Travel

Salt flat snapping in Bolivia

RUNNING from a dinosaur.

Being blown away by a hairdryer.

Kung fu fighting.

I've always loved photography but taking advantage of the unique perspectives offered by kilometres of white salt on the Bolivian salt flats was more fun than I could have imagined.

The driver of our four-wheel-drive, Obert, became our official snapper as we lay on a Lays packet, kicked each other in the bum and became miniature versions of ourselves.

Although the tourist popular Salar de Uyuni was affected by a rare rain event, we got a small snapshot of the vast expanse of salt and the small villages nearby with buildings constructed with salt bricks.

'We' included two young English lads fresh out of university, a youthful Canadian couple hoping to retire soon to become nomads, my new Aussie friend Stephanie, myself and Obert.

We were all crammed into the four-wheel-drive for three days on the salt flats and through the Atacama desert with all our bags piled on the roof.

Stephanie and I had caught a bus from La Paz to Uyuni, only selecting our tour from the 80 or so operators upon arrival.

We had chosen the Todo Turismo bus for $32, thinking it would be more comfortable than the $10 public bus.

I dread to think what the public bus was like because I cannot remember a worse bus ride in all my travels.

Made considerably worse by the fact I vomited one hour into the 10-hour overnight trip.

Bad food in La Paz, I suspect.

And it was so bumpy that a book behind a bag six rows back flew forward to hit my friend in the head.

She still had an egg on her head a week later.

We have never been so happy to get off a bus.

But Uyuni is not the kind of town one stays long, rather a charmless and dirty pitstop on the way to the salt flats.

The shining light in the town was Minute Man Pizza, which has the most amazing spicy llama and pesto pizza. The hot chocolate was the best I've had in three months in South America.

But the main reason you should take a visit to this cosy restaurant is to check out the photos on the walls.

They have almost every photo option for taking advantage of the unique photo perspectives offered by the salt flats.

Tuck all the ideas away and make sure you have the right props to get the best shots.

After the salt flats we visited a train graveyard in the desert for a few industrial shots and then hightailed it to our first stop - in the middle of nowhere.

A serious rollover just outside Uyuni had us a little worried but we had done our research and had faith in booking with Red Planet.

Read blogs on the internet, get a few quotes, talk to other travellers arriving back from their journeys and pick the one with the least bad feedback.

Our four-wheel-drive broke down repeatedly because of an electrical problem but there was always another vehicle ready to help if you ended up on the side of a road.

It's hard to hold the breakdowns against them though because they traverse some fierce terrain in that desert, making for a bumpy trip.

We all bundled into a dorm room for the first night where I learned I snored, groaned and talked in my sleep. Oops.

The next day we climbed over amazing rock formations, saw pink flamingos on a green magnesium and sulfur lake and stood in awe, frozen to the bone, to look at a red lagoon, colored by the iron and algae within.

Our second night, sleeping at 4500m, was freezing but our hot water bottles really did the trick.

We were up at 4.30am for a 5am start.

First stop, the geysers.

These incredibly loud plumes of steam, about 80C, shoot high into the air from bubbling mud ponds in the crater of a volcano.

You can only see them before the sun rises because the wind usually blows them flat later in the day.

It's only as first light arrives that you truly realise you are at 5000m on top of a volcano.

About 20 minutes later we had to stop for a flat tyre, something we had watched happen to dozens of others.

But standing in the dark outside our vehicle in below zero temperatures at that altitude was horrendous.

We huddled together for body warmth until the tyre was changed.

Three of us decided to jump in the 35C hot thermal spring a little further down the road and it was a great decision.
Psyching myself up to get out into the barely above zero atmosphere again was a real task though.

Our border crossing from Bolivia into Chile was relatively painless and we found ourselves in a charming town called San Pedro de Atacama.

We paid a little extra for an ensuite at Hostel Campo Base and it was well worth it for the hot shower.
If you have time, it's worth spending a few days there.

But I had to get out of there to ensure I caught my plane from Salta in Argentina.

The bus ride over the Andes to Salta is spectacular and the city has a great nightlife if you can find a local pena.

I recommend La Casona del Molina which is about 20 blocks out of the city (about five minutes by taxi).

Unlike the staged commercial venues in town, this pena has a string of locals turning up for impromptu jam sessions.

Guitars. Drums. Recorders. Everyone joins in to sing the Argentine classics.

Next, and final stop, is Patagonia in Argnetina's south to see the impressive glaciers.

Hasta luego.

A Latin Affair is a travel column written by Rae Wilson.

Topics:  bolivia, photography



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