Exploring South America has been a dream since I got to know about the extremely beautiful places few years ago. So I decided to start with Peru and Bolivia which had been on the top of my list.
We took a bus from a city called Puno in Peru and 20 hours and 2 bus changes later, we arrived in a small town called Uyuni, which was starting point of our three day adventure in the South Western Bolivia. The town was literally in the middle of nowhere, surprisingly quiet with numerous tour agencies, lodges and restaurants, but still quiet.
We got in our Land Cruiser, all set for what was to come in the next few days. We started off by visiting the Train cemetery first, called ‘cemetery’ because it has been abandoned since the 19th century when Uyuni used to be the home to rail car factory and used to transport minerals to the Pacific. Seeing the abandoned old, rusty trains and tracks felt bit ghostly but it was still awesome. Great place for photos btw!
We drove for few more hours and reached what we all had been waiting for and what was supposedly the highlight of the trip. Salar De Uyuni. Standing in the world’s largest salt flat, Salar De Uyuni, felt like a whole different planet.
It was miles and miles of just white land and anyone could mistake it for snow, but it was all salt. 1200 sq. km of never- ending salt. We took numerous photos and spent almost three hours looking staring at the salt and the sky, trying to figure out how did this even happen. Never saw a place that alluring, that surreal!
Our next destination was Isla Incahuasi or the Fish Island. It was a rocky terrain full of giant cactuses. The story behind this island wasn’t explained very clearly but from what I understood, the Inca people used to come and rest in this island while they were travelling. It used to be a ‘real island’ in the prehistoric times but I still found no connection why it was called Fish Island but well, some things are better left unknown I guess.
That was it for the first day. We saw three places and each of them so unique and incredible. Couldn’t wait for what tomorrow had in store for us. We reached our ‘salt hotel’ that night and I thought it was just a name of our hotel but least did I know that the entire lodge would be made of salt. Yes! The entire place was salt. Our beds, our tables, dining hall, chairs, everything was made from huge blocks of salt. We ate like a monster that night, gobbling down everything that was given to us in no time. That’s how hungry we were.
That night sitting outside our little lodge built of salt, watching the Milky Way was the best view of the night sky I’ve ever seen in my entire life. It felt like the sky was full of millions of stars shining so bright like jewels. I ended up staring at the sky for a long time that night just because I couldn’t take my eyes of it. Too bad none of us had good professional cameras to capture that, but hey, what else can capture the beauty of things like this, than our own eyes right?
On the second day, our day started very early. We stopped by Ollague first to see the stunning landscape and take photos. It is nothing more than a rocky area but one can see Volcano Ollague which falls on the Chilean region. Something about this place made me think that planet Mars would be look like this. Probably it was the red colored landscape and rocks.
Lagoons were the next on the list. This region in Bolivia has so many lagoons (as told by our driver- Jose Mar) but we were going to the main ones only. We went to Laguna Canapa first and first thing I see in hundreds of Andean and James flamingos. I’ve never seen flamingos in my life and I was so excited I took tons of photos. I think I do have a thing for flamingos now!
Then we headed to another beautiful lagoon called, “Laguna Honda”. As beautiful as this lagoon was, we could stand here for more than 2 minutes. The winds was so extreme, I swear it could blow a human away. That had me wondering of the extreme climate conditions of this place. In the day time, it was extremely hot and extremely windy at the same time and at night, it was as if I’m in the Himalayas, extreme cold. How do people even survive here? Too much extremes for me!
We then went to two more lagoons Laguna Verde; Green Lagoon. This was like a painting coming to life, with incredible mountains in the background and hundreds of flamingos basking in the sun.
Laguna Colorada; Colored Lagoon is red colored lagoon which got its color pigmentation from some algae formation and volcanic sediments. We couldn’t see the colors properly as the season wasn’t the best for the colors to show clearly (our bad luck) but nevertheless it was simply stunning and our eyes couldn’t absorb enough of these beautiful water bodies. Basically, the second day was just visiting different lagoons but it was an amazing experience.
That night after the delicious Bolivian dinner served by the local Bolivian women with wide yet warm smiles on their faces, who seemed very timid and shy, mostly due to language barriers, I couldn’t help but think how difficult the lives of these people might be. They were living hundreds of miles away from the town without proper electricity, constant shortage of water, their monotonous life of serving tourists like me and yet treated us like their family, with warmth and respect.
I was sitting in a village of the poorest country of South America, eating good food, having good wine yet a connection was missing and couldn’t quite figure what that was. We bundled up in our blankets because the wake- up time next morning was 4am. Yes, that’s right 4 AM!!! I went to bed that night with strange thoughts in my mind.
Following day which was also the last day, we drove early in the morning to see the desserts and natural geysers. First, we made stop in a place called Sol de Manana or Sun of Tomorrow. We were right in time for sunrise and witnessed this beautiful sun coming up. The highlight of this place was the natural geysers and even though the smell of the sulfur hit me, I went close to it and put my hands near it to make it warm.
Next was this beautiful crisp desert which seems untouched and were told that it was the famous ‘Dali desert’ that famous painter, Salvador Dali envisioned and painted and was later named after him. It was like a painting indeed. We went to Siloli desert after that and it was just as incredible.
I knew that Salt Flats would be the highlight of this trip and I pretty much didn’t expect to see anything noteworthy after seeing that. But I was proved so wrong. Bolivia has been a constant heart throbbing experience. I’ve never seen such beautiful landscapes, out worldly lagoons and unprecedented weather conditions. I come from Himalayas and trust me I know how extreme cold feels like but this was crazy.
It was the last day and all of us fell sick due to altitude, lack of sleep and probably just because missed seeing some sort of civilization again. But the thrill to see amazing Bolivia travelling off road for days, breathtaking views, out of the world places was incomparable to anywhere I’ve ever been in my life. As this wonderful trip was coming to end, I was nothing but thankful to all the wonderful people I met in Bolivia who made this an unforgettable trip.