Overland miles: 12085 Bus hours: 348.5 Empanadar 73
The final day of our trip dawned and it was all about the main event, those mystical miles of salt flats. We left our hotel at the obscenely early time of 4.30 am and drove for about half an hour as the sun slowly started to rise and then the flats themselves came into view. The sights from now on were nothing short of spectacular. The first stop was on an area covered by a thin layer of water, reflecting the dawn light and surroundings perfectly. With the jeeps parked near us we felt like we were in a fancy car advert. Apparently we were lucky to find this area as it was the dry season in the altiplano.
Next stop was Fish Island or, to give it its local name, Isla Incahuasi, and some even more incredible scenery. We’re not sure where this ‘island’ gets its name from as there were definitely no fish in sight. We were faced with the otherworldy sight of a huge rock smack bang in the middle of the salt flats covered with hundreds of cacti saluting the sun. We payed a small entrance fee to the island’s keepers, and climbed for twenty minutes to get an almost mystical view of the flats: wide as an ocean, quiet as a desert, punctured only by a herd of tiny jeeps.
After another sugary feast for breakfast, which was served at picnic benches in the shadow of the island, we drove off again, surrounded by nothing but the bright white of the salt and the clear blue of the sky. Eventually we pulled up seemingly in the middle of nowhere for a stop where we could have a go at taking clever persective-illusion photos. You know the ones: they’re practically a mandatory element of this experience. Do you want to see me wolfing down Jovian for breakfast? Of course you do.
Our final stop was the train cemetery just outside Uyuni. Despite being a bit of a tag-on attraction to make our tour last longer, it was pretty fun clambering over and into rusting hulks of the old steam trains that used to trundle around western Bolivia. Unusually for South America, there are still trains running in Bolivia on lines that were built by us Brits. We had originally hoped to take a train across the border from Chile to Bolivia. Unfortunately for us the Chileans were no longer running passenger trains on their side of the border, so for us, this was as close as we were going to get to riding in a train high in the desert.
And so finally, slightly dehydrated and with salt-crusted clothing, we rolled into the dusty town of Uyuni and said goodbye to our equally filthy travelling companions. Never on this trip had we seen such alien landscapes, yet having crossed this mind-bending desert they’d begun to feel like the norm. We wondered if the residents of Uyuni would feel the same if they’d spent three days deep in the Forest of Dean.