Bright and early we meet Alfredo and Liboria our guide and cook for the next four days to set out on the long rough road to Salar de Uyuni one of the most spectacular sights in all South America.
This is our second trip to Salar de Uyuni the first was in 2013. This time we are accompanied by Leigh and Alan, friends from England who have joined us for part of our South American trip.
We all take our seats in the battered Toyota Landcruiser and off we set into the wilderness. Leaving Tupiza at 2600m we will ascend a further 2600m to our highest point on the altiplano. As we ascend the temperatures will drop. Based on our experiences last time, we will see the temperature drop from the daytime 30c here to minus 20C at night tour highest point! Good job we all have thermal underwear!
We have chosen this route to the Salar, partly because we are on our way to North West Argentina and Tupiza is close to that border, but also because, by taking this route we will begging against teh flow of the majority of tours which start from Uyuni so we will have many to the sights along the way to ourselves.
On this first day, we head out through the Quebrada de Palala we see no other travellers. We continue onwards and upwards through the mountains and high plains towards El Sillar, The Saddle, where the track straddles a narrow ridge between two peaks and two valleys. We stop to admire the spectacular views, the first of many amazing places we will pass through.
After a few hours we at a small, desolate village of adobe houses surrounded by sand, rock, desert scrub and a few alpacas. We are sent for a walk while Liboria prepares lunch. It takes all of 5 minutes, so we stop and play with some of the kids, who, despite their desperately poor living conditions, seem to be perfectly happy playing with and old bike.
Lunch is really excellent, chicken potatoes, quinoa and one of the best salads we have had in South America. After lunch we ask Alfredo where the toilets are. Stupid question apparently! There are none. We are advised to “go natural”. Only then, when in search of a spot safe from prying llama eyes do we appreciate how poverty stricken this place really is. No sanitation whatsoever means human waste spread everywhere around the village. Not pleasant for us, but a major health hazard for the inhabitants. Very sad and very concerning in a country that has abundant natural resources. No wonder that revolution seems to be the national pastime!
We are making good progress so Alfredo decides we should push on and get some more miles on the clock so as to get an early start on the next days sights. We drive on for another hour or so before reaching the deserted city of San Antonio. The city is in ruins Some walls are still standing, mostly parts of the churches it is easy to see why the Spanish built a town here as the views are spectacular. Apparently they deserted the place be cause it was too cold. Something you would have thought they would have thought of over the years spent building the place!
When exploring the ruins we came across the one of the few signs of life, two “viscartus” – a bit like large rabbits with very bushy tails who were playing in the rocks. They seemed not at all bothered by our presence and we got quite close.
As we drive on through the mountains we are well and truly into the altiplano at an altitude of around 4000 metres. As the sun sets, the views are even more incredible and we roll into no name the village where we will be staying for the night.
In our room there is no heating and the temperature is much the same as outside (-8c as we find out the next day). Not to worry as we have loads of blankets, sleeping bags and thermal underwear, fleeces hats, which, it turns out, most of us will will not remove for the next four days!!!
NOTE – This blog entry and the ones following are an amalgam of two trips we have taken to Salar de Uyuni. Once in September 2013 and again in August 2016. Not a lot had changed in the intervening period!