Day 1 of our Salt Flats tour and at 7.30am we loaded our bags onto the roof of the jeep and hit the road. There were 7 of us all up – Wilfredo our driver and guide, Maria his wife and our cook, 3 young Swedish travellers and us.
As it was low season and we didn’t want to wait around town for the perfect tour, we’d had to compromise. We weren’t able to get a guide that spoke English, so we’d be testing our Spanish the next 4 days, and there would be 5 of us on the tour rather than the standard 4, so it was going to be a bit squashy in the jeep. But these were all things we could live with, and we were excited about the adventure ahead.
A lot of people don’t realise that the salt flats themselves are only a small part of the 4-day tour, usually done on the morning of the last day. The first day is known as the driving day. There is a lot of ground to cover and only a couple of stops, so it’s a long, hard day on the dusty and bumpy roads of Bolivia.
We stopped only once during the morning to see our first herd of llamas. It was a couple of quick photos and then back in the jeep to continue on. We also saw a lot of wildlife out the window. We saw our first guanaco (which look a little bit like the llamas), and also the ñandú (an ostrich-like bird).
Our first proper stop of the day, Muyu Kaka, was also our lunch break. Muyu Kaka was a very strange rock formation or hill. I’m not sure quite how to describe it, so will let the photos do the talking. Despite the freezing cold wind, it was an interesting place to wander around and stretch our legs after a long morning of driving.
Hiding in the rocks out of the wind and cold, we had a lovely lunch of chicken, rice, salad and vegetables. Simple but delicious food, it was nice to have vegetables with our meal for a change.
It was also good to be out of the car to get a break from the music. Wilfredo’s driving soundtrack (I think played for our benefit) was a mix of disco hits from the 70s, and 80s pop hits. Not really the soundtrack I’d imagined for driving through Bolivia, but the YMCA will now forever remind me of the trip.
Following lunch we set off again and after another couple of hours drive, we arrived at Pueblo Fantasma. Not quite as exciting as the name sounds, Pueblo Fantasma is a site of some old Spanish ruins, not particularly interesting although I’m sure historically significant. By this point we’d been driving for most of the day and just wanted to reach our accommodation, so perhaps we didn’t properly appreciate it.
Once we’d had a wander around the site (and a quick toilet break in nature), it was back into the car for more driving.
Long after the sun had set for the night, we finally arrived at our accommodation, feeling tired but surprisingly good. We had climbed over 1000m in altitude during the day to over 4000m – the highest we’ve ever been. Apart from a small headache and the usual breathlessness and thirst, we both felt fine.
We sat in a covered courtyard for dinner, Maria’s cooking warming us up and going down a treat after the long day. We went straight to bed after dinner as we had an early start in the morning.
Accommodation on the tour is basic, so we went into our non-heated dorm room, zipped ourselves up fully clothed (including gloves and beanie) into our sleeping bags, covering ourselves with all the blankets we could find and we fell asleep quickly despite the cold.