12 – 15 August
After a total of eight hours Pui and I arrive in Uyuni, 200km west of Potosí. It is a freezing cold and not very attractive place but still attracts thousands of visitors all year long due to one of the natural highlights Bolivia’s: the Salar de Uyuni – the largest salt desert in the world. We start our three-day tour the next morning together with four other tourists and one guide. It is a very international group covering five continents.
Our first stop is a cementary of old and rusty trains that were used to transport minerals from the mine close to Uyuni all the way to Chile from where they would be shipped to Europe. It is a bizarre place full of tourists and four-wheel-drives that are all about to start the exact same tour and I am a little shocked when I realize that we will be right in the middle of this Gringo trail for the upcoming days.
Shortly after, on our way to the salt flats, we learn that our guide Beymar is not a big fan of tourist traps either and that he has an alternative route in mind in order to escape the mass tourism. He takes us to a place somewhere in the Salar that is not completely dry yet. The shallow water reflects the mountains far in the background in a very eerie way and the fact that there is absolutely nothing else we can see or hear turns it into an even more impressive first impression of this salt desert. After a nice lunch we briefly stop at the only building in the salt flats – a hotel completely built of salt that has been turned into a museum.
What follows is an extensive photo- and video session using this unique place as a setting for some fun shots like thousands of people have done it in the past. On the way to one of a few “islands” in the salt flats, consisting of rocks and cactuses, we stop to check out some pieces of salt Beymar finds in a hole filled with water that look like some expensive minerals and that vary in colours (white, pink and red). Before we get to our final destination for today we stop again to watch an absolutely amazing sunset and witness how the salt flats turn from blinding white into a light pink and finally into a dark blue. We spend the night at a basic hostel on the edge of the salt flats and just enjoy a filling dinner, some hot tea and a game of pool before checking out the stars of this very cold night and heading to bed.
After watching a beautiful sunset the next morning, our first stop is a grassy valley with plenty of small streams, icy rivers and quite a few llamas enjoying the morning sun.
We have a long ride ahead of us but still travel in a slow paste with many stops along the way to take in the views and to fully enjoy the impressive and constantly changing scenery. We pass deserts, areas with very strange rock formations, lakes in intense colours (blue, red, green and even white) caused by various minerals and algae, volcanos partly covered in snow and consisting of up to eight different colours sometimes, just like a rainbow. Since we hardly come across cars or other tourists here on this alternative route, we have plenty of encounters with wild animals like llamas, vicuñas, flamingos and even two foxes.
The feelings and goosebump-moments I experience in these couple of days cannot put into words or described in any way. It is probably the strongest connection to nature and the beauty of our planet I have ever felt in my life and I am deeply thankful to have the chance to be here. Sometimes, people might think I am a little crazy but than I meet individuals like Dominik (from Germany) who we invite for lunch and who actually crosses the Salar de Uyuni and this massive national park on foot, just by himself, spending the nights in a sleeping bag that he simply puts on the ground (no tent or anything) at temperatures as low as -15/-20 degrees Celsius.
Before we get to our accommodation for the night we stop at a gyser surrounded by boiling mud pools and smelly steam coming out of every opening in the ground. It is very paradox to walk around this active volcano and to be freezing at the same time as the sun is about to set.
We have dinner and some Bolivian wine before we take all our courage and get out again for a short walk to some natural hotsprings. It is the perfect way to end this amazing but exhausting day, however, it feels so surreal to comfortably sit in the warm water, hardly wearing anything, while the temperatures are below zero degrees outside. We loose track of time and space and chill out for hours, just watching the stars and enjoying this perfect moment.
The final day of the tour is just a short one for Pui and myself as we cross into Chile from here and only enjoy a few more stunning views in this wonderful and amazing country.
After spending six weeks here in Bolivia I can say I really fell in love with this country and totally reckommend everyone to visit this fantastic place to get a glance at its dramatic and diverse flora and fauna, its likeable cities and villages and its friendly inhabitants.