End of January 2013
After two days in Sucre, we left for Uyuni to go on the famous salars. We arrived in the afternoon with a superb view of the city and the salar in the horizon. It wasn't too hard to find a hostel, and we headed to the train station to see if we could organize a train trip to Chile afterwards. We needed to know on which day and what time was the weekly train to Chile, a cargo train but with some wagons for passengers. We read online it would be quite of an adventure and we were excited about it, especially to cross the salar in a different part. Moreover we heard from all the agencies in La Paz and Sucre that the south part of Bolivia was closed and we couldn't cross to Chile to get to San Pedro de Atacama. But the train departure was on Thursday, at 3am. And with a tour, we would only arrive in the evening of that day. The next one would be only the next Tuesday. It meant quite of lot of days to wait in a town with mostly nothing except tourist going to the salar. It didn't sound like a plan.
We went to check what the agencies in town would offer for the trip to the salar, and at our surprise we heard that the border should be opened again, that the local people of South Bolivia had stop protesting somehow. So for a little extra we could get to chile at the end of the tour. We decided to go on a tour the day after, as there wasn't much to do in town and in the morning, before we left, it was confirmed that we could get to Chile. No train, but no days to kill neither.
We got into a Land Cruiser with a driver/guide, Jhonnych, and 5 Brazilian students in geology. Yes, it makes 8 people in a Land Cruiser for 3 days and a couple of hundreds kilometers on dirt road. Bags, food, fuel loaded on the roof top, as of course, there wasn't any space in the trunk. We went first to check out the train cimetery.
Then we went to the salar which was flooded due to the rainy season, but still accessible. It's a gigantic lake at that time, with maybe half a meter of water on the edge where we got in. As we got closer to the salt hotel it got shallower as well. It was magical to see such a huge white landscape. Surprisingly when we got out of the car, in 6cm of water, the water was very warm! And it's so salty that the water on your legs makes them crystal white very quickly.
After our lunch there we went for a long drive as we couldn't cross the salar due to too much water. So we took the main road going south of Uyuni to the desert, and we got a little extra adventure. Three trucks were stucked on the side of the road because it rained apparently so much the previous days that the road was flooded on a good 200m. The trucks tried to avoid some big holes but went on a loosy ground. Our driver wasn't so happy and waited for a car to cross first from the other side, which they did but not very easily... Come'on, we have a 4 by 4, no? Finally we drove this sketchy part and drove for hours before reaching our accommodation for the night. Tea, diner, wine from our brazilians and we could call it Day One.
The following day, we just drove in the desert to different lakes and rock formations. The road was bumpy for a good stretch. Luckily we didn't have a flat tire, because Jhonnych told me that he had one recently and the spare wheel we had was the one with the flat... Hmmm! Funny? The main thing is that absolutely every agency is driving a Land Cruiser, so that if someone has a problem, anyone could help. If you have an old one at home, they are buying them for 25'000USD with 200'000km, to have a last couple of months (I guess) in the salar. The salt and desert are killing them!
On the third day we woke up very early because we needed to be dropped at the border around 10ish and Jhonnych didn't want to come late because they wouldn't wait and we would be stuck in the middle of nowhere. We first saw the geysers at sunrise, which I must say, after Yellowstone, looks like baby geysers. Later we did a stop at the outside thermal water pool for who ever wanted to get a warm morning bath with a great view on a lake. And then we headed to the laguna Verde and Blanca. Famous lakes on many photos. But one important thing we learned later: the laguna Verde isn't green anymore since August 2012, and they don't know why, which means that the lake might not be green ever again. No one, of course, tell you that before going on the tour. The only excuse is that isn't not a good day to see the color, sorry! Bullshit.
We talked with Jhonnych about the volcano Licancabur which he did, and it started to plant something in our head.
Dropped at the border, we paid the tourist fee of 15BS at the Bolivian border to get our exit stamp each and waited for our mini-bus to leave for Chile and San Pedro de Atacama. We thought we would have a lunch as our driver told us, but we got nothing.
The only interesting thing on the Chilean side, is our discovery of the border controls. It takes a lot of time! They also scan our bags to search for food, wood. We are in Chile now, and it's warm! We aren't anymore at 3000/4000m, but at 2500m in the desert of Atacama.