The town's many tour agencies took tourists essentially to see the same locations, but the hundreds of reviews I had read months in advance rated the agencies in safety of the driver cum guide, the vehicle, the order of what would be seen, the number of passengers, the quality of food, the type of lodging, whether they could accommodate tourists like us who wanted to be dropped off, at tour's end on the third morning, in Chile, etc.
There were more than 100 legal tour operators offering trips to the salar or salt desert in Uyuni but, though the competition may have meant more choice, we knew that cost-cutting led to corner-cutting by some agencies, at the expense of tourists' safety and the environment. We obviously didn't want to join the number of tourists who had been killed in jeep accidents because of ill-equipped vehicles, speeding drivers, a lack of emergency equipment, breakdowns and/or drunk drivers.
We ended up going with Cordillera Travellers even though we knew the driver spoke no English and our Spanish was minimal at best even by that time on our South American adventure!
Medicinal remedies that thankfully we had no need for!
Herbs and spices:
When we saw the long line of large vans from different agencies all packed up and ready to leave at the same time, I wondered if we would be part of a large caravan all going en masse. I sure hoped not.
We noticed several signs in town about the Dakar Rally I mentioned in the previous post.
Isaac, our guide/driver and cook for the next three days didn't speak more than a word or two of English but, luckily for us, Anna, a delightful young woman from Sao Paolo, Brazil, was pretty fluent and patiently translated for us when Isaac talked about the sights we saw along the way. Fabio, a charming man in his early twenties from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, spoke some English but the young couple from Sucre spoke none. We sure hoped they all didn't mind having us old American/Canadian fogies along for the ride and cramping their style!
Not far out of town was the Cementario de Trenes, a rusty collection of historic steam locomotives and rail cars. It dated back to the 18th century when there had been a rail-car factory in Uyuni. You can see that the other agencies also stopped there before entering the Salar de Uyunu, the world's largest salt flat.
The decaying rail cars were so much fun to clamber on! Isaac explained that the cars had transported the desert's minerals to Bolivia's capital of La Paz, to Argentina and elsewhere.
These 'souvenirs' were just a tad too large and cumbersome to haul home!
Our first view of the mammoth Salar de Uyuni, the salt flat that was at almost 12,000 feet altitude and measured more than 4,600 square miles.
Phew - I landed safely!
What a lot of giggles we had when all six of us tried to jump up at the same time. Clearly, Anna took the cake for the most artistic leap while I flunked that task miserably!
Way to go, Steven - his feet left the ground unlike mine!
One, two, three or uno, dos, tres in this case as we tried again and again.
After about ten attempts, we all managed to achieve liftoff at the same time - no small feat for our feet!
Oh - to be young again!
We could have chosen to pay the small fee to climb the hill but Steven and I opted to walk around most of the island and take in the gorgeous views of the flowering cacti, bright blue skies and white salt ground.
During the wet season when the salar is flooded, the island is inaccessible. That was the good news/bad news of being there in November and not in January or February when the water sitting on top of the cemented salts reflects the sky above, turning Salar de Uyuni into the world’s largest mirror.
There must have been some rain recently as the salt was quite mushy when we walked closely to the island.
It was so peaceful walking to the end of the tiny island and getting away from the other tour groups.
The other end of the island:
That was the case at least until the van got a flat tire on the very bumpy road and Isaac had to change it! It looked like I also had to add mechanic to his job description in addition to that of guide, driver, cook and photographer!
Even though we had seen no recent signs of any community or development, Isaac said people walked many miles each day to work these quinoa fields that bordered each side of the road.
Soon, the terrain became so incredibly harsh and unforgiving I wondered how anything could grow there. We learned it had once been a sea.