La Paz to Uyuni via Sajama
Day 1 Sajama desert
We woke up at 6am, had breakfast and were ready to get picked up by Banjo tours at 7am. Very tired and a bit disappointed with our hotel who forgot to deliver our bread early this morning! Banjo was bang on time and we were the first to join the car, our luggage was put on the roof but luckily in a waterproof thing in case of rain. We met Juan, our driver for the next six days, no English but a contagious Bolivian smile with good sense of humour. We then picked up Pablo our guide, a Bolivian guy with ok English, and lastly we picked up the other two passengers, a nice couple from Sydney, Matthew and Holly. At about 8am we were good to go, started the drive with Pablo at the back, three in the middle and two at the front. After 2hrs we were meant to stop at a mercado (market) to buy some stuff for lunch, but we had a little complication en route. After exiting La Paz we had to get through El Alto, the town where the airport is. In El Alto the locals were blocking the roads, striking and protesting about something – Pablo said it might be to ask for better roads. We weren’t able to take any roads since they were closing them with rocks, tyres, even fires not to let cars go through. It took us over 1hr to get out of it taking off roads, passing by dodgy looking buildings and we were all pretty scared. When we finally saw the road, after Juan convinced a cochita to move a rock and let us through, the happiness was immense! We got to the market later than expected but still managed to have another stop before lunch to see some funeral towers built in 1200 by a tribe that came before the inca.
We then had lunch (sandwiches with avocado tomato and cheese) in a nice spot surrounded by huge fields and beautiful mountains on the horizon. The Andes are so fascinating! We quickly got to learn that Bolivia is the country of landscapes. For sure it’s not the land of toilets though since we are not finding many along the way, so we had to go back to our bushy bushy technique learnt in the very first week of this trip, in Namibia. We tried for the first time a crazy fruit called Pacai and then made our way to the next stop, Sajama national park. After lunch we managed to snooze a bit in the car and got to the national park at 3pm. We had another minor panic since the car was overheating, but super Juan managed to fix it pretty quickly! We then hiked up a hill to see the views of the mountains, it was funny how we all quite struggled with the altitude going up the hill from 4,200 to 4,370metres even if the hike was pretty short. It was worth and we were satisfied when we got on top. When we got down back to the car, Pablo gave us some coca leaves to chew and also a shot of 99% alchol, both of which we also had to throw on the floor as an offer to mother earth as the tradition here in Bolivia. It certainly warmed us up and helped us recover! After that we drove to the Gaisers, which were amazing to watch. The steam coming out of the paddles as well as the sound of boiling water as you walked around really made you think about how powerful mother earth is. Here in Bolivia they call her pachamama and they make various offers to mother earth since she is in control of so much. After the gaisers we managed to get to the hot springs just before sunset. It was amazing to soak in 40degrees water, steaming up surrounded by Mountains and spectacular views, with no tourists whatsoever around! Getting out of the hot water was the difficult part, the temperature dropped as soon as the sun went down and the wind started picking up. We managed to get changed and immediately inaugurated our hats and gloves which we were so relieved to have bought! We then drove to our Sajama Hostal, very basic huts but with electricity and private bathroom which is more than we expected. Only problem no heating! Had dinner at 7pm and were in bed at 8:15pm. Brrrrr. Freezing cold. The amount of covers we have in bed is ridiculous, probably 10cm thick but we are still freezing despite being fully dressed with hats, socks and gloves and thermal trousers! Just to give you an idea Matthew put his swimming trunks outside on the line to dry and they froze while we were having dinner, the noise they made as he took them down was then noise of cracking ice, and they were completely rock solid.
We woke up at 5:45 to have breakfast at 6:30am. There are no hot showers and it’s so cold that the idea of a cold one is just too much to take in. We both got up at 3:30am and didn’t sleep very well because of the altitude, it’s 4200m here, which us 600 more than La Paz. At this altitude 600 does make a difference. I had to take headache pills and try to calm down as the lack of oxygen was starting to scare me (what doesn’t says Bruce).
Anyway it was finally time to wake up, we had breakfast and left, got out of Sajama, into Loa National Park. In the morning we stopped three times to see two amazing lagoons with beautiful flamingos and once to see some other funeral towers, this time a bit more colourful. The nature and landscapes here are incredible. The mountain always surround us, but in between us and them there are kilometres of horizons with different terrain. Here are a few of the roads we drove through to give you an idea.
The lamas and alpacas accompany all our journey, and the lagoons with the flamingos were also so beautiful. We also saw some ostriches and some dears along the way. We had two hours drive until lunch, where we stopped in a small town where we had lunch in a shop which was quite surreal. Again we had lama, for the third time, and rice. At lunch we saw a few kids from the village playing in the street, they looked so happy and smiley, it makes you wonder sometimes how kids with less are somehow happier, playing together outside in the sunshine and smiling and laughing. No toys or mobile phones, just good old play. After lunch we stopped at a smaller salt flat on the way called Coipasa and took the first photos. We were already quite impressed by the first and smaller salt flat, but when after another long drive we saw Uyuni from the distance we couldn’t believe our eyes. 120x150km of salt, and completely flat like a table! The brightness is unbelievable, it’s impossible to look at for long even with sunglasses! Bruce thought he didn’t have them on but he did! After a couple of photo stops we got to Uyuni salt flats (Salar de Uyuni) one hour before sunset. We took time to take in the view and mess around with photos as you can see below. It’s incredible walking on thick and crunchy pure white salt, without seeing the end of the horizon. The colours of the sunset were spectacular, after the sun set the sky over the salt flats started to become purple, yellow, pink, red. A splendid mixture of colours. After this amazing end of the day we got to our accommodation, still no heating but somehow felt slightly warmer than yesterday, maybe we are getting used to it. We had time for a tea and then dinner at 8pm. Soup and beef lasagne this time. Now in bed, still fully dressed and with several layers and blankets. Bathrooms are terrible, no toilet paper, no soap (they don’t seem to like soap here in Bolivia!), and of course no hot water. Stinky and frozen, good night!
Today was an easy day. Wake up at 7:45 and breakfast at 8:30am. We managed to have a good night sleep, maybe because of the lower altitude, maybe because we took a couple of expired melatonina pills to help us sleep. We still woke up every few hours with a very dry nose, dry lips (never needed lip balm so much in my life) and needing water of course. It’s been very good health wise, bruce is not smoking cause of the altitude and we are not drinking any alchol because of the hydration. Not much driving during the day, which was so great after the first two days of 7hrs driving minimum! First we went to visit an island within the salt flats. The salt flats were underwater 20000 years ago when the water dried and it became the spectacle we see today. The island we visited was amazing, with an interesting cave we walked through, beautiful views on the way up and from the top, and gigantic cacti all around. A truly incredible scenery, so unusual, so harsh, so solitary, but so beautiful, it’s difficult to describe.
Again no tourists until we left the island when we saw some cars arriving. After the island we stopped in the middle of the salt flats to take silly photos and videos and play with the perspective. A lot of fun and not too cold since the wind hadn’t picked up yet. We then stopped for lunch near another island and ate in the sun and wind.
After lunch we visited a cave with some stalagmites that was used by the inca as an altar for celebrations and sacrifices. The short day ended at 15:30 when we got to our home for the night, a small village with small huts that looked a lot like hobbit houses made of salt bricks, with salt on the floor as you entered and roofs made of mud and covered in dry plants. All very natural, very basic but also pretty. No other tourists stayed for the night a part from us. We had a hot shower for 10 minutes each which was such an amazing feeling, made us realise how we take some things for granted and shouldn’t. We were going to climb a hill to see the sunset from above, but ended up not going as the wind picked up and we were already freezing. Holly and Matt went. We stayed in the kitchen instead having several cups of tea to warm our bones up. We played Gloom and I killed Brucey this time. we also managed some cheeky sunset shots from the village. Once Holly and Matt got back we had dinner, soup, chicken and potato in a nice peanuts sauce (made with peanuts, chilli, one onion all blended in the blender) very tasty. Towards the end we got interrupted by three little local girls that performed a dance for us. After dinner we tried to teach poker to Juan and Pablo, but the difficulty of the game and the language barrier made it an impossible task. They gave up after the first round and the four of us kept playing instead, Holly won many times but she was so charitable she kept sharing some of her matches-chips with the rest of us as soon as we ran out. Good fun night and day! Now in bed, not too cold but of course no heating we are getting used to it now. Tomorrow 4:30am wake up, yuk!!!
The wake up in the darkness and freezing cold was dreadful. Poor Brucey woke up at 3am and couldn’t fall asleep anymore. At breakfast we tried some Bolivian pancakes with black honey which were pretty tasty and helped us get into a slightly better mood. We got in the car and started driving at 5:45am, still pitch black a part from moon and stars. Long day today, 12hrs of pretty much just driving. We stopped every hour though and saw some very cool things along the way. The morning felt very long and the whole day was SO cold and windy, I reckon between 5 and -5. We went from 3,600metres to 5,000 throughout the day. In the morning we saw the coral army, eroded by the wind in one direction, some dead railway trucks, beautiful mountains, a place for rituals where we gave our offering of coca leaves and alcohol again to mother nature and some rocks also very useful for semi-private toilets, the red lagoon, coloured lagoon very beautiful. At lunch we stopped in a random village with nothing but four closed shops, in the end we found a lady that opened the shop for us and we could buy more water (we’ve been buying and finishing 4litres each day!) and toilet paper which, like soap and heating, appears not to be very popular in Bolivia! In the village there was a lama with colourful earrings (they use then to recognise who’s lama is who’s) that was constantly being chased and barked at by two dogs, poor thing. After lunch we saw the gaisers which was the highest point, 5000m, impressive amount of stinky sulfuric steam coming out of the earth and bubbling mud. So noisy. Again fascinating what mother nature is capable of! We then saw the green lagoon and the dali desert before we reached the hostel for the night at 5pm.
The good news was that they had enough room for us not to have to share a dorm, but the bad news was no heating at 4,500m and quite bad bathrooms. We had a tea and played more poker while waiting for dinner. We sort of managed to teach Pablo and Juan how to play, and when they got bored we asked two other guys that were staying here from Switzerland to play. They are mountaineers and are going to start their hike at 2am tonight up one of the biggest volcanos in Bolivia, very hardcore. During the poker game and dinner a very cute and sweet kitten came to say hello on our lap. Made us miss Mr Jenkiiiins! After dinner we pretty much got straight to bed hoping to get warm under the covers. We are freezing, it’s the coldest night of all and luckily the last. Tomorrow we say goodbye to Holly and Matt as they leave to Chile in the morning, we are very close to the border now, just 15 Minutes! Then we make our way to Uyuni where we should get at 4 or 5. We then have to wait for our flight back to La Paz at 8:30pm. It’s been rough, harsh, we are tired and frozen, but the landscapes and incredible nature we saw here we’ll never forget. Thank you Bolivia and thank you to the friends that made this adventure, Holly,Matt, Pablo and Don Juan! A special thanks also to mother nature who gave us bright sunshine through!
We had breakfast with pancakes and then had to say goodbye to Holly and Matt who are off to Chile in the Atacama desert for some
Star gazing tonight, well jel! We then had to wait for Pablo and Juan to come back, and froze in the breakfast lounge reading, with the kitty keeping us company and with all the jumpers and layers we have all on, exactly as we slept in. We then drove 3 hrs until the lunch spot which is called Catal and it’s a beautiful oasis with a frozen river, soft moss to walk on, lamas and wild donkeys, a pond with ducks all surrounded by beautiful red rocks. Truly stunning. We had some sandwiches there after a short hike and a quick bushy bushy before getting on the road again until 4pm when we reached Uyuni. Now in a pub called Lama extreme fun pub, which has a lot of character! We are celebrating having survived with a beer, the first after five days.
We have a couple of hours until we need to get to the airport to catch our 8pm flight to La Paz. Tomorrow we start our 14 days inca trail tour!
La Paz to Uyuni via Sajama it’s been
five days and four nights of no heating at temperatures from +5 to -15 at night, sleeping fully dressed with hat and gloves on, only once in 5 days a 10minutes hot shower, mostly no toilets along the way, long drives across bumpy off roads in the harshest climate and hostile terrains, going from 3,600m to 5,000m and feeling the altitude through bleeding noses and constant shortness of breath… All worth it to see all the desolate, vast and majestic untouched landscapes with no sign of mankind, thanks Bolivia!