23.07.2010 - 26.07.2010 0 °C
Friday 23rd July 2010
Today I embraced my adventurous side and let Liam peruade me to go sandboarding. Anybody who knows me knows that I´m a massive wimp and this was a massive step!
We chose the local Hostelling International place to go on the excursion with and although it was slightly more expensive than other companies- 13,000 Chilean pesos (about 15 pounds)- we knew we could trust them and pictures were included.
We boarded our truck-type-thing alongside some South Americans, a Londoner and the first Northeners we have met all trip (Geordies) and embarked upon the short drive to Valle de la Muerte (valley of death...reassuring!) Oh, and this was straight after a girl telling the entire population of the hostel how her friend had almost become her `late´friend after crashing in to some rocks whilst sandboarding the day before...
When we got there we knew her friend must have been an idiot because the rocks were MASSIVE and really far away from the end of the run... he must have been messing about or hadn´t learnt how to stop, so that reassured us a little!
We got given our boards, tested the straps and walked the massive distance up the sand dune... that was knackering! At the top we were taught that to stop you `do the Michael (Jackson)´and that you must always keep your chest to the sand...and off we went!
Liam spent most of his time on the floor but got a good bit of speed up towards the end and I spent most of my time building up some speed before getting scared and making myself stop again, but we had an amazing time and are eager to do it again in Peru. Unfortunately, the only way back to the top of the dune was that awful walk, so I only went down twice and Liam three times. Another unfortunate event was the fact that the official photographer didn´t get any photos of me, despite getting about ten of everybody else (Liam included), I was gutted about that, but therein lies another reason to do it agan!
After sandboarding we went off to Valle de la Luna (moon vallley), which was very aptly named due to its rugged landscape. We watched the sunset here (which was awesome) and had a Pisco sour before going back to the hostel, where we got a takeaway chicken and chips (for the second day running!) and prepared ourselves for the 7:00 rise for the start of our three day tour to Bolivia (via the desert, lagoons, geysers, salt hostels and salt flats and minus degree temperatures!)
Saturday 24th July 2010
As we said before, we booked our tour with Cordillera. The tour included all accomodation, transport, food and our own guide Felix (spanish speaking) for the whole 3 days. We´d like to point out here that the company were really professional, the driver was very safe and friendly (even letting us plug in our Manc tunes) and the food was awesome. Our tour group consisted of two other couples in our jeep, a group of guys in another and a group of Germans in another. The first day invloved Bolivian immigration (they didn´t even look at our passports before stamping them!), numerous lagoons (over the whole trip we saw green/blue/white/coloured you name it), thermal pools, geysers, Salvador Dali´s rocks and a freezing cold refuge for our nights´accommodation.
That night we played cards for hours with a couple we met, Nuno and Hannah before retiring to bed early just to get warm!
It is hard to describe the landscapes we saw in this first day so once again, a picture (or twenty!) speak(s) a thousand words:
Sunday 25th July 2010
We awoke to seriously low temperatures and scambled eggs with bread and a cup of tea. After the drivers had finished preparing the cars i.e. defrosting the engines and packing our bags on the roof rack (fair play to them) we set off in our convoy to more breathtaking landscapes. We encountered more lagoons, including one that was populated by hundreds of Flamingos making rather a lot of noise between themselves, making for some brilliant photo taking opportunities- Jaz was in her element! Before this we came across some interesting rock formations in the middle of the desert, including one that looked like a stone tree. Pretty cool how they are all natural formations, sculptured by a combination of weather and time.
After a short stop for lunch (Tuna mayo, veg rice and salad)- prepared by Felix and the other drivers- we drove on past an active vocano and more spectacular scenary. Before reaching our second nights´accomodation we came across a broken down jeep with no tyre! We are so glad that didn´t happen to us as the girl passengers of the jeep had been waiting since 9am that morning (it was now late afternoon). After every single driver had had a go at fixing the wheel, we made room for the girls and their luggage between our three jeeps and gave them a lift back to San Juan (where our Eco Salt Hotel was located).
After arriving at our Eco Salt Hotel we were lucky enough to get a double room to ourselves and steal a hot shower (Liam not Jaz, who had a freezing cold one). The hotel itself was really cool, with almost everything from the floors to the tables being made out of salt! We had another tasty two course meal (with wine) of soup followed by vicuña steak and fried potatoes, all of which was shovelled down with glee after a long day of touring. The next day was to feel even longer as we had decided as a group to leave at 5am to witness the sunrise above the world´s largest salt flats. After some more card playing (girls v boys, it ended a draw) and a bit more wine we retired to our salty beds and another chillingly cold nights´ sleep.
Monday 26th July 2010
In the pitch black, freezing cold desert with no breakfast we were starting to regret our decision to leave at 5am and there was not much conversation in the jeep on the way to the salt flats! After just under two hours of driving with the morning light offering welcoming shades of yellow and blue on the horizon we reached Incahuasi (Inca Houise) Island, a rocky island in the middle of the salar populated by cacti. We reached the peak of the island after a 10-15 minute hike made extremely difficult by the bitter cold and altitude. As the sun peaked over the distant horizon and the first rays of heat reached us, we sat silently and took in the vast Salar de Uyuni. We desended the island, payed about 1.50 pounds for the privaledge and had ´breakfast´. They were obviously running out of food as breakfast consisted of a piece of cake and a yoghurt if we wanted it....
After warming up a bit Felix drove us further into the flats until we reached a suitable spot for the cliched salt flat pics, using the lack of perspective to create some cool snaps with our props of water bottle and bags (it is harder than it looks and requires a fair bit of organisation and patience).
Post-picture taking we were driven out of the salt flats via the first ever salt hotel (which still had guests staying there) and an area of salt mounds waiting to be loaded into trucks to be processed, before arriving at a tiny `town´ that survived from the selling of the usual alpaca goods and salt. Our final stop before Uyuni was the train cementery located about 3km outside of the town. This is an area of the desert filled with rusting locomotives and scrap parts, dumped after the arrival of electric trains. We should also mention here the sheer amount of rubbish scattered as far as the eye can see. We had been told about how bad it was, but witnessing this misuse of the land, where litter conserves itself perfectly due to the climate, was quite shocking.
We arrived in Uyuni around midday, and got dropped off at Cordillera´s office. After thanking Felix and giving him what we felt was a substantial tip (50Bs per person), we left our bags with the agency, as we went off in search of a hostal for the night and bus tickets to Potosi for the next day. We found both with ease, staying at the HI hostal for 4 pounds each (for a double room- we love Bolivian prices!) and booking our tickets with 11 de Julio for 3.50 each (6 hour journey).
After dinner and drinks with the rest of our jeep group, we bid a fond farewell as they departed for La Paz on an overnight bus (which Hannah later reported was absolutely freezing). En-route back to our hostal we made some gringo purchases and suited ourselves out in some lovely alpaca hoodies.
That night we went to the pub next door for a beer and ended up with free popcorn, olives and bread, it probably would have been a full meal had we not got the impression we were gatecrashing another tour group´s party and left hurridly. The next day we were up early again (obviously) for our journey to Potosi commonly referred to as the world´s highest city!
Until next time folks! Look after Manchester for us!
Jaz and Liam