South America 2009 – Bolivia (1)

Monday, 2nd February – Wednesday, 4th February

We climbed up to the Bolivian border where we were met by our guide and driver for the next three days in a Toyota Landcruiser. We were to be at altitude, between 3,650m (12,000ft) and 5,000m (16,000ft) for the next four weeks. Our guide, Silaria, gave us some pills to help with the effects of altitude. On the first day we were to have headaches but were fine after that apart from much reduced appetites! In Bolivia and Southern Peru the Andes range splits in two with an area of high plateau between the two halves – the Altiplano – with mountains ranging up to 7,500m (24,000ft) on either side.

We crossed the Eduardo Avaroa Reserve on our first day. It was the low season and we were completely on our own, apart from small groups of vicuna and the odd vizcacha (squirrel tailed large rabbits with cats whiskers). We travelled through vast open spaces with a deep blue sky, rugged, bare mountains in all shades of terracotta, and amazingly coloured salt lagoons full of flamingos.

We had a picnic lunch, and stayed at the Takya Desert Hotel on our first night. The following day we drove north to Uyuni, passing more lagoons and visiting a locomotive graveyard on the way to our hotel for the night – the Cristal Samana. This was a brand new, Feng Shui hotel on the edge of the Salar de Uyuni, made of salt, and we were the only guests. The floor was salt crystals, the walls were salt blocks, and the bed bases, headboards and other furniture carved from solid salt. The staff were very proud of their new hotel but did not speak English. We watched the sunset over the Salar de Uyuni from the upstairs dining room, and then sat in the corridor outside our room by an open fire.

The next day we set off across the Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt lake in the world (12,000 sq km). It was surreal driving across the vast salt plains. We visited two islands, one to see mummies in a cave, and another to see cacti over 800 years old.

That night we said goodbye to our guide and driver as we took the midnight train to Oruro, and then, in the morning, we travelled on by coach to La Paz.

Unknown – Vicuña