Tuesday, May 7, 2013

And at long last the Bolivian Salar

Quick note: I know there have been huge gaps between posts. In fact we are already back in New York, but I promised myself I would complete this journey on this blog, so here we go. When they were written each post made sense as a continuation of the previous one. But now it may be very disjointed if you have not read the previous entry. If you are confused, please take a look at the previous post  If that doesn’t work, try starting here.

... If Tupiza could be described as a small and unremarkable town with basic accommodations, Uyuni would have to be described as the godforsaken town at the end of a dusty and garbage strewn road to hell! And I am being kind. Raoul’s mood deteriorated as we drew near. He told us right away that he hates Uyuni and we would soon see why. After three days on the road without a shower, feeling grungy and tired, all of us were looking forward to being in a town with running water. Our hostal was far from the town centre and far from luxurious. There was running water though and Noemi got set up to make us dinner while we all got settled. All of us needed to make plans to exit Uyuni so we walked into town to investigate buses out of town as well as alternative accommodations if we had to stay an extra night. We looked into buses and stopped in at a few hostals that were far from satisfying. We were both feeling we had had enough of roughing it and were looking for an exit strategy that would take us out of this hell hole as quickly as possible!

It was about that time that Marc started feeling ill. I was still feeling fine, so we got Marc a sprite and started walking back to the hotel. Bjorn and Joachim arrived back at the hotel at the same time and we exchanged notes about buses booked and plans made.

It was about that time that I began feeling ill. I excused myself and ran to the bathroom as gracefully as I could. I think you see where this is going. Within an hour or so, we were all sick, including Noemi. Joachim came to our room to announce that he too was sick and Bjorn was not far behind.

I don’t have to tell you what being sick in a hostal with communal bathrooms is far from ideal. But somehow we all made it through the night and felt remarkably healthy the next morning at 4:00am when we all were up for our last day, and most important day of the trip: the visit to the Salar (salt flats).

It being the summer holiday for South Americans, there were literally hundreds of university students and other tourists with the exact same itinerary. We, and all of the multitudes of tourists, were on our way before 5:00 am driving through the saltwater onto the glistening salt flats to see the sun rise. I could feel Raoul cringing as the salt water splashed on and under his jeep and then the salt from the surface of the salt flats was kicked up by its tires into every crevice of the underside of the vehicle! But for us, the experience was spectacular, even with dozens of jeeps racing past us throughout the morning hours.

We had breakfast in the first hotel made of salt, which is now a museum. There are now a couple of others that have popped up that are fancier and much more expensive. We did not visit them, but were able to view them from afar. 

Everything is made out of salt including the furniture. Sort of like an Igloo made out of salt blocks instead of packed snow.

All made out of salt!

Canadians have been here!

As well as everyone else!

Raoul taking a quick nap while we took in the amazing scenery. I guess he has seen it a couple of times!

It seems there is a tradition of taking funny pictures on the salt flats. Not sure where this idea originated, but Raoul had all sorts of ideas and had us pose in all sorts of ways that were actually hysterical. The boys really got into it and they were out there posing and snapping photos long after Marc and I were too cold to stay outside any longer.

Raoul then took us further onto the salt flats where we witnessed the family teams scrapping salt into heaps for drying while others moved dried salt onto trucks for transport to facilities where the salt is further dried, cleaned and processed for table and artisanal salts.

The last stop on our tour was what is called the Train Graveyard. It is a place where train cars no longer fit for service are laid to rest. They are over time disintegrating with the help of the salty air as well as disappearing piece by piece with the help of entrepreneurs looking for ways to make a bit of extra cash selling scraps of iron. Graffiti artists have also had some fun here. I don’t know what it is about trains, but people just have to climb on them. And so the Train Graveyard has become a living sculpture, ever changing as people climb on and off the cars.

And with that final tourist attraction, our trip was over. Raoul drove us back to the hostal, and Noemi prepared our last meal. Bjorn and Joachim had a bus out at 7:30 pm to Potosi and we had a 4:00 am departure to the Bolivian/Chilean border and onwards to Calama Chile. We sat together at our last lunch filling out a comments form that Raoul had given us, exchanging email addresses and talking about our amazing journey together.

Just before we all went our separate ways to finish packing up, I turned to the boys and told them that one of the biggest highlights of the trip for us was sharing it with them. I had to hold back a tear or two. We were going to miss them very much. When traveling, you meet people on the road and share your life with them for a few days or a few weeks. Each time it is a different experience. But this encounter was very special. And of course that is because these two young men are very special. I would love to meet their parents one day to congratulate them on raising such good boys!

The rest of our Uyuni story includes yet another incredible bus journey, which deserves its own post!

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