Thursday, November 30, 2017

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia, November 30, 2017

Tuesday was my 56th birthday and, believe it or not, it was also Leanne's birthday, although she was turning 60.... a bit older than me.  Anyway, I was biking the Death Road and Ninja did get us a cake but I wasn't told anything about it so didn't see it, didn't eat any etc.  So, I decided to buy my own.  Last night I went to the 'cake store'.  Now, I would never think such a place would be busy in a poor town like this but there was a cake box sitting on the counter and the woman in front of me was pointing at the last cake on the shelves.  Talk about good timing!  Anyway, things worked out because I was told to come back this morning at 10 and there would be fresh cakes.  And boy, were there fresh cakes!  There were 11 until I bought one and another woman was waiting behind me to buy her's.  Because today was busy and most people were touring until dark, we're having cake tomorrow for breakfast-

Six of us went with the same tour company to tour Salar de Uyuni.  We started here in Uyuni at the Train Cemetery, then went north to Colchani, then to the Tahua Volcano, then to Isla Incahuasi and home-

The garbage in the Cementerio de Trens dates back to the 19th century when there used to be a rail car factory here.  The railway still runs.  Passenger trains go through Monday and Friday's and cars full of salt go by everyday-

The bathroom, which cost 93 cents to use, the most expensive ever, although you do get toilet paper, had some interesting instruction taped to the back of the door-

Our next stop was Colchani.  Things to do there include visiting the museum of salt carvings-

and shopping for items made from salt.  I bought a small container with a purple flower on the top.  I think I'll put it on my stove and put salt in it, that is if it makes it home without getting smashed-

They also carve animals, clocks and VW beetles of all things out of salt-

Fried llama anyone?  

We left Colchani for the wide blue yonder and came upon a Toyota truck made all of salt-

About 100 million tons of lithium lies under these salt flats.  Both the United States and China want to get their dirty little hands on it.  There's enough to power all computers and electric cars in the world for the next century-

Water percolates to the surface in some areas.  It comes from the nearby mountains and  is about 75% salt.  When you stick your hands into it, they dry white-

These holes are called "Los ojos de sal" - the eyes of salt.  They bubble-

Oxygen comes up through the salt and forms ridges.  The terrain is hard and crunchy-

Six of us plus our driver went in an SUV.  Last night when we booked, we were told we'd have a driver who spoke Spanish and basic English.  Well, our guy didn't seem to think he needed to talk at all.  So, after the Cementerio de Tren, when he returned 15 minutes late, we had a discussion about what we were told and what he was.  He was ready to take us back to the office to discuss what we wanted, but there were 3 of us who could understand enough Spanish to listen and translate for the others, so away we went.  There were a million SUVs around - no seatbelts and some of them drive like crazy.  I guess the good thing is that the land is completely flat and there are no ditches.  All you could hit is another SUV, although 21 people, including 17 tourists have been killed since May 2008 on the salt plains.  

The Playa Blanca Salt Hotel-

 has a monument to the Dakar Rally-

And a flag park-

We played around a bit:  Pauwel, Stephanie, Hugo, Jan, Weibke and I tried running from this monster-

I thought I could take him on myself-

Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt flat is 12,106 square kilometers and it sits at 3653 meters high-

Jan from Holland, Stephanie from Seattle, Pauell from Belgium, Hugo from San Francisco and me-

Our next stop was Volcan Tunupa which sits at 5321 meters-

James's flamingos hang out in the salt water-

Trying to be an athlete!  Surprisingly, I got off the ground a lot higher than I thought-

Our next stop was Isla Incahuasi.  Now it's important to remember that the 'white' used to be water-

The Trichocereus cactus covers the island-

Everytime I looked out at the salt, I felt confusion because I thought I was looking at ice and I should have been cold, yet it was 23 degrees-

Don't the vehicles look like they could be ice fishing-

There are roads, but for some reason our driver thought it best to drive beside the road.  They are smooth as glass-

20,000 tons of salt is excavated annually - 18,000 for human consumption and 2,000 for animals.  Between 40,000 and 25,000 years ago, Lago Minchin covered most of southwestern Bolivia.  After it dried up, the area lay dry for 14,000 years until Lago Tauca appeared but only for 1000 years.  When it dried up, it left two large puddle type lakes and the Salares de Uyuri.  The salt deposits come from the nearby mountains that have leached their minerals-

We're off to Potosi in the morning to tour a working silver mine!

P.S.  My little cook!  Nice boots!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Uyuni, Bolivia, November 29, 2017

Sadly, we left the hotel at 7 this morning via a transfer to the truck that was parked in El Alto.  We had a 9 hour drive to get to Uyuni.  I wish we'd have had another day in La Paz.  It's a great city!

Along the way.....

Oruro has the weirdest building in its main traffic circle.  It's surrounded by animals: frogs, crabs and snakes and there is real grass-

We drove through the industrial part of Oruro - oh what a dump of a place!  Look at the garbage-

Another town had this huge character-

Scenery along the way-

Then we came to these weird rock formations.  I think it must be sandstone that's been shaped by the wind-

Since we entered Peru, we've been driving through desert, hills, sand and land that, unless it's irrigated, is good for absolutely nothing - miles and miles and miles of it.  The buildings are the same-brick or adobe, and there are very few rural people.  I know it's the older generation still farming, that the younger people don't want the hard manual life, but either they're going to have to introduce tractors so fewer people need to farm or........

Uyuni is in the middle of nowhere but we're here to visit the salt flats.  Looking forward to it!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Biking Death Road, Bolivia, November 28, 2017

What a day!  We left La Paz at 8:30 for La Cumbre, which is at 4800 meters.  It was sleeting so I was pretty sure I wasn't getting on a bike but once we got geared up, I was warm, so away I went-

Death Road is 64 km long and mostly downhill except for about 8 km.  We put our bikes on top of the van and drove that part-

Between 200-300 people used to die annually but few cars use the road today.  They've built another safer highway-

We were pretty high and had occasional glimpses of blue sky.  We were told when we booked that we would be given waterproof clothing so I left all mine in my backpack.  It wasn't even close to waterproof!  I was soaked in no time and my hands were numb.  It's hard to squeeze your brakes when your hands are frozen!

As we descended, I warmed up.  I was wearing my runners because my hiking boos were in the truck, far away in a compound, so my feet were soaked.  Once when we stopped, I could actually wring out my socks.  The road is very narrow and there are few guard rails but I went at a leisurely pace and had a great bike:  a Kona with double suspension-

You can see someone from our group in the distance.  That's how far back I was, but there was no way I was going over the cliff and it was my first time mountain biking.  Some people just flew past me-

There were a lot of rocks sticking up on the road but my bike hopped over them like nothing-

There are numerous waterfalls along the way and the water runs across the road-

There is a sharp drop off from the road in a lot of places.  The road is really narrow so it's easy to see how accidents could happen-

The van followed me because I was the last person.  A guide also followed me and asked me one time if I biked!  I started laughing and said that yes, I motor biked and bicycled on flat pavement, not rocks-

We cycled down into the jungle.  The views were great and it warmed up so much-

I was able to get undressed-

They really hype it up.  A few of our group went with a company called Gravity and paid $125 US.  I went with a company we found just down the street for $74 Canadian.  That's quite a difference for the same thing.  I'd rate my experience 6/10.  The scenery was nice but it wasn't anything we haven't seen in the truck.  I'm not an adrenaline junkie so maybe that's the difference-

Once finished, I celebrated with a gigantic beer, then we went to a hotel for another buffet - they are generally horrible: rice, spaghetti, fries - carbs, carbs, carbs-

It took 3 hours to come home in the rain.  The van's defrost either doesn't work or the guides don't know how to use it because they wipe the fog off the windows and keep their windows open.  It was hard to see the edges of the road in a lot of places and our driver was very cautious which was a good thing-

We're leaving at 7 tomorrow for Uyuni, the salt flats.

P.S.  My two favourite people-