Flying into Uyuni in Bolivia, there are mountains to the East with snow covered peaks and the vast bright white salt flat to the West. There are desert islands scattered around the salt flat and the small town is just on the edge of it. We were about to take a 3 day four-wheel-drive tour in a group with 3 Landcruisers, staying at a different location each night. The first day they drove into the middle of the salt flat and had bikes waiting for us, so we road for about 15 minutes, all most of us could take because of the high altitude activity, something that wouldn’t even feel strenuous to us normally. Then it was a lunch made in the Landcruisers, and time to take the silly salt flat photos that everybody does. These are possible because of how vast, flat, and single-colored the salt flats are, it can give an illusion that people in the background are really tiny compared to a subject in the foreground. Then we drove for a couple of hours, everyone napping in the vehicle, to a couple of the islands. Our tour guide gave us the rundown and geological history of everywhere we stopped. These islands are essentially some of the earliest, tallest mountain peaks since Pangea and the salt flat was once an ocean slowly closed off by the forming mountains around it and made into a lake. The lake eventually dried up leaving us with the present day salt flat. Walking on the salt flats feels and sounds just like walking on crunchy ice. The islands now have existed with cactus on top of dried out coral reef as well as species of animals specific to just those islands. As the sun was setting we weren’t quite at the rest stop for the night, so the tour just stopped in the middle of nowhere for pictures. We continued on to a ranch with a house made completely out of salt to have dinner and sleep in. The floors were salt, the brick walls were salt, the tables and chairs were all salt. It was also my first chance to take night sky photos. One thing that became normal to us was seeing lightning storms on the horizons every night.
The next day we drove into the Andes mountains and towards the uniquely colored lagoons full of flamingos as well as some of the highest deserts and semi-active volcano peaks in South America. One lagoon, surrounded by desert and mountains even had the last remnants of a glacier, These lagoons are different colors due to the algae that blooms and is kicked up by wind. We spend about 9 hours in the Landcruisers, traversing up steep rocky trails, sometimes crossing small streams, and sometimes each vehicle making its own path across barren desert landscapes. Our driver, Abel impressed us with how fast he would take some of the hills while the SUV just bounced along the rocks. Towards the end of the day we reached an altitude of almost 15,500 feet and some geysers. It was chilly and windy up that high and I’m glad I was using my gator mask to cover my face from the sun and the bite from the wind, it also helped to cut down inhaling the sulfuric smell on the boiling geyser pools. That night we stayed in a rustic house with a tin roof using a generator for power. Despite the temperature in the 40s everyone went in the natural hot spring beside the lagoon and the lack of light pollution provided the most stars in the sky that I’ve ever been able to see. Some of the younger locals who used the hot spring as their bath made it pretty clear that everyone on our tour wasn’t exactly welcome, so Mia and I got out after about 20 minutes. The following day, we asked our guide if we could skip some of the regular sights and get back to Uyuni as quick as possible. Abel was cool with it, as our driver, because it meant he could pass through some of his family members towns and get off of work a few hours early. Our whole point was to get to a nice salt hotel on the edge of town and enjoy as many hours as we could there since we were paying extra for the accommodations. Really glad the tour guide was able to do that for us, so we dropped a couple of passengers off at the Argentinian border and blazed through the trails on the quickest route back to Uyuni - 8 hours. Even though these were Landcruisers, we couldn’t use any of the vent fans because of the constant dust and dirt so inside the car it was windows up and stuffy, about 80-90 degrees at points, and I still managed to inhale enough dirt that I was coughing it up for days after. The offloading tour was awesome and once in a lifetime experience for me, the funniest part is that we didn’t even know it was going to be like that when it was booked. Oh, and the total cost of the tour, lodging for 2 nights, and food for all 3 days was about $180. I couldn’t believe it. We arrived at the modern salt hotel with enough time to walk out onto the salt flats on our own and then have dinner. Around this time I was getting some travel illnesses as the “bug” was going around and I looked forward to getting back to the same hotel in La Paz to rest a bit and pack for the second part of the trip.