The Bolivian salt flats, famed for the optical illusion photos of people getting attacked by dinosaurs etc was the next stop on the tour. The 3 day, 2 night trip served as a transfer for us to reach the Bolivian town of Uyuni from Chile as well as a sight seeing experience along the way. The trip can also be done returning to your starting point if you prefer. The 3 days promised to consist of various unique coloured lakes, many strange rock formations along with sun rise over the salt flats themselves on the final day all in a 6 seater 4x4 with accommodation and food thrown in for good measure.
Trying to pick a tour operator for this trip is like trying to pick your favourite political party.....they're all pretty shit, will rip you off if they can and don't offer what they say they will. after A LOT of online research and a couple of laps of San Pedro we opted for the reasonably rated 'Green and White Travel' as potentially the best of a bad bunch and paid 90'000 pesos, £112 each for our trip. However this doesn't include entrance to the national park 150 Bolivianos (£19), the hot springs 6 Bolivianos (90p) the cactus island 30 bolivianos (£3.50) or any toilet stops along the way, usually a couple of Bolivianos.
Our jeep picked us up from our hotel around 7am, drove 50m to the Chilean border control in San Pedro and waited there for it to open up. Luckily we were first in the what became a long queue of other jeeps packed with other backpackers making the same migration. After an extremely high/cold border crossing with an included breakfast of some pancakes and avocados we entered Bolivia and paid our National Park fees. Being the first to the border definitely sped things up a little and the breakfast was a nice bonus as we didn't see many groups getting this - looking good for green and white so far.
The first day was spent driving the rough terrain to a number of different coloured lakes and some geysers, I'm not going to harp on about how amazing they were as the pictures will do the talking. The most memorable one by far was the last one we visited, the red lake home to tens of thousands of Flamingoes - 3 different species in all. George was particularly fond of this lake being a bit of a flamingo lover, it was amusing to watch her tip toeing up the black sand as to not spook the flamingoes in the lake. This would be a good tactic if I wasn't already 50 yards ahead of her (50 yards closer to the flamingos!). That night we stayed at a local village in a hostel/b&b and were offered to upgrade from the dorm to a private room for all of £2.50 - yes please!
The second day was spent mostly driving around different rock formations that would have been more at home on Mars than in the middle of the Bolivian wilderness; highlights included a World Cup shaped formation and a huge canyon with a pretty sketchy look out point in the wind, safe to say we didn't venture too close to the edge. Our guide also took us to some indigenous cave drawings on the rocks, apparently dating from 'pre' Inca times showing aliens - I wasn't having it though, blatantly painted by local Dave a few weeks ago with some Ronseal. Driving along in what seems like the middle of nowhere (because it is!) it was unusual to see so many different animals, an Ostrich, a rabbit type chinchilla thing (not its official name) and big groups of Llamas - George's personal favourite. We also made a short hike to another lake just before lunch, this time a black one which was pretty cool. After lunch it was a long long drive to our second nights accommodation at a salt hotel. I have memories of staying in a crappy salt building last time I was here and remember being absolutely freezing too so I was a little nervous for what was in store. To my surprise this 'Salt Hotel' was in a small town and seemed quite well maintained, our double room was cosy enough and not remotely cold so we were both happy with everything so far. We headed to bed early as we had to be up at 4am in order to make it to the salt flats in time for the sunrise.
Unfortunately our driver decided he wanted a lie in, and with no way of getting in touch with him he turned up at 6:15am without so much as an apology. We were not impressed and his lateness meant we would also miss the sunrise over the salt flats, the highlight of the trip especially with the salt flats still being slightly wet giving a huge mirror type effect! The only positive from Johnny's lie in was that I got to play around with my camera under the Milky Way again which was out in full force at around 4000m altitude.
After missing the sunrise we were playing catch up all day and had to rush or miss other sites that day including the salt village. The hour or so we had for the 'famous' photos was mostly spent laughing at Georgina's attempt to do a cartwheel as we had no props to make better photos. The last stop of the day was at the train cemetery in Uyuni, a collection of old trains that were built and never made it into service, last time i was here it was quite cool but now its all covered in graffiti including my personal favourite 'tourists go home' on one of the rusting carts. By this point everyone was fed up and the 4 Israeli kids we did the trip with were baying for blood and itching to get to the office to complain, not us though as we are English and far too polite to kick up a fuss. To be fair they did get to go on a sunset tour for free as compensation but we already had accommodation booked in Potosi so jumped on the first bus out of the place for 30 Bolivianos (£3.50).
Despite the disappointment of the last day, the salt flats are a unique and interesting experience that shouldn't be missed.