Uyuni Salt Flat tour (Day 1)
We had booked on to a three day tour, from San Pedro (chile) to Uyuni (Bolivia) via the salt flats. On the first day after sorting out border formalities, we drove in a minibus to the bolivian border. The drive went up and up until we reached snow, where we really regretted being typically english (overly optimistic) by wearing shorts. It didn´t take long before we changed to multiple layers. We had breakfast huddled in a hut warming our hands on the hot coffee and getting to know our group of 14. There were three 4x4´s, in ours were three Austrians. The weather was freezing, and it snowed several times which was such a contrast to the weather yesterday. We drove to three lakes, the first of which was the Laguna Blanca, which was clear surrounded by icy edges. The next was Laguna Verde, bet you can guess the colour! It was such a bright green though. Sadly as it was so cold we were not out of the jeeps for very long. The highest point of the tour was 4950m where there were several steaming geysers. Our accomodation for the first night was next to the third lake, Laguna Colorada. The lake was bright red, that colour due to organisms in the water. The lake was home to many flamingos which were great to see, well actually quite hard to see as there pink colour blended in. Luckily several came quite close. That night was freezing, so the 14 of us were huddeld around a tiny wood stove for most of it.
Today was the most driving, luckily we had several stops along the way to break up the journey. The first stop of the day was to see a stone tree. several random rocks in the desert, one of which resembled a tree. Just incase we hadn´t seen enough Lagunas we stopped at three today. The first two were similar in colour, a very pale blue and surrounded by the same mountain range. The other was dark blue and covererd in guls. The final stop of the day was on a salt flat, not Uyuni salt flat. It was smaller and had dried up alot more to look like ice scattered across the sand. We stayed at a salt hostel. The walls were made out of slat bricks, the table and chairs were also salt and the floor was a carpet of salt grains, it was so cool. The evening was warmer due to the lower altitude, and we enjoyed several glasses of wine together.
Today we actually drove across Uyuni Salt Flat, the largest salt flat in the world, made from a prehistoric slat lake that covered most of Boliva dried up leaving several slat flats and small lakes. It took about 45 minutes to get to the edge of the salt. Where we entered the salt was water logged. It looked like a giant lake. The water reflected the surrounding mountains. It was stunning. Dazzling white as far as the eye could see, we had driven to heaven! We wondered where we would drive as the path had dissappeared into water, so... into the water we went. The water came up to the top of the wheels, we drove in convoy to the middle of the salt flat where a cactus island is. The water dried up after about 15 minutes of driving, the salt became like sand. We stopped at the cactus island, where we had time to walk up to the top of the small island to have views across the whole of the salt. The island itself was pretty cool, as it was covered in massive cactus, some over 9 meters in height. We drove out into the salt to stop for lunch surrounded by white. We where able to take silly photos as distance was completely disstorted. We stopped one more time on the salt, at the salt mountains, salt that had been scopped into mounds as part of the collection process by a border town. That night we stayed in Uyuni a town on the edge of the salt flat, where we had an amazing pizza with several from our group at a great little pizzeria.
We left Uyuni the next day with three of the girls from the salt flats. Potosi is a mining town, it was during colonial times the richest city in South America due to the high concentration of silver. The silver in the mines has now largely dried up, leaving miners mining long hours in appauling conditions for the few minerals left. The town centre has mainly beautiful buildings, a reminder of the once wealthy city. We had a great time in Potosi the city is really nice, the main reason for coming though was the mines. We went with ex miners ´The Real Deal´ who have started a tour company, down the working mines. The night before we watched the film ´The Devils Miner´ which is really sad but was a nessecity prior to going into the mine. We went first on the tour to the miners market where we bought gifts for the miners; juice, coca leaves (they chew them religiously to fight fatigue, hunger and lack of oxygen) and dynamite. Yes, dynamite anyone can buy it for around 2 pounds. The tour then took us to one of the cooperative refinery plants. Although the conditions are better than down the mine, the workers still deal with fumes dust and toxic chemicals, like arsnic. The mines are all in one mountian known as the rich mountain, but the minners joked that it is now the poor mountain. Over 8 million minners have died in the mountain since the mines were opened. Today about 20 die every year and thats just from accidents, many more die from silicosis at a yound age (they are very lucky to reach 50 years).
Inside the mine it was dark, crammed, hot and soo dusty. Some parts were walkable, other parts we had to crouch and in the fourth level we had to crawl in parts. We got to speak to several of the miners (through our guide), the hardest of which was a 17 year old working in a small boling space, making a small hole by hammer and chisel for dynamite. There are many boys that work down the mine and they can start as young as ten (especially if their farther has died). In was a shocking experience, a real thinker! Despite the appauling conditions the miners are surprisingly upbeat, they have a great sense of hummour, and theres a strong brotherhood amoungst the minners. On fridays they all drink together in the working groups down the mine, 94% alcohol, which we were given to try and it blew our heads off! They are incredibly proud to be minners and to be able to provide for their families. To us it just seemed total madness, such hard work for not alot, and to know they will die at a really young age from doing it. Also with all the modern technology we have today!!!!!
We spent three very sunny days chilling out in the city. Sucre is very nice with its white washed buildings and terracota roofs. One of the girls from the slat flat tour was still with us, which was really nice. We explored the central market, where the hub of activity is. We spent alot of time in yummy cafes. Went to the mirador for views over the city, and to the folklore museum to see an exhibition on Bolivian ethnic groups.