the clouds. The mud bubbled and the minerals stained the earth with bright colours. Our last stop of the day was to see flamingoes though they were quite far away and the wind was whipping at our faces. We shared a room with the rest of the group, I had trouble sleeping and so took a look out of the window only to see the brightest stars I think I've ever seen.
I completely forgot that we were in a new timezone and woke up an hour too early. I spent the extra time day dreaming before breakfast and packing everything back on to the jeep. We drove to a rock formation that looks like a huge camel and a lost city which was a joy to walk around. We climbed rocks and stood in huge holes in the cliffs, one of our stops was so beautiful and peaceful that I relished sitting alone away from everyone else to admire my surroundings. A visit to Black Lake saw us climb to the top of some rocks before spotting a type of rabbit and some llamas. A highlight of the day for me was a visit to a town with a railway line running through it. The weather had completely turned; from blue skies there were ominous black clouds and the landscape was very atmospheric. We walked along the railway lines passing a stopped train and took photographs. I couldn't help but think about my drawings and how this sight would make a wonderful series of work in ink.
We checked into a salt hotel which was a new experience; as described the hotel is completely made of salt, the floor is made from ground up salt and crunchy underfoot. We had a private room which was very pretty with a view over the salt flat. We woke before sunrise to drive to the salt flat, the stars were still twinkling. I couldn't believe how the flat terrain stretched on for miles into the distance. We watched the sunrise and then drove to Isla Incahuasi an island in the middle of the flat covered in cacti. We had breakfast after a wander amongst the cacti and then drove to a spot to take perspective photos. Now, I don't really have patience for moments like this. Perspective photos are hard to achieve, they require teamwork and also involve having to lie on the hard, rough salty floor with the camera. I found it difficult asking for help with the kind of photo's that I wanted and eventually gave up in a huff.
We continued to the final stop. We had been informed that Uyuni had been barricaded due to some sort of strike and would be inaccessible. The Uyuni train graveyard that I'd been really looking forward to seeing was a no-go. With the festive season just around the corner we had no idea how we would make it to Sucre and the nice accommodation that we had already booked. We were talking with our group and the group that we had been doing the tour alongside about what to do next, we tried bargaining with our driver to take us out of the little town and onto a bigger one and he said no. We had been stranded in a small dusty town just outside the salt flat with hundreds of other backpackers and nobody knew what to do. Another backpacker approached us to ask what our plans were, she said she had asked her driver to take her out of the town and he had quoted her $250 USD. I started to panic. We didn't have that kind of money to spend but maybe we'd have no choice? Our driver said that although he wasn't willing to take us any further he did know of a coach to the next biggest city Ururo. He drove us to the coach stop and we all snagged the last seats. The price was usually 50 bolivianos, when writing our names on the list it went up to 80 bolivianos, by the time we went to pay it was 100 bolivianos. It was frustrating but luckily £1 is equivalent to 8 bolivianos so it wasn't the end of the world.
Oruro, the unintended stop on our Bolivian itinerary was an interesting one. We found a hotel by the bus stop and all checked in. The room was dank and there was so much noise outside, the beds were hard as rocks and the bathroom smelt like raw sewage. I started to cry and tearily told Craig that I didn't want to travel anymore. Any situation outside of my control seems to have a negative impact on me, I'm apparently incapable of taking things in my stride and maybe thats something I need to work on, or maybe thats how i'll always be. In the evening we all went out for dinner via the massive Christmas market that took up all of the streets. The neon lighting and brash Christmas decorations were a sight to behold. The next day we missed breakfast accidentally by 9 minutes and went out in search of bus tickets. Even finding bus tickets wasn't straight forward so we bought tickets to Potosí in the hope of being able to continue to Sucre.
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