The Bolivian Salt Flats

Last week there was a public holiday in La Paz so we had a four day weekend and the opportunity to travel to the south of Bolivia for a tour of the salt flats. There was a lot of faffing about regarding planning and organisation but eventually we decided to just book our bus to Uyuni and sort it out there.

Our bus left after work on the Wednesday. It took a hefty 11 hours to get to Uyuni during which time the windows on the coach gathered a layer of ice on the inside. Unpleasant to say the least. Probably at this point I should point out that since the Tuesday I had had a seriously awful cold which resulted in me having no voice and not much sleep so the bus journey just felt worse on top of that!

Once we arrived we were greeted (accosted!) by a few tour companies. There was one man who stank of booze and followed us around for far too long so we gave him a wide birth (Thiago tours by the way!). We were very lucky in that our Bolivian team leader used to live in Uyuni so his auntie who lives there (Kory Wasy Hostal) still gave us a great deal on a three day tour (and breakfast ready on arrival!!).

We finally set off at about 10:30 with all our stuff for 3 days. Our first stop was the train cemetery which is where the old trains used to transport minerals to the Pacific Ocean. Nowadays it’s literally full of these massive old deserted locomotives. It’s eery in a beautiful way.

Next stop was the salt flats themselves. The salt flats are the world’s largest at over 4000 square miles. It also sits on top of over 50% of the world’s lithium. Once we were driving over them in our jeep it felt like we were at the end of the world. It’s just salt for miles and miles and miles in every direction. We had a few stops for photos as well as visiting the ‘Fish Island’, so called because of it’s shape. It was covered completely in cacti and such a weird site in the middle of such white-ness. A bit later we saw the sunset too which was magical.

Overnight we stayed in a hostel which was basically built from blocks of salt on the edge of the salt flats. It was cold but not horrendous which I was thankful as it was about -12 degrees outside which I am unable to cope with.

The next couple of days we spent roaming around the mountains near the salt flats. There was a point when we hadn’t seen another jeep in over 4 hours and it looked like we might be on Mars. There were massive lagoons and ridiculous mountain ranges and at one point we could see an active volcano which was half in Chile. It was just stunning scenery and faintly unreal. We saw the red lagoon too which had so many flamingoes all in it.

We got back to Uyuni on the Saturday night, managed to find a bus to Oruro to take us back to La Paz which worked out cheaper, warmer and basically the same amount of time as on the way! Safe to say the Sunday I spent washing, sleeping and reading. It was a lovely weekend and I’m so thrilled I saw the salt flats. They are genuinely stunning.

I only have one more week of living in La Paz now. We are about to go into our final week which is going to consist of a lot of debriefing and explaining what we have achieved/learnt/discovered (?!). In the last week we’ve been really busy as we’ve finally been carrying out our workshops on human rights (to 4 classes of 40 eleven year olds) and discrimination and the LGBT community in Bolivia. The second one I had worked a lot on and we delivered it to a couple of groups of teens who come from difficult backgrounds. For one of our activities each person had to draw onto a mask a time when they have felt discriminated. This was actually really thought provoking as some of the masks were very beautiful and sad. I’m really proud of our workshop and I’m so glad that we were able to carry it out before we left.

We’ve had so many obstacles over the last 9 weeks but it’s been a great experience to have had and the high moments have made it all so worthwhile. Onwards into the last week!

Lots of love,

Katie xxx

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