In keeping with the theme of nothing going as planned on this trip, most of my plans for Bolivia had to be scrapped.
I had been looking forward to Bolivia the most of any country in South America. With a deadline to be in Santiago, Chile the following week for a flight, I didn’t have a lot of slack in my Bolivian timeline which proved to be disastrous. I had planned to have two days in La Paz to bike Death Road and abseil down the side of a skyscraper downtown. Imagine my delight when I woke up that first morning with crippling food poisoning.
As I wavered between sickness and bouts of consciousness, I still seriously considered trying to go biking the following day. I’ll chalk that up to the delirium of the fever because I literally couldn’t walk more than a hundred feet without having to sit down for fear of passing out. For once in my life I made the rational decision to just skip it all, and spent the next forty eight hours asleep. I consoled myself I could still make the trip over to Potosi and see the silver mines (a highlight of the local Bolivian tourism scene), something I’d been dying to see for over a year, or a side detour to Lake Titicaca.
Finally well, I dragged my exhausted body to the bus station to buy a ticket there. Of course I was to be informed that because of the national holiday the next two days there wouldn’t be any tickets. Dejected, I scrapped that plan to and decided to just give up and head to Uyuni to begin the Bolivian salt flat tour. No buses again meant handing over my credit card for a pricey last minute flight there.
At least from that point on, my luck seemed to change.
Getting Out to the Salt Flats of Bolivia
Booking a tour departing the next morning was seamless and the town even had a delicious pizza parlor with pepperoni pizza. Things were looking up!
The Salar de Uyuni tour was the main draw of why I had wanted to go to Bolivia and it didn’t disappoint. We set off mid morning the first day to explore the train cemetery and then continued on to the main draw: taking silly perspective pictures on the salt flats. We had come armed with ideas scoured from images online, and we all failed horribly. Our driver was no help at how to capture these images, remaining in his car on his phone while we struggled to make the images work. In the end, I think the behind the scenes images came out better than our perspective shots.
The Unusual Landscape Beyond the Salt
We were on a tour that allowed us to sleep in an actual salt hotel – a boon I had originally thought, before I ended up awake most of the night shivering. Salt and central heating apparently do not coexist. We left early the second day, off to see some lakes – oh, so many lakes – and a couple of ‘islands’ that rose up out of the desert rather oddly over the dry landscape. It was refreshing to see cacti after such a long absence from them after leaving Arizona, but we were overwhelmed with intense wind everywhere we went and they provided no cover.
On our final day, we were awake at four in the morning to have breakfast and begin our final drive toward the Chilean border. On the way we stopped at some natural hot springs where our guide encouraged us to take a revitalizing dip. I took a glance at the temperature gauge in his SUV, noted it was below freezing, and declined to remove my parka. Instead, I sat on the edge with my hand in the hot water, trying to console myself that I voluntarily left Arizona for these freezing temperatures.
We arrived at the Bolivian border mid-morning to catch a bus to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. I had been warned that the border facilities were literally a shack but still marveled at the differences in countries and cultures as I waited for my bus. After three days together, goodbyes were said and hugs were had as our group parted ways.
I was sad to see everyone go, but the rumor that San Pedro had warmth and beers awaiting quickly consoled me.
Looking for recommendations on what to do in the Atacama desert? Why not try night sandboarding! Read more at the previous link.