We arrived to the top of Chile after a 19hr bus journey to a dusty little place called San Pedro de Atacama. Within minutes we found our cute little hostel (Sonchek) and went to explore our home for the next 3 days. Surrounded by the Andean snow caped mountains and psychedelic landscapes of the Atacama Desert it really took our breath away at the sheer beauty of this recently humble cattle town…although that could have been the altitude as we were already at 2,500m.
This was the launch point for our 4×4 adventure into the Salt Flats of Uyuni however there were many more local trips that we wanted to experience in the short time we were here. First up was Laguna de Piedra which is a salt filled lagoon in which it is impossible not to float and with the amazing landscapes as a backdrop was a perfect chilled introduction to life at altitude.
After a quiet night with a few beers and some excellent home-made pizza and guacamole (the avocados are amazing in Chile) we were ready and awake before 4am for our trip to the geysers. We had both listened to the exciting chance to swim in hot natural springs but neglected to consider the fact that the geysers and springs were at 4,800m and before sunlight might be a tad chilly. We were dressed in flip-flops and swimming gear as we boarded our minibus surrounded by everyone dressed in full on layers and hiking gear! Cue comedy music as I ran around the empty, dark streets of San Pedro initially in search of our hostel and then sprinting hands full of layers, hats, boots, scarfs in search of the illusive rendezvous point…at one point I thought all hope had gone but then I bumped into the tour guide who was running around searching for me…I could have kissed that man when I saw him!
It was well worth the near heart-attack though as we arrived after a bumpy two-hour drive to the beautiful colours of a sunrise at nearly 5km high with geysers spurting scolding hot steam into the air. The swim in the hot springs was fun, especially with rowdy crew of Chilean lads singing football songs. It had been an exhausting morning and we grabbed a quick lunch and tried to prepare ourselves for the second trip of the day to Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley). This was a much shorter trip that took us into the salt encrusted valley and our energy levels were pretty low, but we managed to battle around the sights and up the giant sand dune taking as many seating opportunities as possible. The real highlight came at the end of the tour when we experienced our first sunset of our travels at a cliff edge overlooking the Moon Valley, which rounded off a truly spectacular day.
With our big 4×4 trip booked and ready to go the following day we planned to get a nice early night, unfortunately my body had other ideas and with a monster fever it was a very unsettled night for us both and we felt pretty jaded as we packed our lives into backpacks again in preparation of our departure from San Pedro and Chile. Fortunately we were booked onto a trip with the ever positive Australian couple Georgie and Michael and it wasn´t long before we were calling everything awesome and rad as we crossed through the Chilean border, climbing rapidly to our rendezvous point with the 4×4 at the Bolivian side. A little shack, a Bolivian flag and two security staff greeted us in the most informal border crossing either of us have experienced…HOLA BOLIVIA!!!
The first day consisted of beautiful lagoons, jaw dropping landscapes and a gargantuan geyser. We started at the Bolivian border at 4,000m and reached the highest point of around 4,900m, and the altitude at this height really had an effect on us. It was difficult to breathe walking short distances, let alone trying to hike around or attempting jumping poses. We arrived at our accommodation for the night to have lunch and decided to miss the last lagoon visit and our headaches were beyond excruciating and we both needed a well deserved siesta. After an excellent BBQ dinner courtesy of our Bolivian driver Taio and some card games we all called it a night to get some well deserved sleep in preparation of day 2.
There was a lot of ground to cover getting from our accommodation to the second nights stop over in Uyuni and luckily we had a fun driver who enjoyed some English music, with a particular penchant for Hannah´s favourite band Coldplay. Much to her annoyance this special playlist was repeated on numerous occasions and probably wasn´t helped by Michael and I singing and playing air guitar in harmony to the dullcet tones of Chris Martin. In between the Coldplay marathon we took in some excellent rock formations to do some climbing and travelled through the “Salvador Dali” desert which lived up to it´s name as a surreal, strange looking landscape. With many more lagoons along the route we got the chance to see and stalk some beautiful flamingoes and then the last stop was the instagram favourite of the Train Cemetary.
After a full on day filled with sights and sounds that run me hard in finding enough superlatives it was pretty uninspiring entering the old railway town of Uyuni. Covered in litter and clearly in steady decline this town is only keeping its head above water through the constant stream of smelly dreadlocked travellers. The best thing we noticed were the indigenous people, especially the women who had awesome dress sense and faces full of character. Taio dropped us off at our hostel to check in and chill before dinner, my heart sank as we walked in to what can only be described as a former prison. Once we were allocated our cell, I mean room…it was wine time and after we all slugged a couple of bottles of vino tinto it was easy to see the funny side of the lock up we were staying in.
Day 3 was an early start as we wanted to get the sunrise over the salt flats of Uyuni and it wasn´t hard getting ready for release from the prison and I felt a slight shawshank moment as I emerged into the late night darkness. The Uyuni salt flats are the largest in the world and with the recent wet weather there was the most amazing reflections as the sun rose over the horizon. You can see for miles all around and it is something quite special as the sun rises in different parts creating vibrant and colourful scenery. The rest of the day was spent taking pictures of Hannah on Marmite, me crushing Georgie and Michael with my giant foot and the obligatory jumping poses.
Back in Uyuni we rounded off the tour with an afternoon in the Extreme Fun Pub (aptly named) drinking giant beers with naked women on, listening to heavy rock and laughing about the fun of the past week.
With three weeks of Bolivia ahead of us we were buzzing with excitement, apprehension and booze before the standard monster bus ride began…