Thursday, April 25, 2013

Salt Flats of Bolivia. Uyuni to Jirira. Posada Dona Lupe is a must stay!

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This bus is freezing! 
The window has slowly worked open.
My attempts to shove a plastic bag in the gap is somewhat dismal in stopping the freezing wind.
My back aches.
I feel a right sciatic pain.
My socked feet are completely numb, yet in pain.
I am twisted into two seats with my son on my lap, swathed in two blankets, as thick as horse-rugs.
They are so warm, yet I so wish for another, as they do not vet the cold nearly enough.
So I sit as we twist through this snaked road, and watch as the sun rises.
I watch signs change for llamas, alpacas, ostriches, and biqunyas.
And the wildlife present themselves sporadically along the road – it is glorious to see. 
We pass mining towns, deserted mines, deserted houses, poor houses, and desert sands.
Slowly we see blue or pink salt pools by the side of the road.
Then dusty Uyuni is upon us.
We are over one and a half hours late, and this will cut my time down to find a tour for today.

As we disembark, we are ambushed by a good dozen or so Bolivians
armed with pamphlets to book Salt Flat tours.
I say a quick prayer for God to guide me as to whom to use.
I am over being ripped off by tours. Yet we want to leave today.
A lady keeps approaching me – she only speaks Spanish but I am drawn to her.
She grabs my suitcase and we head off to her office – 3 blocks away.
She informs me a man who speaks English will be there soon.
It is in a restaurant so we order desayuno – or breakfast.
After a good half hour he arrives.
He speaks a little English and I specify I want to stay in a Salt Hotel,
and we decide on a two day tour.
He throws in today’s breakfast for free.

I have less than an hour to repack my bags, sleeping bags and then discover we need
old shoes and clothes – oops – we just gave them all away in Arequipa – oh well.
The 4WD arrives.  “Uyuri Tours – 20 years and first company on the salt flats”
sports their door sticker.
We introduce ourselves to the other 4 clients.
There is a lady who has flown from Japan just to see the Salt Flats.
She thinks my son is gorgeous!
We talk and I discover she has paid about a 1/3 of my price.
I am also told we get special treatment.
Ninos (my son) gets the front seat at all times.
Guess this comes with the price.

We head off and visit the Train Cemetery.
This is close to town and we climb about old rusty beasts.
The railway line fades to oblivion in the distance.
We are told we have ten minutes – this turns into at least ½ hour.

We climb back in and offer the Japanese man the front seat.
My son starts a big whinge about how we paid premium for that seat.
The driver tells him he is not to sit there again.
I feel bad.
I talk to my son about sharing.
After a dusty ½ hour we head onto the salt flats.
We visit a small town, and shop at the markets.
We add to our international Christmas Tree ornaments
– we are collecting key-rings and turning them into decorations
for our International Christmas Tree.
I am amazed how inexpensive things are and have to hold myself back from buying more.
But fortunately we are out of time.
However, I do buy salt dice; a salt pot; and a salt trinket box -
– all of which my son has licked to confirm they are salt.
Cramming back into the old 4WD, we head off to the salt piles. 
We are told this once was a lake.

Now we are presented with men with shovels making piles of salt to dry it.
Old trucks drive away piled high with the dry salt.
Bicycles lay near where the men sit and rest.
You can only see their eyes – they are completely wrapped up.
The white salt acts as a mirror to the sun, and burns the skin.
Small pyramids and cones of salt sit in divided squares.
Many are surrounded by water.
We jump around and take some funny snaps.

My son eats the salt.
Licking his hands he is amazed that what looks like snow, is salt.
It is as cold as snow outside.
Only a few degrees Celsius.
Next thing I see my son land in the water.
He has attempted to jump a salt pile and fallen off.
Shoes off, he is hopping around complaining about the freezing temperatures.
We have a great time – our Japanese lady on our tour has our camera and takes some great shots. 
Climbing over bags, I notice how dust has now become the underlay for salt.
Things are filthy.
Next, as we drive over the white salt plains.
We are informed we have a strict 10 minutes for photographs at the Salt Museum Hotel.
No way !!!
I have so wanted to see this.
And my son has lined up a heap of poses he wants to try for infinity photographs.

And I need a toilet.
We race around.
We meet some Australians who help us with our photos.
We laugh as my son decides he wants to “kiss Mamma’s butt”.

Then there is the island of flags.

Oh – where is that loo?
We go into the museum and we find we have to purchase an item at a massively inflated price to enter.
We decide the price of the Banos at $1 AU is our entry ticket. 

As we go in, again I find my son enthralled by the taste of salt.
He is licking things.
I inform him it is meant to be pretend licks.  

Our guide comes and ushers us back to our vehicle.
Our 10 minutes turned into 40 minutes.

He puts his foot down.
We laugh as we notice the speedo isn’t working.
The fuel gauge says empty.
The crack in the windscreen is held together with a boliviano coin. 

We feel after 1 hour that the horizon has not changed.
We have been heading for the volcano.
It seems no nearer.
After what seems an eternity we discover it is nearly 3 pm.
We have had no lunch.
The conversation has died.
I am thankful for my snack pack – a good Mum always has snacks!

We arrive at a rundown Hostel.
We meet the Australians and their team again.
We all sit down for lunch. But the other 4WD has a tablecloth and superior food.
I am internalising the fact I have been overcharged. 
We discover this is where we are meant to stay.
It is a dump.
And it is dirty.
In fact the old lady sits in a dumpy room and charges us to use the toilet.
I then see the terrible room all the rest are sharing.
It has rusty beds, and a mismatch of old linen.
I go to our guide and explain
I am not happy.
For the exorbitant amount we paid compared to others,
I do not want to stay here.
This is meant to be our treat.
To stay in a Salt Hotel.
He tells me we have hotel rooms.
When he shows them to me, they are OK, but I am internalizing my disappointment -
- that this is no Salt Hotel.
I tell him “no”. My son tries to take over and shows him the big “Tahua Hostel” logo
painted to completely cover the wall.
He says he will take us elsewhere.  “Yes please”.
We go outside and then I see my boy chasing llamas and alpacas all over the place.
Next there is one sniffing my hair.
We converse and take some great snaps.

The tour doesn’t want us to leave.
But I want to see the Salt Hotel – my dream.
We drive off for another 20 minutes and come to Jirara.
It is only a hostel.
By now I am in tears.
We are shown a lovely room.
It is so much better.
We are also told we will eat here.
I decide to say yes, even though we are the only guests.
The salt bricks and décor are great.
The rest of the property is rustic.

The town is lonely.
He drives us out to the salt lake and leaves us - and says he will be back in 30 minutes.
As we stand in the vast expanse of white, I feel this is a place of complete quiet -
– a place to hear God, and to feel him.
I feel we are in exactly the right place in our journey of life.
1 hour later it is dark, we are freezing, and our guide returns.
He drives us 500 metres and drops us back to the hostel.
I am completely confused what happened in the last hour.

We grab our jackets and wander around the town.

It is getting dark and the battery is drying on the camera.

Time to explore in the morning.
We head upstairs for dinner – soup and spaghetti.
Nice – the soup is fabulous.
As we go to bed, the old lady fills our hot water bottle in the lovely (kitchen) cocina.
We have stepped back in time.
I am so pleased we are here.
We snuggle into bed and watch a movie.
What a huge day!
Bolivia is amazing.
The Salt Plains are amazing.
This little town of Jirira, has been forgotten in time – it is amazing!

We recommend this Salt Hotel - it is gorgeous, and the family is incredible.
We also recommend Uyuni Tours for assisting us whilst my so was ill - especially the driver and lady in the office.

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