Overland miles: 11785 Bus hours: 348.5 Empanadar 73
Most people awoke the second day of our trip feeling very groggy. Getting a good night’s sleep at altitude is difficult. I was one of the lucky ones who’d slept ok but even I’d felt out of breath just from turning over in the night! Overall though we definitely felt a lot better than we had the day before, which was just as well it was today that we would reach the highest point of our trip – 4,600 metres.
Breakfast was a sugar addict’s heaven. Pancakes, manjar (a spread made from caramelised sugar in milk), jam and more jam, fake strawberry yoghurt drink and mate de coca – a coca leaf tea that is said to alleviate symptoms of altitude sickness.
There were more lakes and more flamingoes on day two, so many that they’re almost blurring into one now, and by the end, most people had stopped taking photos. Not us though, we have a duty of care to our loyal readers. We also got to see the Arbol de Piedra – basically a stone that the wind has shaped like a tree. Amongst it were lots of other crazy rock formations that we spent a happy half an hour clambering over.
Lunch today was a more DIY affair, prepared by our driver and served on picnic benches overlooking a lake. We had student-style feast of tinned tuna, sweet corn, cheese, rice and salad, washed down, again, by the ubiquitous litres of Coke. It wasn’t exactly gourmet but it was satisfyingly filling.
Our accommodation on the second night was in one of the famous Hoteles de Sal: hotels that have literally been created out of blocks of salt. Even our beds were made out of salt, a sign that we were very near to the salt flats themselves. Luckily, this hotel had a hot shower – only one between 11 of us, and one that wasn’t switched on until 6 at night for some reason – but it was a welcome chance to get clean and wash off all the dessert grime that had been building up.
After a dinner of soup, followed by roast chicken, rice, roast potatoes and plantain (why have one carb when you can fit three on your plate?) we all headed to bed early because we were due to be up at 4am ready to hit the Salar in time for daybreak. We should point out that this wasn’t our idea – pre-dawn rises never are – but for some reason the rest of the group were loco for taking sunrise-reflection shots out on the Salar, and again folks, your trusty PFB correspondents wouldn’t want to disappoint, so we were tucked up in bed by 9pm.
Next up, we finally reach our destination, along the way encountering a train cemetery, a freaky alien island full of cacti and more rock salt than Jamie Oliver would know what to do with.