Monday, November 18, 2013

Adventures in Uyuni (Part 1)

  This month our family was able to take the trip of a lifetime to Uyuni. For those of you who have never heard of such a place this blog will be an education about one of the most amazing places in South America.

    Joining our family for our five day journey were Elyssa and Lauren, friends of ours visiting from Oregon, Victoria and Lydia, volunteers with Casa de Amor, also our friends!!
    We left Sunday at about noon in a bus headed for Oruro, about a four hour journey. The bus was very comfortable and actually fun to travel in. The roads here in Bolivia are very sketchy at times and getting out of the Cochabamba valley by any road is going to be full of windy, steep, two lane highways. People here prefer to travel at night so they can't see what the roads are like! I think ourselves and a couple other gringos were the only ones awake in the whole bus, even though it was in the middle of the day! Bolivians can sleep anywhere, anytime!
There's a road on the edge of that mountain. Can you see it?
Myles and Clancy 

Victoria, Emily, and Rudi on the bus

In Ororu we were scheduled to take the 7 o'clock train to Uyuni and had plenty of time to take in the quaint town of Oruro. We did a bit of shopping in the local mercado, a minature version of our "La Concha", then took a truffi to the main plaza that was very beautiful. Dinner choices were limited because most of the places are closed on Sundays. We ate a place that was fast and easy, that is kinda the Bolivian version of McDonald's, but way classier. I was feeling the elevation and did not have much of an appetite!
Oruro is situated on the Altiplano and the elevation is around 12,000 ft. The altiplano is a flat plain at a high elevation surrounded by the Andes mountains, it is very large and stretches for hundreds of miles to the north and south. The people are very friendly in Oruro and seemingly accustomed to many tourists. Oruro's truffi system was a lot like Cochabamba, but the truffi's were a lot more organized with color schemes and the truffi's were more professional looking and up to date!
Loved this Armadillo!

Enjoying the beautiful plaza in Oruro

At 7 p.m. our train left for Uyuni. If we were expecting the Amtrak we would have been very disappointed! Rudi estimated that we traveled at about 60 km (35 mls per hr) per hour! The rails were not super even and we clickety clacked our way across the countryside until our arrival at 3 am in the morning in Uyuni. It seemed that we stopped at every pueblito out there, so it was VERY slow going at times!
All Aboard

Clancy and Clara ready for adventure!

Inside the train...pretty snazzy!

A very tired Rudi and I scoped out the hotel situation while the group stayed with the baggage. Once we had a place secured, we all piled into the three rooms with a total of eight beds, for the rest of our short night! It was definitely colder in Uyuni then Coch, but refreshingly so. All of the hotel rooms in this particular hotel did not have private bathrooms, so it felt more like a hostal then a hotel. Since all of the bathrooms for the whole journey were not private and co-ed, I think each of us spotted some European or other in their skivvies at some point in the trip! Interesting for us ultra private Americans who are not used to sharing space so up close and personal. The majority of people taking this trip are from Europe, but we also met people from Australia, Israel, and Asia. We met people from Germany, Holland, Switzerland, France, and Spain. Everyone was very friendly and respectful our whole journey!

In the morning Rudi shopped around for a guide service, of which there are plenty, to take us out on our three day adventure. We had read lots of reviews online and it really is a mixed bag as far as guide services goes. We chose to go with a company called Tunupa Tours. The twelve of us divided into the two 4X4 jeeps driven by Gustavo and Poli (nickname for a much longer and not understandable name!). Our first stop was the "Train Graveyard". The kids had fun climbing all over the various old broken down trains and we had fun taking pictures of them.

L. to R. Emily, Victoria, Lauren, Ruth, Paula, Elyssa, Clara, Clancy, Myles, and Lydia
All of our "kids" for the trip!

Lauren and Elyssa

We then headed to the Salt Flats that make this tour so famous. On the edge of the Salt Flats they harvest the salt. They pile it into piles for the water to drain out of the the salt before they take it away to sell.
Emily modeling the salt piles!

Clancy holding someone on his hand!
Because the salt flats are so vast and all the same color you can take amazing optical illusion pictures. We had a lot of fun taking various pictures...lots more to come in this blog.

You can see it in this picture that the salt has this amazing and orderly pattern of hexagons all over it. It reminded me of the pattern that bees make in honeycomb. Our driver told us that the shape is made by the salt "breathing". Seeing this shape and the perfection of the design made me think of the verse in Psalms, "the fool has said in his heart there is no God". How could something this amazing in nature just have happened by chance without a creator? You truly would have to be a fool to believe that!

 I wish we would have known about this place on the tour where there are a bunch of flags from various countries. There was not one from the U.S. It would have been fun to have brought one and put it there. So for the future, you Americans who are going to the Salt Flats, take an American flag along with you for this spot! The wind was blowing so hard that it was whipping them to shreds and many were just barely hanging on!

Our lunch location below the volcano, Tunupa!

For lunch we ate at a a hostel made partly of salt in a little pueblo beneath the volcano Tunupa. Each meal on our journey was served on glass plates, and we drank out of glass cups, and ate with real silverware. Bolivians really know how to recycle and hardly ever use disposable anything. I think it is more out of saving money rather than saving the earth, but it was sure nice not to eat off paper stuff even in the boonies! They would wash up the stuff at each place we stopped for dinner and the night. (I know that either A. Diane or my mother will write and ask me that detail!!)
Lunch Time!

Clancy decided to "sample" the wall to make sure it was salt! We hope no one else licked that exact spot!!
Yummm! Salt!!

After lunch with Tunupa in the background!

My sweet youngest three! Adorable in their shades!

 Our first sight of Flamingos was at this lunch spot. They hang out on the edge of the salt flats in about six inches to a foot of water....salty water. We saw thousands more than this on our journey!

I love this shot Rudi took of this Llama with her baby!

After lunch it was back on the salt again. We had fun taking a lot more pictures and getting slightly sunburned! We had made sure that everyone had sunglasses, because the salt can actually blind you for a short time, like snow can!
The Mighty Elyssa holding FOUR people in her hands!

Myles jumping over our car! Cool!

The Giant Clancy
We tried taking pictures of all the kids jumping, but this was the best we could come up with. Lauren and Elyssa got "best jumpers award" with Victoria coming in second!! I thought it was a funny picture either way!! 
One, Two, Three, JUMP!
 How many guys do you know that can hold their whole family in their hand. My hubby is soooo amazing!
In the palm of Daddy's hand!
 Our driver insisted on taking this picture of Emily jumping. It looks like she finally figured it out.
Soaring Emily!
Towards the center of the ice is a place called "Fish Island". It is called that because it looks like a fish from the air. The Inca's used this place for sacrifices and their worship. It was rather odd with Cactus all over it and Llamas. For some reason the salt seemed so much like snow that it was hard to wrap my mind around the fact that it was really salt. It made the cactus seem out of place to me as well.
Fish Island
Fish Island Llama
And then we were off the salt and onto the next part of the trip. We headed off onto dirt roads and fields of Quinoa with mountains surrounding them. This part of Bolivia is where they grow the Quinoa that Bolivia is famous for. Quinoa requires little to no water. These fields were all tilled and planted, but the plants hadn't come up yet. They plant in November and harvest in March. Our driver told us that the plants grow to be at least five to six feet tall. It was hard to believe that in what seemed a barren wasteland, at such a high elevation anything could grow, let alone one of Bolivia's largest crops!!
Quinoa Field
We hurtled pell mell on roads that were just barely roads to our next destination, The Salt Hotel, where we would have dinner and spend the night. Our guides rarely followed each other exactly on each others tail, because the dust was overpowering. Instead they space out from each other or made up their own roads beside each other. It wasn't unusual to be about ten to twenty minutes behind the other car at times.

As we made the turn off to head over to the tiny town where our hotel was situated we practically ran over the other car that was in front of us, parked to the side of the road, with the front left wheel completely sheered off... rim and all. Keep in mind that these drivers are driving very fast on very bumpy road for hours and hours. This could have happened when they were going much faster, as they had slowed down to make the turn off. It was all in a days work for these drivers. They "borrowed" bolts from the other tires and proceeded to put the tire back on in the middle of a HUGE dust and wind storm. We were/are thanking the Lord that everyone was kept safe and that nothing terrible came of this little accident!

The Salt Hotel was unlike anything any of us had experienced before. The walls were made of salt bricks, the tables, chairs/stools, bedstands, and floors were all of salt as well.

Upon our arrival to the hotel we were served hot tea and crackers. A lot of the guests were playing games. One table had a rousing game of Settlers of Catan going. It must be a world famous game!

For dinner we had soup and bread first and then Llama steaks for the first time in our lives, as well as French fries... a very balanced diet! The Llama steaks were amazingly delicious! Paula sat and chewed on the bones that were left over she liked it so much!
Salt block tables and Chairs

Ruth and Paula making "Salt Castles"
Everything seemed super clean and white! It was a bit hard for me to sleep, as I had a bit of a cold and had to breathe out of my mouth. It seemed like I was breathing in salt all night long. I bet it was super healthy for me!

The Beautiful Salt Hotel 

I will try to get the next days of our journey on the next blogs...I hope it doesn't take me as long as this one!! Stay tuned for more Uyuni Adventures!!
Rudi and Carla and Family!


  1. I loved this post as I never made it to the Salt Flats...maybe someday!

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  3. Okay, I accidentally just left a comment in your name because Emily had signed in to your account on my tablet!
    What I wanted to say was, this is a really neat post!
    I enjoyed this trip so much and am looking forward to your next posts.