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One of the most interesting landscapes on Earth: Salar de Uyuni day 1

Omg that was the coldest bus ride of my life. I only spent one night in La Paz & the following morning I headed straight to Uyuni. I bought my bus ticket from one of the travel agencies along Sagarnaga road in La Paz. I went to the main bus terminal to wait for my overnight journey. It was a double decker bus with fairly comfy reclining chairs & thick, heavy blankets for our use. It was sooo cooold!!! I have never been that cold in my life. My feet were frozen. I don't think they have heaters in those buses. We arrived in Uyuni at around 7ish. It was even colder outside!!! I swear it was at least -15 or something. I did not really plan or reserve anything for my salt flats tour. So I was a bit disoriented when I got off the bus. Some folks were getting their luggage & disappearing into town. I kind of just stood looking around while waiting for my bag. Its freezing, Uyuni was deserted & everything was closed. Uh oh. Its one of those 'now what am I going to do?!' moments. This lady approached me & offered me their tours. I read a lot about crappy, dangerous tour companies for the Salar tours. But I was freezing & the lady was promising me heaters in their office, warm food... I was sold. I grabbed my bag & just followed her.

Highlights: Train cemetery, ghost towns, salt flats as far your eyes can see! We stayed at a salt hotel too!
Cast of Characters: Each tour has about 6-7 people in a jeep. I think it seats only 6 comfortably. They try to pack another person in for day tours. Our guide/ driver is Edwin. He is really, really good. Very safe & responsible. I was with 5 other folks in our tour. I met some super 'sugoi' (I had to google the spelling) Japanese travelers- Manami, Kazuo, O2 & a lovely Dutch couple Senna & Hans. They were super awesome. I felt lucky to have been teamed up with them! =D
Logistics/ Links: I joined a tour company called Hodaka Mountain. I don't think the Hodaka website works though. You can try the other contact info on the brochure pic below. Booking a tour from Uyuni will cost you a bit more. Its just as easy to do it yourself though. You can just take an overnight bus ride to Uyuni & then somebody will just offer you same day tours when you get there. Beware the bus will arrive super early when everything is still closed & the place is going to be freeeezing! I don't think people come out until the sun is out & shining. Salar de Uyuni day 2, Salar de Uyuni day 3
When: I did the 3 day tour mid- May, 2012. It was cold but the skies were clear, blue & beautiful!
Location: Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.
Cost: I paid about $107 or 750 BOB for the 3 day tour & sleeping bag rental. Bus to Uyuni cost me $19. I bought my bus ticket back to La Paz on my first day also & that cost me about $14 or 100 BOB.
Trip Report: When I got to Uyuni I was seriously having 2nd thoughts on whether I could actually survive the freezing climate for 3 days. I met a couple who decided on just doing a 1 day tour because they could not stand the cold! There was a little heater at the office of the tour company. I was just huddled around the heater trying to defrost as much as possible. The lady who picked me up let me hang out there for a bit while she picked up more tourists at the bus station. They explained the 3 day tour to us. I decided to just do it since its really the only reason I'm in Bolivia (& I paid that ridiculously expensive visa!!!). Might as well maximize.

I went to breakfast at this really cozy restaurant down the street. Kazuo, Manami & O2 were hanging out there, but I didn't really know them yet so I just sat at another table & chatted with this English guy who's been living in Bolivia for a few years now. I was asking him about the safety of the tour companies since I've read so much online about accidents caused by reckless drunk drivers. He said Hodaka is fine. He knows the tour operator & they're ok. He did mention something about Israeli's always looking for the cheapest deals & them getting what they paid for (which unfortunately sometimes cost their life). I did see many little crosses & some memorials at the Salt flats. =(

So after that wonderful breakfast, we all got our stuff ready. Beware to just pack what you can carry. I brought my large duffel bag & handing it over to Edwin to load on top of the jeep was not easy. At around 10ish, Ave Ferroviaria was packed with land cruisers, tourists, tour operators gearing up. Our vehicle was a Lexus land cruiser. I got the front seat- Yey! Super comfy! That is the best seat in the house. We all head out.
This is the tour company I ended up going with. The English guy said Hodaka is a mountain in Japan. They get a lot of Japanese tourists. They were very good. Our guide/ driver Edwin is in his 40's. Very responsible & safe. He only speaks Spanish. Good thing Senna & Hans translated for us. I think the younger drivers tend to be more reckless & annoying. I saw some drivers just honk their horns while the tourists are still enjoying the hot springs. 

Town of Uyuni. This is where the tour operators are located. The weather became much more comfortable when the sun came out. The first morning I arrived was actually the coldest part of my whole South American trip. The 3 day tour itself was not so bad.

I just spend the morning walking around taking some pictures. They have some interesting sculptures around Uyuni. At around 10, the street got a lot busier. Land cruisers were setting up. Tourists were walking around all getting ready for the Salt flats tour.

Uyuni train. Proof I was here.

A little plaza where hotels & restaurants are located.

There's our car! Yey! Most of the vehicles are Toyota land cruisers. We got a nicer Lexus one. Hehe. I noticed Edwin always made sure the windows are clean so we can get clear views & better pics. Very cool!
Train cemetery- our first stop. Its like a little playground for tourists. There's some 'artwork' sprayed or drawn all over.

Train cemetery at Salar de Uyuni. We had about 15 mins to run around the place & take pictures.


On our way to the wilderness. Its pretty much a convoy of jeeps. During the first day the attractions are teeming with tourists & as the day goes by the crowd slowly thins out as groups go about on their own pace. I noticed the Salt flats tour attracts mostly folks under 40 crowd.

Ghost towns en route. Hehe. They're not really deserted but they sure seem that way.

Salt flats at Salar de Uyuni. The water slowly receding from the rains the week before we got here.

Very cool!!! Different weather presents different type of scenery. I heard there are some days when the water level is high up that you'll be walking around with water up to your shin. Some salt hotels may also be closed when its flooded. The weather was perfect when we were there.

Lol! We tried. I have such bad, bad timing.

I did not think the Salt flats part would come so soon in our tour. I didn't really think of good photo poses. And you kind of need team work to get some results. We all just met each other so I was not super comfy yet on bossing everyone around to get good shots. Lol. Everyone was cool though. If I was with my friends or family I would probably just straight out yell at them to get it right. Here's a little example of our efforts. Its not as easy as it looks. We had fun though.

We had lunch at this littl salt hotel in the middle of nowhere. It was a tailgate party type picnic. Somebody bring a Philippine/ US/ Japan flag. Did not see any hanging.

Tailgate picnic

Our little lunch of chicken, rice, veggies. There's always pollo. I recommend bringing at least 1 big bottle of water. I brought 2 but didn't even use the other one. Munchies would also be good. They serve enough food though. You're not going to starve.

Jeeps crossing salt beach.

The landscape can look very different depending on the weather. It looks like a beach right now. I've seen pictures where it looks like a cracked, dry desert.

The 3 day jeep safari was a LOT of driving. This would be the perfect post-Inca trail activity.

Jeep safari through Salar de Uyuni. I ask Edwin how they know which way to go. I think he said he can tell just by looking at the mountains.

Manami setting up at our salt hotel. Everything was made of salt. The bed frame, the walls, the floor. Me & my tour mates shared 1 room. There were 6 beds in the room. Apologies to my roommates if I was a little bit gassy that night. Lol.  =P
The 3 day Salar de Uyuni tour is definitely worth it! Don't just do a 1 day tour. Do the whole 3 days. It is worth it despite the bit of discomfort & cold.

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