Sunday, 25 July 2010

Salar de Uyuni - The Salt Flats (Photographer's Utopia)

Wow, what a shock. Imagine your self a whole town that is built just for one purpose - The Salt Flats. This means, that as you`re reading, more and more agencies rise up, in the means of catching (even a penny), of the endless amount of confused tourists wanting nothing but 3 days in the Salt Flats (oh, yeah, and maybe stay alive while your at it).
Dave (one nice Canadian) & I arrived to Uyuni evening time. Quickly found a hostel, and we were on our way to check out the agencies. We started by searching for a place called ‘’Ranking’’ recommended by the Bolivia Lonely Planet (2007 ver.) owned by Dave. After finding out (and not quiet believing) that it has been closed for the last 3 years (probably right after the edition was published…) we go and try to figure it out by our selves.
After checking about 3-4 agencies, and seeing that it’s all the same bullshit, we find a place to eat and go to sleep (agreeing that the bargain in the morning will be more efficient). We were right. Returning to the same agencies in the morning, they all went down by 10% (from 550$B, to 500$B). We chose a tour which offered the same classical one, but in reverse (Replay Company, on the main street of the agencies). We also found out that there were 10 Israelis and one Australian already booked for the same day.
All tours leave 10:00-11:00AM, we were told the same, but left the town of Uyuni only on 11:30 (8 of the Israelis had to have coffee). Once we got to meet, I knew I would have to hold my breath for the next 3 days. These guys are the worst tourists I have ever met, not to mention the fact that I understood and hated everything that went out of their mouths & IPODs. Thank god for in-ear phones and high volume.
As to the views, heaven. First stop (after 4-5 hours of driving) was in a rock formation garden. Combination of winds, rain, and the geological formation of the rocks helped form all kinds of structures in the stones in all shapes and sizes.
While on the dirt road, the driver’s eye catches a movement. He stops the jeep on-spot, jumps out in haste, and runs 20 meters away from the car. Then picks up an Armadillo. We all rout happily and jump out to take pictures with it.
Arbol Del Piedra (The Stone Tree) is uniquely amazing. As we get there, I hurry up to catch it alone (before all the tourist come and ruin the photo). Grant (the Australian) rushes as well (with the same camera!), and tries to climb it. Grant is one step from the top, as a driver of another company starts shouting at him (to come down of course), Grant completes the climb, I take the wanted photo, and he climbs down, and then starts a huge argument about why Israelis do stuff like that? Grant stands and shouts that he isn’t even an Israeli and that he didn’t mean to harm anyone, but that doesn’t help his point.
By sunset we are already in the first hostel. Made of semi-salt walls, no owner seen (maybe the driver of the other car (which got there first), arranged the stay or something…), we are introduced to our rooms, and I catch a corner bed, Dave takes his time and ends up with the one closest to the door. The Israelis don’t stop their bitching.
A bit of space alone, finally. Dinner helps me decide what I think about the other Israelis (till now were in the other jeep), awful. And about Grant, which turned out to be another happy soul stuck in a jeep with bitching Israelis that also turned out to be awful, screaming, singers.
After a good night sleep (for me, not for any of the Israelis crying about the cold or my snoring), we set of (late again, guess whose fault…), to see geysers! The first one is a charm. It blows constantly from the ground, because of the cold (early in the morning), everybody find themselves warming up from the hot fumes. Then, running back to the warmer jeeps. The other part of the geyser area is mainly mud –pools, without the option to warm up in them.
Next stop (still early), the hot-springs! A warm pool, hot enough considering the cold outside, and very satisfying! I was the only one (from our 2 jeeps) to take a bath. Getting ready to return to the jeep, suddenly, I see my long lost friend Dror! Already naked, and ready for a deep. We quickly hugged and arranged a meeting in La Paz. Alek happened to be in the WC that exact moment.
The rest of the day was mainly dedicated to the National Park, which is famous for his beautiful lagoons, and Flamingos that nest in them. We drove next to 5 lagoons, some were frozen, and only the last had a handful of Flamingoes. All stunning.
The second night, we sleep in a salt hotel, all is made of salt, and from the location of the hotel, we can see the sunset on the Salar salt flats. 10$B more if you want to take a shower, made me a bit mad. The place also included a small ‘Aymara’ speaking child, which managed to convince every one of us to take turns and push him on his little car (‘Bimba’), faster and faster. Somehow, I couldn’t help myself but thinking about my nephew.
The same night, we had to hear the Israelis argue between themselves, not thinking it was our (Dave, Grant & I) decision as well, if they want to get up so early to see the sunrise over the Salar, or not. We managed to get pissed at them one last time, but for nothing (because they made the right decision).
Waking up to see the sunrise! Driving pretty fast on the flats. No real roads in this part - just drive wherever. While the car is moving, you can see the colors starting to change, but can’t take a shot. When we finally stop I jump out to get the earliest colors possible. The white salty flats act like a huge canvas, and the sun is the most creative painter. Certainly one of my favorite sunrises ever.
The sunrise lookout is right next to the Island of the Cacti, so I decide to walk my way there. Once in, I climbed to the top, walking next to enormous Cactus trees, in all shapes and sizes. From the top, you’re able to see all of the Island, and the Salt desert around it. The sun is working its magic, and the endless amount of white is blinding. Grant & I chased my first Viscacha (a large rabbit, with a long tail); we thought it was a very strange looking thing.
All evening, Grant & I (with little help from Dave), made a list of things that we could try and shoot in the funny-pictures area in the middle of the salt flats (except for Pringles!). Once we got there, we were thankful for our list. We had much to do, and less time to do it. No point writing about it when you can see the outcome for yourselves.
The last stop was the train graveyard. Not too pretty, but fun to climb on.

Tips for Salar De Uyuni:
1. Try to close up a jeep with people you already know (3-4 days is a long time to be stuck with awful people...).
2. don`t pay over 500 bolivianos for 3 days.
3. My company (Ripley) was ok. but not more then that. and they did unforgetable stuff like trying to run over some birds just for fun.
4. For your own safty - travel with ''In-ear'' earplugs for your mp3. as soon as the driver hears your from israel - Eyal Golan will be played (very loudly) in the car`s speakers.
5. check out if the tour company regesters the sleeping places before the trip - our company did`t and we had to search for a place each night (2 nights).
6. bring your sleeping bag - its cold at night in the Salar (and in Uyuni).
7. Try sitting in the front sits - that way you could get out of the car when ever you like (and that`s alot) to take all the photos.
8. Don`t take too much to the trip - no need for nothing (except for the sleeping bag, warm&not warm cloths, sunglasses, chocolate, sunscreen, camera).
9. You would probably not have a night with hot showers - ask the company. the sacond night we had a place that charged 10 bolivianos for the shower (I didn`t take one).
10. Some companies have special things included in the trip (Revers rute, Bikeride...) - search for the one that fits you.

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