4 days in a car. Woohoo! Our group consisted of Raschid, myself, a Norwegian/Tahitian couple, Christian and Muitia, a German woman named Innes plus a cook and 2 drivers. We thought we were the only group leaving that day from our company, Tupiza Tours, but there was another group hanging around waiting to load their gear. I found out from one of t he guys that they had left the day before but there car's brakes were failing about 3 hours into the tour so they turned around and came back to town. A very auspicious start to be sure. We left at 10am and drove through some spectacular scenery. Beautiful multi-colored mountains and canyons and strange pod-like short spiky plants. We stopped for lunch of sandwiches and Bolivian tamales in a big open field full of llamas before continuing on to the small town of San Antonio at 4200 meters. The driver was great about letting us stop anytime we wanted to take a picture. We arrived as the day was cooling down and we all started shivering like crazy. We took a short walk around the town to warm up where we chatted with some local kids. By dinnertime my teeth were chattering so badly that I just wanted to go to bed but after a few spoonfuls of soup we were all feeling much warmer and happier. We ate quickly and went to bed after sharing a little wine.
I tossed and turned all night and woke up several times. At about 4am I woke up with vicious headache. Whether it was from the wine or the altitude I have no idea. Luckily I had a bottle of Tylenol near by and by the time we were woken up at 5:30am, it was nearly gone. This was our marathon day. In the morning we visited an ancient village, some gorgeously colored lakes and then stopped at a natural hot spring for a lovely dip. There are no showers offered on this tour until the third night and even then it will be cold water so this was heaven. More stunning landscape was to come, each area different and more strangely beautiful than one before. Weird rock formations, crystal clear lakes and natural geysers filled the rest of our afternoon. We arrived at our hostel new Lago Colorado almost 12 hours after we started. We were up a few hundred meters higher and it was almost unbearably colder. When my mother came to visit me in Peru, she brought me two new long sleeve shirts and kept stuffing my backpack with more and more socks. I remember rolling my eyes and trying to explain to her that I was following summer and these things were completely unnecessary and just added excess bulk to my bag. Well, I'll have to apologize now mother for that night I was wearing both long sleeves, jeans, my fleece, and all three pairs of socks. A belated thanks.
Day 3 was really great and really relaxing. We changed drivers, Innes decided to return to Tupiza meaning more room in the jeep for us and we didn't have to get up until 7am. As I'd shivered myself to sleep the night before at 7pm I was feeling great. Our cook even made us pancakes for breakfast. A new personal best for her! In the morning we visited five small lakes some of which had hundreds of pink and white flamingos wandering around. I've always imagined flamingos living in the tropics so it was quite a shock to see them. They live in the areas of the lakes that are heated from underground. They looked quite happy and quite warm. After lunch we passed a mildly active volcano issuing small tufts of steam before heading to the arbol de piedras, a very famous and shapely rock. We ended the tour with a drive through a small salt flat to give us a taste of what we would be seeing the next day. It was such a lovely relaxing day compared to the frantic pace of the day before. A really enjoyable change and just what I needed to keep my tour-itis at bay. We arrived so early to our hostel that it was still warm outside. We had dropped about 1000 meters so it actually felt, dare I say it, warm. Raschid and I walked through the small town and up into the old cemetery before returning for dinner, cards, chess and wonderfully, more wine.
Our last day was what we'd all been waiting for, the Salar de Uyuni, the massive 400 km blinding white salt flat. We were awake, packed and in the jeep on schedule at 4am to make the two hour journey across the salt flat to a small island in the middle that offered a high 360 degree view. We made it to the island about 10 minutes before sunrise and had to book it up the mirador. Running is hard enough but running at 6am, at altitude up a rocky path is down right awful. We made it though and it was thrilling to see all the colors across the sky and mirrored in the sheen of the salt flat. We took lots of pictures before heading back down for a chance to walk out on the salt. It is flat and vibrant white for almost as far as you can see. Walking on it reminded me so much of walking along the salt covered snowy streets of St. John's, Newfoundland when I was a kid. Ahh memories. We drove on to the 'eyes' of the Salar, some water pockets sending up bubbles from the compressed salt (I think that's what he said) and then stopped at a salt hotel where everything was made of salt. Pretty cool. Our last stop was where workers gather the salt into 3 feet high cones to be bagged. An older woman worker there showed us how she shoveled the heavy salt and told us she makes about $2.50 a day. Nothing like traveling to make you appreciate home.