Disclaimer: this post involved descriptions of bodily functions (but what do you expect on a 3-day trek to the desert)
We started our day with an 8 am taxi ride to the center of Uyuni to check in with Red Planet Tours. We wanted to pay in Bolivianos so we went to the ATM and had to do 5 transactions to get enough Bs. Brian's wallet was stuffed. We hustled back to pay and then grabbed a coffee in the town "square" until our tour left at 11 am.
We hit the road with a group in our Land Cruiser of 7 total listening to Funky Town. All our stuff including food had us stuffed to the brim, including the top rack for our bags.
We stopped first at the train cemetery which was the aftermath of a large purchase of trains that couldn't handle the altitude and crashed.
We then headed to the Salt Flats, stopping at a small town just before and learned about how to mine the salt. We finally headed to the Salt Flats and learned about the salts expanding and contracting in the warmth of the day and cool of the night. It was so windy that we could barely stand. We drove further into the flats in hopes of some sun and less wind. We did the traditional perception pictures but most of them were just so-so.
The best part of the tour was supposed to be the place where there is a bit of water on the flat and it reflects the sky. Unfortunately, it was so windy we could only walk out and try not to get our shoes wet. Disappointed, we headed to our salt hotel for the evening and had a meal of soup and then a hodgepodge of hotdogs, meat, fries, hardboiled eggs and of course, we bought some beer. We played cards with the group: 3 Aussies, a family of 3 from Monaco who have been sailing the world for 7 years, an Irish woman and a Peruvian couple. It was a great group of people.
We finally turned in around 10 pm and it was pitched black. Our entire room was made of salt which was so interesting. And yes, Lindsay did lick the wall and it does, in fact, taste like salt.
We had an early morning breakfast at 5:30 in order to make it back to the Salt Flats to see the reflections at sunrise. Brian was really feeling bad so we dropped him off at a bathroom stop on our way there.
This was the part of the tour I was so excited about and I was SO excited we got to go back. It is incredible. The sky and the land literally meet. I was in absolute awe of the reflections of the mountains in the water. We took funny group pictures while our driver went back to check on Brian. When he returned, Brian still wasn't with him. The tour guides were thinking the worst-food poisoning, infection, etc. As we were headed back to the bathroom, here comes Brian, walking down the road, earbuds in, listening to his ipod. Thank goodness he was feeling better because we had a long bumpy road ahead of us to see the Lago Colorado, snow-covered volcanos and the Dali Rocks. We drove a total of 12 hours, stopping along the way to walk a bit, see flamingos and take in the scenery.
We had a final stop at the geysurs before heading to our primative lodging on a lake on the other side of the volcanos.
This lodging was the worst. The bathroom was disgusting with a regular sized toilet bowl divded into two halves, one for pee with a "drain" and the other just a hole. There was also a pail of sand with a scoop for the big hole when you went poop. When we sat down at the table with plastic chairs, apparently someone had put sand in the pee hole and the owner wasn't happy about having to clean it out. We all got a big lecture in spanish.
We had a dinner of soup and pasta with mushrooms and mystery beef and then sat around and chatted while the guides relaxed in the hot springs. We were all just too tired to get changed, shower off and pay for the hot springs, so we relaxed at the table. They turned the generator off at 9:30, so a few of us headed to our dorm style room-6 beds per room- and started getting ready. Others stayed up and drank, getting louder and louder until the generator shut off and they had no choice but to go to bed.
After the restless night's sleep, we got up around 6 am to have breakfast at 6:30 and hit the road by 7 am.
It was snowing when we woke up, so we waited a bit before loading the roofs of the cars.
We hit the road about 7:30 and headed for the Laguna Verge, unfortunately, it was so cloudy we could barely see the mountains and the wind wasn't blowing so the lake was calm and not super green.
We then trekked it across the top of the mountains between Bolivia and Chile. It snowed and was practically a white out. We couldn't believe the change in scenery over the last 48 hours. Absolutely incredible.
We got our national park exit stamp and then drove 10 minutes to the Bolivian customs to get our exit stamp. It was no-nonsense and very easy. We had been given our bus tickets when in Uyuni, so we jumped on the bus and waited for departure.
We made the easy 60 minute drive to the border and after declaring everything and having all our luggage hand-checked, we were clear to get back on the bus to San Pedro.
Surprisingly, it was very comforting to be back in Chile and to know what to expect.