Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Salt Flats Part 1: Train Graveyard, Salt Flats, Isla Incahuasi

You are here!
I peppered this post with a lot of photos. 
It will probably take a while before they are all loaded but do stay with me. 

After countless hours of research and a whole day of preparing for the 3-day trip, I was still worried about... lots of things. Looking back, those were all useless worrying.

The strip of restaurants and travel agencies in Uyuni are busy and bustling from 9:30AM to 10:00AM everyday. The tourists just keep on coming and it seems that the supply can meet the demand. I saw Toyota Land Cruisers scattered all over, piling up the stuff of the tourists for the next 3 or 4 days.


I met my jeepmates (what should I call them?) for the day: me, Julia - a female fresh graduate from Canada, Maud and Julian - a couple from France, Jairo - a male professor from Columbia and a couple from…I cannot recall, but the guy spoke English and they both spoke Spanish. That makes 7 of us in the van. A typical Uyuni tour consists of 6 pax only. The couple is just with us for the day and were replaced by another tourist after (more of that below).

It can get stuffy in the jeep.

Be friendly. Your jeepmates will be your companions for the new few days. You will be sharing the space in the jeep, the table and the dormroom. Better get along. The best way to get along is to smile & laugh with them, and don't be whiny.

English was not our common language:
Me: English. And I can count and tell the time in Spanish. Maybe a couple of words too.
Julia (Canada): English and Spanish
Maud (France): French and Spanish, a bit of English
Julian (France): French and English
Jairo (Colombia): Spanish and some English
Ced (France): French (I think some Spanish too?)

We got along pretty much by talking in Spanish and English. Some French too for the French peeps. I would say I couldn't completely understand the Spanish conversation but I got most of the content. Most of the Filipino words that you know are probably Spanish ones.

Just 20 minutes after we left Uyuni town, our jeep halted at this Train Graveyard.
Toyota Land Rovers all over the place.
My rust-colored socks really popped out

Our driver gave a brief description and history of this train Spanish.
From what I understood and what was translated to me, this was supposed to link the town of Uyuni to another town. But funding ran out (I completely understand that one) so the trains and tracks remained here.

Old and rusting train parts = a tourist destination.

Sun saluting at the train graveyard

I tried to climb up the train but I heard a *riiiiiiip*.
Oh dear, my jeggings got ripped.
No more climbing for today now. Bummer. I left my sewing kit at the hostel. 

After getting tired of the rust, we proceeded to the touristy Uyuni Salt Market.

You go and buy some souvenirs here. I thought the prices in Uyuni town would be cheaper but the salt figurines were cheaper here. I feigned mild interest in the goods in the market.

I really liked the dog. Look at that fur! His owner was pretty nice too. I asked if I could take a photo of them.

Jeepmate Jairo in the Salt Museum

Back into the stuffy jeep. The thing is, you will spend hours driving around in a day and the jeep can be pretty stuffy as all the windows are up to keep the dust out. Then when you go down, the winter chill will permeate your clothes. I remove my halt, gloves and scarves when in the jeep, then I put them all back when we go down. 

We were a short drive away from the star destination of this trip: The Salt Flats. The area used to be a huge lake, then it dried up. Now it is all salt. That's all I got from the driver. I would've wanted to know how that happened. Climate change? How long? Will we expect this from Taal Lake?

Even if the explanation was lacking, the scene was still breathtaking:


I ran to the first salt hill.




Just to taste if it was really salt, I grabbed some and gingerly tasted it.
Yeap, it is salt. They weren't lying.

The salt gave off a blinding reflection of the sun.
The sunglasses were really necessary. You'll be squinting forever if you don't have them. 

Blinding sun.

We drove further out into the expanse of salt until we reached this spot with a salt hotel, this "Dakar Bolivia" post and a station where international flags are.

The salt flats were on the "dirty side" when we were there. Or probably we just didn't find that spot where they are really just white as I saw in the photos. During the rainy season, the puddles of water give a reflection of the sky.

No Philippine Flag

I read blog entries of Filipinos and they mentioned that the flag station had no Philippine Flag. 
I came prepared. I bought a small Philippine flag in National Bookstore. 

I planted this Philippine Flag in Bolivia. 

It is a small flag but is MY FLAG. 

If you'll be visiting Uyuni, please take a look if the Philippine flag is still there. 
Do send me a photo. =)

One of the salt hotels
Our driver continued on and I was pretty amazed how he just knew where to drive. There were no roads and no signs. All the drivers knew pretty much where they were going. 

We landed in this cactus island called Isla Incahuasi.

We paid a fee of BOB 30 and logged in our names. There's a toilet at the entrance too - toilet fee is free when you pay for the ticket. 

HUGE CACTUS. And there's my cactus pose.

We were excited to explore the place but our appetites prevailed. Lunch first. 
At the tour office, they will tell you that the meals our hot.
Probably true, when they packed it. But the winter weather quickly made our food warm. A few bites later, I was already biting cold slices of potatoes.

meet, quinoa, tomatoes, banana, water, Coke. Mustard and ketchup are also available. Not exactly delicious but hey, I was hungry. I didn't have a choice. 

More flags here

Replete with food, we started to explore the island. It was an easy hike going up. There's a 360-degree view of the vast expanse of salt. 

You can just spend hours and hours at this place. 


I was bummed that the skies weren't blue anymore, but the view was awesome nonetheless. 
Where the sea of salt meets the sea of clouds. 

My jeepmates were very accommodating in taking my photos. I had lots of shots but I wish I took more.

Back shot.

This used to be a lake. Imagine that. 

Some rock formations too

The sky started to get dark and gloomy

After Isla Incahuasi, the couple switched jeeps and we Cedric joined the group. 

We met some guys who travelled all the way from British Columbia, Canada via a motorbike. A motorbike. In the Salt Flats. They were crazy. But cool and damn brave. 

It wasn't the end of the day and we drove further to see more of the Salt Flats. I think this should've been where 

The bikers followed us to our hostel for the night

I think this should have been the part where we do all the creative perspective shots. But I guess we weren't just into it. 

Just a standard group shot for the gang here

Bike and salt

We arrived at the Salt Hotel, our home for the night. See, don't expect the Salt Hotel to be much of a hotel. It is actually just a house made of salt. The bed is made of salt, a mattress is placed on top of the bed. 

The salt hotel had a common dining area, a common bathroom (1 shower and 2 toilets only for the entire hotel) and a charging station. 
See those salt walls?

You can shower for free but I wanted hot water so I caved in and paid 10BOB for a hot shower. I was the first one to shower. I think that worked out in my favor because I had hot shower (not that hot, but warm-hot). According to the others who took a shower after me, the shower wasn't that hot (Sowwwweeeee!!!!). I had to explain to my jeepmates why I had to shower. It wasn't that I was sweating or really dirty, but I would feel dirty if i didn't shower - a Filipino habit. Julia was concerned that my hair will not dry during the night because of the weather. Made me a bit anxious, but I showered anyway. 

We had tea before dinner.

After dinner, we got by chatting in English, French and Spanish. Nyahahaha.
There's not a lot to do (I wish I bought a deck of cards or some games) but put on layers and layers of clothes and then sleep. We had a 5:00AM wake up call the next day.

I curled around my my sleeping bag and tried to sleep.
Sleep didn't come easy. I was restless with my wet hair and layers of clothes. I woke up twice during the night to add another layer, then remove that layer. Annoying.

Good night Uyuni. Show me another day of awesomeness tomorrow. 

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