Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia, Here I Came

Here I was, waiting for the plane from Puerto Montt (yes, again but stayed there for one night only because there was no road to go up to Chile and probably the ticket from Chaiten to San Pedro de Atacama was too expensive) to San Pedro de Atacama.

The morning in Puerto Montt was so foggy.

I was a bit glad that I was leaving Chile soon as it was too expensive for me here. I’d see what I could do in San Pedro de Atacama. I’d take Helen’s advice and do the 3D/2N tour to Uyuni. Then I’d see if I’d have time to go to the jungle. Then La Paz. I had all these plans in mind.

During this few-month trip, I spent most of my time resting (not sleeping), and took things slowly and relaxed. No deadline, no need to hurry, no need to rush, unless I had a plane or bus to catch but I didn’t really plan ahead so that also helped me relax. That was my long term travelling style. Throughout my journey, I had learnt from so many people. All these angels gave me the same advice at the beginning of my trip. I especially remember the guy I met in Rio Verde in Baños in Ecuador. He was with his fiancée who had a hearing problem. He was a very nice and patient guy. I could tell he loved his fiancée very much when he spoke with her. I remember he wore a shirt with a flag of Vietnam printed on it. That caught my eyes and that was how I initiated a conversation with them. He told me ‘you can’t travel everyday.’ That was the time I got enlightened. Travelling, to me in the past, meant going to another country to experience different things. But after this journey, I realised that it meant more. It had a whole new definition for me.

I met so many people. For some, I’m still keeping in touch with. For some, we met and said goodbye without leaving any contact information. But all left me with really good memories. I witnessed Kim cutting Johnny’s hair in the hostel. That was such a typical long term backpacker thing. And I still remember how Johnny reacted when I said I could do it for him. He looked so skeptical and he had that funny smile on his face and then he said ‘no, I don’t trust you especially with your smile like that.’  😀

There were so many trivial things that made me happy. That was what I said to the motorcyclist from America in Puerto Natales. Little things but kind gestures from backpackers or just beautiful landscapes made me happy. Life doesn’t need to be filled with excitement all the time. Life is about filling with little things which make you happy.

I was also glad that I met people who cheered me up. In Ecuador, I met Helen. In Peru, I met Mattia. In Argentina, I met the Argentinian family and then Marie and her boyfriend Travis. In Chile, of course, I met the Italian guy who helped me after I was bitten by a strayed dog and the German couple who got dragged into the CNN news about my dog bite even though they had nothing to do with it and the Swiss girl who kayaked with me…. and so many others who had been an angel to me. They had helped me in so many different ways. I was and still am very thankful for all these. That’s why I always say, I have no regrets.

Oh, and I studied in an escuela to learn Spanish! It was another fun experience but I couldn’t remember the things I learnt. 😛 A few years ago, I got an email from my Spanish teacher. She told me she had started her online Spanish lesson.

All these things still make me smile to date. I do have a lot of stories to tell. They are all good memories.

Life as a backpacker has also taught me how to let go. I had to say goodbye to people whom I really liked, whom I really got along with. A brief encounter – spending a short time together and then saying goodbye. All happened within just a few days. No matter how hard it was to say goodbye, we had to as we all needed to move on to another destination.

Life is like backpacking (not a box of chocolate).

We all have to move on.

Let go… It is so hard to do. But life goes on.

I had to board the plane now.

The fog had gone away.

It was 8:50am.

A photo taken on the plane. A volcano? It reminded me of Chaitén.

The desert in San Pedro de Atacama was similar to the one I saw in Las Vegas, but it was different from Gobi desert in Mongolia. The town was quite nice. Very much like a desert town. But I had to rush. I didn’t have time to enjoy the scenery. I checked in the hostel. It was a bit disappointing but it was fine as I’d only spend one night there. (The bunk beds were so high that there were 4 levels.) I immediately looked for the tour company that Helen recommended but it was full. I had to check the other ones. I needed to leave tomorrow. If I had time, I would wait and stay here for a few more days.

San Pedro de Atacama – I believe it’s a church but it was too early in the morning so it was closed.
The streets in town, San Pedro de Atacama.
The streets in town, San Pedro de Atacama.
Another area of the town, San Pedro de Atacama.

I had been waiting for quite some time outside the office of the tour company but didn’t see any tour bus or tour guide coming. I then saw the Chilean girl that I met at the money exchange yesterday and asked her for help. She helped me to call the travel agency. It was so kind of her. But the phone printed on the receipt was the one in the office. We could hear the phone ring inside the office but it wasn’t opened. I could only continue to wait outside the office.

The tour bus finally arrived. It was late because it had to pick up some other travellers from their hostels before they came to pick me up from their office.

This time, the tour was full of French travelers, and one Spanish girl and two Chilean students. (I had met so many Germans and Israeli during this trip) There were 9 of us. They were all very friendly and fun. They helped me with the translation. The Spanish girl also helped me with the translation of her Lonely Planet. Her LP was in Spanish.

The tour company arranged a driver for us. I thought he was a tour guide but apparently he was not. We went to Laguna Verde. The lake was usually green but there was an eruption recently so the water was not green anymore.

It reminded me of Lake Namutsuo in Tibet. Both were ‘high-altitude’ places.
It was so beautiful!
Look at the mountain and its reflection in the lake – does the entire thing look like lips?
The bird was eating in the lake.
Here’s a flamingo in the lake.
We then went to a hot spring where we soaked ourselves. There was no shower though.
The driver drove us to the geyser. It was just like Rotorua in New Zealand.
This terrain was not like Rotorua though.
Hello! Are you alpacas? Or?

The driver then drove us to the hostel for lunch and there we spent the rest of our day. The French had a social gathering. Whereas for me, because I didn’t want to take high altitude pills, I slept.

This place was 4,200 metres, similar to Namutsuo in Tibet so it was important to have a rest according to my experience and I stuck to my vegetarian diet. The French were happy as they could eat the meat on my plate.

When I woke up, it was 6pm already. Then we had dinner. It was such a relaxing life – eating, sleeping and then eating again 😀 The hostel was actually better than I expected. Well, I should say it met my expectation. No bunk beds. Great.

I had tears coming out from my eyes. That was normal. I knew that was because of the high altitude. Just like my experience in Tibet.

My travel companions were very friendly and fun. I was glad I was travelling with them.

Even this hostel was like the one in Namutsuo in Tibet – we could see the mountains from afar.

One of the French girls saw the lightning bolts. She was so excited. I think she took a photo. It’d be nice if I could capture that on my camera too.

The view from our hostel on the next morning.
Even our hostel reminded me of Tibet.

We visited the following places the next day:

Lago Colorada – the lake was full of flamingos and it was red.

Lago Colorada
Lago Colorada
Lago Colorada, flamingoes were here eating. It was a salt lake.
Lago Colorada
Lago Colorada. This could be the feather from a flamingo.
A flamingo flying over Lago Colorada
Our tour bus at Lago Colorada

Arvol de Pievra – it was full of huge interesting rocks:

Arvol de Pievra, the nature is the great sculptor.
Arvol de Pievra. One of our group mates threw the water bottle into the air. The reason I put this photo here is to give you an idea how big these rocks are.
Arvol de Pievra. The same rocks. Loved them.

Laguna Verde – the lake was full of flamingos again but this time, it was green:

Laguna Verde. The green looked like jade.
Laguna Verde
Laguna Verde. Look at the glistening water!
Laguna Verde. The flock of flamingos were eating at the lake again. That proved the lake was a salty lake.
Laguna Verde. I love these clouds! The bottom of the clouds looked like straight lines.
Laguna Verde. It looked so tranquil. It was.
Laguna Verde. Can you tell which one is me? 😛

Next, Laguna Cañapa, then Laguna Negra where the water was black and it was full of some kind of birds. I either didn’t take photos of one of them or I have mixed them up. Anyway, there you go:

Laguna Cañapa or Laguna Negra?
Laguna Cañapa or Laguna Negra? But the birds were not flamingos anymore so that means it could be a fresh water lake. Flamingos only eat at salt lakes. So, don’t drink from the lake if you see flamingos eating there. Just some travel wisdom.
We saw some other interesting rocks again near Laguna Cañapa or Laguna Negra.
Yeah, flying towards the sky

The Cemeterio de Trenes (train cemetery) was on our itinerary. As our driver was just a driver, not a tour guide, we actually didn’t know anything about this train cemetery.

We stopped at the town before going to the train cemetery.
Cemeterio de Trenes – the train cemetery.
The steel tarnished.

Salar de Uyuni – the highlight of the day!

The reason why we joined this tour!

Salar de Uyuni

Salar de Uyuni was incredibly beautiful! I kept saying, ‘crazy! Insane!’ because it was just insanely beautiful!

The photo doesn’t do it justice! It was so beautiful! You have to see it in person.
Salar de Uyuni exported salt internationally.
Wow! Look at all these flags!
Shots that travellers liked to take at Salar de Uyuni.
The French travellers in my group loved to play with my camera. This photo was quite a good one. It looked so natural.
Another area of Salar de Uyuni. You can see some squarish pattern.
Another area of Salar de Uyuni. You can see some squarish pattern.
Here is a close up of Salar de Uyuni with all the squarish patterns.
We took so many photos together. Here’s one of them. Our feet.
Another group photo – shadows of our hands. 😀

I saw the Chilean girl Elizabeth who helped me to call the tour company on the first day of the tour at the lake. She said her driver was very knowledgeable and he was willing to talk. Well, her tour company was recommended by many travellers. That’s why it was full. That’s why I couldn’t get a space. Oh, well. But I had a very good time with my groupmates.

Goodbye, Salar de Uyuni! 🙁 Sad but it gave me many happy moments and good memories.

The French backpackers took my camera and used it to take so many silly photos. It was so funny. When I look at those photos now, I laugh. I am glad they did that and left me with all those good memories. Merci.

Everyone of us was so carefree.

When we arrived at Uyuni, we immediately went to the bus terminus to get our bus tickets. The French would head to Potosi and I to La Paz. I couldn’t wait to leave. I met a couple from Scotland and Australia. They gave me so much information about Bolivia and La Paz. The girl from Scotland recommended Lake Titicaca, the Bolivian side.

While I was looking for a bakery with Aude, one of the French travellers in my group, she advised me not to go to the jungle because it would be rainy which meant there would be a lot of mosquitos. Without a second thought, I decided to go to Lake Titicaca only.

It was sad to say goodbye to all those travellers I met but that was part of our lives.

While I was waiting for the overnight bus to La Paz, I saw the lightning bolts. They were so gorgeous! But I was carrying so much stuff that I couldn’t take out my camera. The lightning touched the ground. I exclaimed with awe. It started to rain heavily. All of us went inside the bus ticket office. A Korean guy saw me getting so excited about the lightning bolts that he started talking to me, ‘it’s very dangerous!’ We continued to chat and decided to go to the same hostel. Unfortunately, we went on different buses. ‘Let’s see if we can see each other at the bus terminus.’ That was what we said to each other before we got on the bus.

My bus arrived at La Paz at 8:30am. I met some other travellers from my bus at the bus terminus. They told me our bus was late. The Korean guy probably had left so they asked me to join them. They had booked a hostel and it was very cheap. 50Bs for a bed. Good deal. I looked around the bus terminus. It was empty. They said, ‘no need to look around. Our bus was the last one to arrive here.’ So, I joined them.

To the Korean guy: sorry that I don’t remember your name but I remember your face – we were of similar height, you had short jet black hair, and you were wearing glasses. I wore glasses too, and my hair was black too. If you happen to have found this blog, and if you can identify yourself, you know what had happened to me at the bus terminus.

The hostel that we checked in was a party hostel and there was a restaurant inside the hostel. I didn’t mind it that much as I’d be staying there for a night or two only.

I saw those travellers from the bus terminus again at the restaurant after we checked into our rooms. They were planning to visit the prison. I thought it was abandoned because it was right in the middle of the city. They said the prison had a swimming pool etc. There was a community inside. It was a famous prison. I had never heard of it. They lied to the guards that they knew an international prisoner (Thomas) and wanted to see him. The guards didn’t allow them in. We, the girls especially, were waiting outside for the two Australian guys to do all the talking. They were very enthusiastic about it.

Some travellers went past us outside the prison. They told us Thomas left the prison a few years ago. 😀 It was such a big joke. The Australian guys looked so embarrassed when they heard that. They also told us a traveller was raped inside when she was visiting the prison. Now, the Australian guys were worried. The girls in our group were wearing shorts and sleeveless shirts. One of them was blonde. Anyway, we weren’t successful so the guys made another suggestion – to the stadium. I didn’t know why they wanted to go to the stadium but when I got there, I knew. They wanted to go to a ‘hideout’ that sold drugs, cocaine etc. They wanted to try it. I wasn’t interested. I was glad we didn’t find that place.

The girls including me just wanted to do some shopping so we caught a taxi and went to the market. Some girls wanted to do their hair so I went with them and watched. I had no plans anyway. Their Spanish was even worse than mine so I helped them to translate single words to Spanish. The hairdresser could understand my broken Spanish. Wow! I was so proud of myself. I bought some souvenirs at the market and then we went back to the hostel and I booked a tour to Lake Titicaca.

I had dinner with my roommates from Israel and asked them many questions. One of them was if they knew what people thought about them. When I mentioned the word, ‘stingy’ (it wasn’t my own opinion. It was just a generic impression that I heard from other people), one of them laughed and nodded. The hotdog place we picked for dinner was really bad but it was very cheap. When we finished our meal, one of the guys left some tips and said, ‘to prove that we are not stingy.’ 😀 That was so funny! 😀

Lake Titicaca, the Bolivian side, here I came!

Goodnight. I needed to catch the tour bus at 6:20am the next morning.

21 – 25 February, 2013

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