Post 10 of a series detailing our trip around South America. View the series so far here.
The second day of our Bolivian salt flat tour took us off the flat and into the mountains, where incredible coloured lakes and surreal rock formations lay in wait. We watched flamingos feeding, climbed up honeycomb-like rocks, and enjoyed an impromptu panpipes performance in the wilderness.
Following a truly epic first day on Salar de Uyuni, Steve and I awoke in the bitterly cold confines of our private room in the salt hostel. We went to join our tour group in the dining room for 7am, and had a simple breakfast of toast and pancakes with lashings of coca and cinnamon tea. Then we packed up and piled back into the 4×4 for another jam-packed day.
Rails and panpipes
Once again driving through that flat, near-featureless landscape of salt (mixed increasingly with brown dirt and stone as we progressed), we made a brief stop near a train track. Moments later we saw a train approaching from the far-off distance and stood back to watch it hurtle past, carrying giant red buckets of mined lithium.
When the train had gone, our guide Juan called us back to the cars for “a concert” and the driver from the other group’s 4×4 whipped out a set of panpipes! He played a jaunty tune (much like those we’d been listening to on the car radio) and we bobbed along, enjoying the quirkyness of the situation, before getting back into the cars.
Rock waves and broccoli
From previously driving along land that couldn’t be flatter, we were now driving into the mountain ranges we’d seen from afar yesterday. The scenery grew increasingly mountainous and colourful as we drove: the white salt being joined by the grey, orange, red and purple rock layers of numerous volcanoes.
We stopped in an area formed from strange, holey rock that undulated and peaked like cresting waves. Juan told us how the rocks had been eroded into these shapes, and pointed out some strange, rock-shaped ‘trees’ that looked like heads of broccoli. We ran amok for a while taking plenty of photos before moving on.
Flamingos and food
We stopped at a lake to watch the flamingos feeding there, their bright pink plumage complementing the purple tones of the mountainous backdrop. Afterwards we drove to another lake with more flamingos, and walked around there while Juan and the two drivers prepared our lunch in a building nearby. Lunch was surprisingly good: chicken legs, sausages, pasta and vegetables, with chocolate bars for dessert. We drove off again full and satisfied.
The stone tree
Next there were more strangely shaped rocks to wonder at, the most notable being the ‘Stone Tree’ that’s been featured on many a postcard. Alongside this were further holey and twisting rocks, sticking out of the sandy ground like sculptures.
The next location was my favourite of the entire tour: the spectacular red lake called Laguna Colorada. The 4x4s parked on the hill above the lake and we were given half an hour to explore. The best view of the lake, encompassing its patches of white, deep blue and rich red, was from the very top of the hill. But we also enjoyed walking down the black hill to the lake’s edge, and seeing the salt islands (and more flamingos!) up-close.
A fun night in
We approached our hostel for the night in good spirits, joking that we could all snuggle up together against the cold tonight. We’d been told when booking the tour that the second night would be in a shared dorm, and we were expecting something even more basic, and even more cold, than last night. We’d accepted it as a trade-off for booking a cheaper tour.
However, when we reached the hostel we were delighted to hear we were getting private rooms after all, and en-suite ones at that! It was also considerably warmer than the salt hostel, due to having more insulating floors and walls. There was still no electricity (meaning no lighting) outside of 5 to 8pm, but after the previous night it felt like luxury.
Before dinner we gathered in the dining room for tea and biscuits, and Juan gave us a quiz on South American trivia that pitched our 4×4 group against the other one. We all did pretty badly, but it was fun!
Dinner was soup, followed by llama meat, vegetables in a tasty sauce, and some of the best mash potato I’ve ever eaten. We were even given a bottle of Bolivian red wine (Kohlberg) to share, which made it perfect. We stayed up chatting until we could barely see by the light of our torches any more.
Before falling asleep, we had one more surprise – the atmosphere was so incredibly dry that actual sparks of electricity were crackling between our fingers and the bed’s felt blanket, creating flashes of white light in the darkness! A small thing, but a bizarre new experience all the same! There’d be more to come tomorrow, on the last day of the tour.
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All text and photos (c) Juliet Langton, 2018. All rights reserved.