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Bolivia - The Salar de Uyuni and the Lagunas Route

From Potosí we headed to Uyuni, to meet with Okan, Donna and Indigo and to prepare for an adventure on the massive salt laguna - the Salar de Uyuni and the remote Lagunas Route to Chile.

Whilst in Uyuni we visited the Train Cemetery - great place to climb on rusty old trains.

We drove out onto the salt flats, first visiting the Dakar Rally monument, then heading north toward Volcán Tunupa, then west. After several hours of driving, including through some rather wet areas, we settled for the night on the salt,next to a small island. The salt flats are spectacular - with the naked eye, impossible to gauge distance and simply beautiful.

The following morning we briefly visited Isla Incahuasi for a pit stop before spending lunch at the Cueva del Diablo and then picking a point in the middle of nowhere on the salt to spend a second night. Lots of playing around with our cameras on this blank white canvas, while Rachel, Donna and Indigo played hopscotch amongst the salt patterns. The night sky was amazing and after some pointers from Okan, we attempted some night photography.

The following day we returned to Uyuni to prepare for the Lagunas route and a lot of salt on the vans meant a lot of cleaning. Oops, it's Sunday and the van cleaners are closed. The owner let us do our own cleaning, simply telling us which switch to press and taking our cash. The pressure hose could knock a man off his feet and tried to rip a few things off our campers.

We provisioned in Uyuni for the journey south. No more fuel stations until we reach Chile, which on a straight route, which we are not taking, is around 400km. We also know the roads are going to get rough, hence the reason for travelling together - not much by way of a rescue service out there. We drove towards Villa Mar and quickly realised we had a long slog ahead. We wild camped short of Villa Mar on a former field. In the morning we continued - destination Laguna Colorada. The whole journey was at high altitude and afforded us spectacular scenery. We averaged about 15kmph on super-dusty, super-rough roads.

As we approached Laguna Colorada the roads had given way to a multiple choice of tracks - it was like being in a giant cat-litter tray, just with a lot more dust! Laguna Colorada is red/orange and backed by mountains. The laguna sits at 4,278m (14,035ft) above sea-level. We had a walk by the laguna to see the llama and the flamingos but the wind kept that walk short and we drove a further 15km through the cat-litter to spend the night outside a refuge/hostel., affording some protection from the wind, which did eventually die off.

In the morning (calm - no wind problems) we headed back to the lake to take in the views and the three different types of flamingos that frequent this salt patch (the Flamenco Andino , Flamenco Chileno and the Flamenco James). After lunch, we continued south. Aguas Calientes for tonight, we all needed a bath after the dust. The hot pools looking out onto Laguna Chalviri were a welcome sight - didn't take us long to jump in!

More rough tracks all the way to Laguna Blanca and Laguna Verde on the Bolivian border, but the scenery was spectacular. Strangely the main Customs post was 80km from the border - luckily we were aware and made the stop to do the exit procedure with the van. The Lagunas route was torture for the poor van, but we made it to the border and settled down for the night for a crossing in the morning.

A short 5km drive in the morning took us to a shack, which was the Bolivian Immigration/Police post. Cheeky buggers asked for 15 Bol per passport stamp (Exit Tax). Didn't bloody get it from us - it's free. They were rather sheepish after they were challenged. This Border Post has 100's of tourists per day and these scampers are making a fortune. Outside this shack is the start of the Chilean road .... wow, mint and super smooth, proper road markings and warning signs - a piece of heaven!

This had been our first experience of travelling in caravan (convoy) with another van. Basically, this was in case of van troubles in the middle of nowhere. It turned out to be a total pleasure travelling with Okan, Donna and Indigo. I discovered that our van was a spaceship, Captained by Indigo (age 5) and I was of course the 1st Officer. We warded off a number of alien attacks - the alien looked a lot like Rachel.

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