Bolivia had treated us well but we knew our time there had to end at some point. After a month and a half of volunteering at a small organic farm we decided to stretch our legs and let our hands recover from the calluses. We had the idea of travelling for about 10 days before making our way through the land border into Paraguay, ultimately transiting into Brazil.
Travelling during the pandemic sure has its downfalls like border restrictions and Covid tests but the flip side is that there aren’t as many tourists out at the moment to obscure the fantastic views and landscapes. Much of our last 10 days in Bolivia was being spent on our bums being driven around. Bolivia is a vast country and it is easy to spend 8 hours plus on a bus getting from place to place. All of it so worth it. If you are lucky enough to get a day bus you are awed continuously by incredible landscapes. In all honestly we did not know much about Bolivia when we arrived. We had no idea that it is home to the largest Paleontological site in the world. We had no idea that seeing thousands of dinosaur prints would blow our minds. The one thing we had heard about and was really excited to see was Salar de Uyuni – the Salt Flats of Bolivia.
Unlike most tours that start before sunrise, this two night- three day tour began mid-morning. We really appreciated the fact we did not have to wake up at the crack of dawn, although the one down side to starting so late was that we only arrived at our hotel that night after 9pm and still had yet to eat dinner. The salt flats really aren’t something I can describe. The thought of describing it now scares me a little. I am not a professional writer and have not been taught to write. Thinking back to what we saw that first day on the flats, all words fail me. It was an experience that surges through all your senses. The air smelt crisp but salty, sunglasses were absolutely necessary because the intensity of the reflection from the white salt would hurt your eyes and the beauty that was held in the nothingness of the landscape was incomprehensible.
We got some great photos but to get a real idea of what its like it needs to be experienced first hand. The upside of travelling during a pandemic for us was made very apparent here. Prepandemic our guide said it was not uncommon to see 250-300 cars in a day on the salt flat, saying we saw about 15 could be an exaggeration on my part. At one point whilst driving over the salt flats there were no points of reference… at all. If you lost your course it would be extremely difficult to find your way back. This is when we found out that compasses don’t work there. Thankfully our guide knew the area better than we did.
Day two and three were spent mainly driving around through deserts and over mountains. It is absolutely necessary to do this trip in a 4×4. At times we drove over soft desert sand and at others we were slowing climbing up rocky hills. We stopped at many lakes (green and red ones!) saw thousands of flamingos, swam in thermal pools, felt the rush of steam standing next to sulphuric geysers. The list goes on and all of it being as breath-taking as the last. We signed up for the tour desperate to see the salt flats, we had no idea the other wonders we would come across. WE DROVE THROUGH SNOW IN THE DESERT. A lot of the time was spent driving through deserts but we were not hot. The journey never dropped below 3900m above sea level, the highest point during the trip being 5010m above sea level. In the three days we spent on the tour we covered over 1200km, most times not following any roads or tracks, the last 80km heading back to the town was the only tarred bit of road we used.
I am writing this post while relaxing for what feels like the first time in weeks in a comfortable bedroom of a friends house. After the trip to Salar de Uyuni we headed straight for the Bolivia/Paraguay border. In 4 days we had spent close to 35 hours in busses. We did miss bus rides however after crossing into Paraguay because since the Pandemic, Paraguay had not had busses from the border to the next town- a cool 250km away. Luckily enough we had met some locals in the area that were heading in the same direction that we were able to share a ride with.
One more overnight bus and we were settled in Asuncion for a very quiet Christmas.
We have about a week left in Paraguay before heading to Brazil. And in that time we will be staying with a Paraguayan family just out of the city, fulling our days with little excursions and learning a new language – Guarani.