One of the main reasons we booked the four-day tour through the salt flats was because we wanted to spend a night on the salt flats. The usual three-day tour whizzes you through flats and you don’t get to enjoy the unusual landscape at the different times of the day. It took a lot of effort to rise from our cosy beds, in our four-bed room that we were squashed into, but the enticement of a beautiful sunrise was too much to resist.
We bundled up in layers of clothes and took blankets out to the flats where the silencing was deafening. It was truly wonderful to be the only ones out here, yesterdays tourist trail was long behind us now. The horizon was just starting to lighten up as we set up a line of GoPro’s to capture the sunrise on time lapse and then settled into the salty ground wrapped in blankets, waiting for the bright sun to emerge. As the sky started to lighten and the different colours started to peek past the line of the horizon into the sky, we were too busy being awestruck by the incredible view to take photos.
As the sun rose, so did the temperature and suddenly all the layers weren’t so necessary. We ran around like idiots in the new days light and did a couple of impromptu dance videos before heading back to the hostel for breakfast. Filling up on bread and jam and coffee, we chucked on our hiking boots and set off to hike up the volcanic mountain before our car arrived to pick us up.
Tunupa Volcano is the remainder of the geological activity that created the Andes Mountains many millions years ago. It’s layered look was reminiscent of Peru’s Rainbow Mountain, but I have to admit, wasn’t quite as spectacular! Nonetheless, it was still a remarkable piece of landscape and I was eager to hike closer to it. It took us about three hours and after a couple of detours, we reached a spot with the best view of the volcano. We climbed to almost 4,600m above sea level, which is no mean feat for a morning’s effort! Feeling the effect of the high altitude, I sat down and looked out at the volcano trying to catch my breath. I’d been at high altitude for a couple of weeks now, but it didn’t mean I was well adjusted. Having spent the last twenty-three years just 500m sea level, it still was a shock to the old body being up this high!
Time was against us unfortunately, so we took one last look at Tunupa volcano and headed back down to pack up and be ready for our car. The hike down was much quicker but tough on the knees. I swear sometimes I’d rather continue on uphill than going downhill, it hurts way less! We reached the hostel in record time and packed up our bags ready for a noon departure. Of course, Bolivians run on a time similar to Peruvians and it was close to an hour before our car actually arrived. By then we were starving and practically leapt on the driver once he parked and set up our lunch. Breakfast had seemed so long ago!
We met the new members of our group and exchanged the usual traveller stories as we hooked into pasta, chicken and salad. A French-Canadian girl, a man from Mexico and another man from Hong Kong made up the rest of our newly formed group and we piled into the new Land Drover, ready to bond over 80’s disco music. We sped back across the salt flats for an hour or so until we reached Isla Incahuasi, otherwise known as Cactus Island.
It was easy to see why it was called Cactus Island, I’d never seen so many cacti in my life! It cost 30 Bolivianos to go onto the island but being the cheapskates that we were (we prefer the term economical!) we decided to walk around the island instead. This ended up being a fantastic idea as the other side of the island was completely free of people, making us feel like yet again we were the only ones on the salt flats. Of course, the solidarity brought out the silly side in us and before you know it Team GoPro was in action again. We ran around taking videos and getting severely sunburnt and also running into two friends of ours from La Paz! Small world on these salt flats! Making plans to meet up again, we continued around the island until we reached the start. This was the place for the infamous perspective photos that Uyuni was so famous for but after some failed attempts from yours truly, I chose to just watch others look ridiculous as they posed in weird positions.
We jumped back in the Drover for the two hour drive to the salt hostel. To break up the drive, we stopped somewhere along the salt flats for some final pictures and videos. Once again, the unusual landscape got the better of us and we ran around on the flats like losers for the final time. It had been a fantastic two days, in this place I’d been wanting to see for the longest time. I still couldn’t comprehend that I was actually here – it felt like a dream! But the salt on my hiking boots and the sunburn on my shoulders definitely confirmed my attendance on the flats. It really was a dream come true.
After the final photo shoot, we piled back into the Land Drover (still unnamed!) and drove off the salt flats and into the desert, where we reached our place for the night – the infamous salt hostels. Now I wasn’t really sure what I was expecting, but after staying in a cave hotel in Cappadocia, I had kind of thought it would be somewhat similar. However the very normal looking little cabin wasn’t quite what I was expecting. It didn’t look very salty and unusual, it looked like every other house I’d seen recently, just lighter in colour. Though on closer inspection, I realised than the entire interior was indeed made of salt. The tables, beds, walls and chairs were all salty – and yeah I licked it just to test! Dinner was served on the salty tables and we sat on the salty chairs. Of course, many salty jokes were shared over dinner and the novelty didn’t wear off even at breakfast the next day.
Tired and hot from the sun and salt, I caved and paid 10 Bolivianos for the best shower I’d had in days. Actually the only shower I’d had in days! Clean and ready for bed, we shared a couple more salty jokes before retiring for the night. Tomorrow we change up the landscape and head for the desert – excited!