Touring Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
One of the symptoms of altitude sickness is insomnia. With zero minutes of sleep at this altitude of 4,200 meters above sea level I think it’s safe to conclude I suffered a little bit from this condition. Personally, more of an annoyance than an obstacle. I’ve got limited holidays, can sleep when I get back to (at) work. Rise and shine. Luckily my fellow travel mates are equally alert in the morning, and we’re eager to get an early start to beat the traffic – the traffic being the other tourist cars competing for the same sights. Unfortunately our driver isn’t as keen on getting a head start. That would interfere with his breakfast, and meal time in Bolivia is not to be messed with.
The second day of the tour is like the second film of a trilogy; it’s mainly transport. A means to get from a spectacular opening to a magnificent ending, but at the same time moving the story along, building up to the grand finale.
The desert landscape is filled with bizarre looking rocks, formed by erosion to surrealistic pillars and formations. One boulder stands out from the rest. With its thin foot and massive overhang, it defies the laws of physics. As if Salvador Dali made a guest appearance in designing this desert. Or maybe he gained some inspiration from this very rock. Logic stipulates that it should fall over, but yet it’s standing tall, as it probably has for thousands of years. Abnormal. Brilliant.
More driving. Lunch at yet another lagoon. Letting the food settle watching the flamingos do their thing. A couple of foxes approach the little settlement in hope of finding some leftover food. Probably their best bet in this desolate landscape, where their natural prey must be scarce. Then more driving.
After hours of driving, all of a sudden we pass a little girl. She’s walking alongside the road. Fast paced and with a determined course she doesn’t appear to be lost. We haven’t seen houses for many miles, and as it turned out, we wouldn’t see houses for many miles to come. Where did she come from? Where was she heading? What did we miss? Our driver doesn’t react, so we assume everything is alright. A remarkable sight though, one of those “did that just happen?!?” experiences.
Late in the afternoon we reach a little village. Marco announces this place is called Copacabana. It certainly doesn’t look like a Copacabana. A little square in the middle of the village, a few streets leading in each direction in a perfect grid, lined by unexciting adobe houses. Little or no sign of life in the streets, and no sign of any commerce. I think it’s safe to say that this is the most remote settlement I’ve ever visited. We’re not sure as to what’s the purpose of our stop here. Maybe Marco figured we’d find this interesting. Maybe he’s got friends of family here. Or maybe he’s just tired of driving.
Our last sight of the day is a little town called San Juan. Seemingly little of interest for a tourist. Their main (and only?) attraction is Necropolis; a site our driver refers to as the “ghost museum”. It’s a labyrinth of mounds and rocks. It’s quiet, the only sound to be heard is that of the wind. Some of the rocks have open holes in them. Inside these holes lay bones, skulls, ceramic objects, and other small artifacts. Children were buried in these bizarre tombs some 700 years ago. Well preserved in the cold and dry environment. Ghosts or not; this place is spooky. Definitely a daylight activity.
A little after sunset we’re happy to arrive at our accommodation for the night. We find that compared to the previous night, this place is a multiple star hotel. Proper beds, electricity, a dining room, television, a small store, even a ping pong table. And hot showers. We waste no time taking advantage of this luxury. Altitude sickness is settling, hot shower, nice dinner, good company, and even a cold beer. At home we take this for granted. Here, we value every minute of it. Tomorrow we visit the salt flats, supposedly the highlight of our trip. We decide we all want to see the sunrise out in the open, which means getting up very early. Another attempt to get some sleep begins.