Uyuni Tour

Posted by on Sep 4, 2013

Uyuni Tour

From Salta I would venture forth,
continuing my journey north,
where river winds through stony plain
through rocky landscape much the same
there lie two townships side by side
united, but for small divide
of national boundary, this aside
by narrow bridge reunified.
The pathway to the bridge I took
entering Bolivia by foot.

To south there lay the Argentine
to west the Andean mountain spine
a chain of mountains piled high
with stony ramparts fortified
and from whose icy bastions tall
newfound streams babble and fall
growing in size, away they flee
winding, searching for the sea.
To north there lay the unexplored
a wide unknown I moved toward.

‘From Tupiza start the tour,’
two Brits advised me ‘to be sure!
It’s what we did! Take care!’, they say,
‘For quality you’ll have to pay
a little more but then you’ll know
that what you paid for with your dough
won’t land you with some, you know
moron driver for the show.’
I’d met them both at Iguazú
when paths crossed briefly as they do
Two English doctors, travelling through
had been where I was headed to.

‘Twas rather serendipitous
that when I came to follow this
what I could say was sage advice
to factor safety in the price
that once again I found myself
with British doctors, no one else!
From Villazón the border town
I went in bus on which I found
among those sharing in the ride
said doctors, seated to one side.

By night arrived, deserted streets,
a mangy dog along them creeps
‘Hotel Mitru, the place that we’ve
been told is where the tours leave.’
Uncertainly we make our way
requesting help lest we should stray.
A question at a lonely stall
a tiny figure wrapped in shawl
seated, pointing up ahead,
‘It’s over to the right’ she said.

We couldn’t leave the following day
which caused us to extend our stay,
when travelling there is no such term
as ‘wasted time’ one starts to learn
each little setback offers more
new options unforseen before
besides, a fact you can’t ignore
we had a township to explore!

Bright and early the next morning
standing shivering and yawning
backpacks packed, wrapped, stacked and waiting
heated four wheel drive awaiting
well equipped, both clean and roomy
for four days travelling to Uyuni.
Each silent, watching from their seats,
we trundled slowly through the streets
Already filled with market stalls
laid on the street, or propped on walls
alive with movement of the day
oblivious as we make our way.
Tupiza soon was left behind
the winding road began to climb.

From dusty town the mountain raised
we climbed to where the llamas grazed
in scattered groups of ten or more
well camouflaged against the moor.
Then woolly coats with legs appear
‘What’s needed in this time of year,’
I say, concluding as I peer
‘It’s all about survival here.’
The llamas bear it with a smile,
up close a humorous profile;
inquisitive stupidity
among their other qualities.
A kind of Andean mountain sheep
that grazes on the mountains bleak.


Depending on the books you read
you may relate to such a deed
as braved by those with trusty steed,
though long the road or great the need
the harsh conditions do endure
that 5,000 meters can ensure.
Though such a path before me lay
so great a role I did not play
’tis sheepishly I must confide
the 4×4 I occupied
was comfy, warm and well supplied!
I rode with friends on either side
we chatted, laughed, enjoyed the ride
and marvelled at the countryside.

Up where the mountains silent lie,
in majesty beneath the sky
a world of ice and rocky spars
where lakes by night reflect the stars
by day are home to gangly birds
who brave the waters unperturbed
with sticklike legs and plumage pink
stand filtering algae from the drink.
And all of this lay by our road;
a mountain track which we followed
that led at last to nights abode
not far from where the river flowed.

An iron, glass and concrete box,
woolly blankets, woolly socks
thick mattresses on concrete blocks
a freezing wind that howls and mocks.
Inside hot food, cold feet, new friends
a game of cards as each day ends
outside the window snow descends
my comfy sleeping-bag beckons.


Each morning early, up! Away!
Still bleary eyed you face the day.
More lakes, more birds, more open plains
where windswept tundra clings and strains
where llamas graze off what remains
a land where sky and silence reigns.
The mountain always has its say
dictating weather day by day
we cling to our technology
our instruments and gadgetry
It buys us time to dwell awhile
exploring paths and peaks hostile
and though we stand upon its peak
tis we who must admit defeat
retracing steps as we retreat
in haste before supplies deplete.
And still the mountain majestic lies
smiling at our daring tries.



From there we climb yet further still,
as time draws on we feel the chill,
the sun which blessed us disappears
the first of Mother Nature’s tears
are falling, swirling in the breeze
the foggy windscreen starts to freeze.
An old volcano up ahead
by wind eroded, not yet dead
but breathing still earth secrets wise
what once went bang, now only sighs.
Amidst this white and silent world
a column of steam which billows and swirls
rises from the heat below
a tempestuous world beneath the snow.
Vents of steam and pools of mud
are Mother Nature’s fiery blood,
alive amidst a world of ice
so seemingly devoid of life.
At once so lively, novel, cool!
So beautiful and yet so cruel
so rich and fertile, youth renewed
yet ancient in her plentitude.


Through mountain streams and open plains,
through clear or cloudy, wind and rain
through landscapes blanketed in snow
to coloured lakes which stretch below,
our road went steadily descending
vistas seemingly unending
all around us, ever changing
reflections, colours, rearranging.
But one last change ere we arrived
an opening which we descried
could white and faint be seen afar
as sheen on water under star
Salar de Uyuni, natures clearing
from there extending, disappearing.
The salt flat was our destination
truly a wondrous creation
a place so totally exposed
and bigger than I first supposed
a land where salt and sky extend
and in the distance join, and blend.


Salar de Uyuni

On the final day, we were up and out salt hotel accommodation and speeding along a wide expanse of dark salt flat. As black turned imperceptibly to blue in the silky exchange of predawn sky, mountains could be seen around us, their distance from us a mystery on the magic of the salt pan which plays tricks your distance perception. We were to great the rising sun in the middle of the salt. We parked and waited, I chose to stay inside the vehicle because of the below zero temperature outside, amplified by the breeze. This was the grand culmination to a truly amazing trip through a very special pocket of Bolivia’s mountainous and rugged southwest corner. The Salar de Uyuni is the worlds largest and highest salt flat spreading across ten and a half thousand square kilometers at 3,650 meters above sea level. The salt in parts is over 100 meters deep, though honey-combed with pockets of water. It is one of Bolivia’s primary tourist attractions and remains an active salt and lithium mine.

Unfortunately, I had been functioning at less than 100% after my stomach rebelled to something I ate. To date in my travels I had had not one upset stomach but upon arriving in Bolivia that’s one of the first things I did. I felt weak and sick and after getting up really early I had to try and make of the most of what was going to be a great day on the salt flat. To make matters worse, the planned activities included climbing a rocky island in the middle of the salt flat while it was freezing cold, to be followed by a photo session of jumping up and down. I had to pull myself through this though because the memories weren’t going to be sullied by one wayward bug!

As the first crescent of the fiery disc appeared on the horizon, all four of us were standing eagerly on the salt, staring at the bright speck amidst a world of red, orange, blue, pink and purple in all possible hues and tones. As the sky lightened, the distant mountains emerged from silhouette and the small salt crystals all around us gleamed in the sharp light. It was a study in colour and perspective but soon the soft pre-dawn colours vanished, replaced with fiery hues as though etched by laser; very stark and exposed, but beautiful.



Our next stop was the Island; a large rocky outcrop covered in thousands of spiky cacti. Wheezing and shuffling my way up the path making slow progress left me ample time to appreciate the peculiarities of my current surroundings. Furry stumps sprung from the rock in great quantity, though on closer inspection they proved less cuddly: thousands of spines pointed in all directions were an effective deterrent. From above the salt flat looked like a white ocean, and further way other islands could be seen. Those distant mountains perhaps 20km away, or 70km or 100? I had no way of judging.

Later, when we were driving in the direction of the township of Uyuni to the east of the salt flat, I realised the distances were larger than they seemed. The odometer was reading 130km/h and the patterns on the salt were flying beneath us but apart from that, very little was changing. The salt flat continued to appear before us just as it disappeared behind us and in all other directions and those distant mountains moved only very slowly. Then we stopped and piled out into the brightness. Time for perspective photos. My stomach groaned, but I ignored it, that’s all it had been doing for days.

In a wide open space such as the salt flat, and in possession of camera with a zoom lens, one is capable of rendering some convincing optical trickery with regard to perspective. To make it convincing you still have to have some skill, but all of a sudden crawling out of a Pringles can or a bottle of rum becomes a possibility. You can dance in someone’s hand, be squashed beneath their boots or climb in their hair, then, remanifest in your normal proportions, you can sit together and marvel at the spectacle of the 10 meter high ukulele. Frivolous and really fun and a great ending to (and I mean to evoke the full significance of the word) ‘amazing’ trip.[/one_half]