Snapshot of the Week – San Pedro, Salt Flats, Sucre and Sickness

I love alliterative titles, is that sad? Probably. Do you know what else is sad? Missing a whole town on your tour because you can’t leave your hostel due to food poisoning. More on that later. First, look at our little Lego chappies enjoying the staggering, other-worldy scenery of the Atacama desert. Behind them are the Tres Marias, pillars of sandstone in a salty plain which… well I don’t know what they represent because I don’t speak Spanish, but they look cool.

We enjoyed San Pedro de Atacama and its surrounding desert, but the real reason we were in the Northern-most tip of Chile was a stop on the way to Bolivia, and the ridiculous natural beauty that this country possesses. After an early morning start (and a terrifying minibus ride later), we found ourselves at the rather chilly (or Chile?) and very casual Bolivian border, ready for a 3-day adventure. We were going to see some salt flats, but before that we had red lakes, geysers, altitude sickness, flamingos and multi-coloured deserts to look forward to.

So day one. Starting at 2500m and peaking at 5100m above sea level, we felt light-headed and then some. The locals recommend chewing coca leaves, which does help, but nothing can prepare the body for this kind of change in oxygen levels so quickly. Ploughing through the astoundingly beautiful Salvador Dali desert, both of us struggled to hold down our breakfast. Still, the natural scenery blew our minds a little. Photos don’t do the place justice, but frankly nor do my powers of description. Seeing a lake that is bright red, full of flamingos with an active volcano behind it is one of the highlights of our entire trip. A low point however, was our accommodation that night. 4200m above sea level, it was absolutely FUCKING FREEZING. It also wasn’t very soundproof, so we could hear the delightful effects the altitude was having on our fellow guests’ stomachs in the nearby bathroom. Lovely.

On the plus side – we watched Moana, the new Disney flick. Highly recommend.

The next day was also pretty amazing, with a variety of odd rock formations and llamas aplenty. That afternoon we arrived at the entrance to the flats and the famous ‘Salt Hotel’, which, unsurprisingly, is made almost entirely of salt. It was a massive step up from the previous accommodation (although technically it was a step down, at a far more palatable 3800m), complete with a private room and salt crystal floor.

We awoke at 4am for the sunrise. Now, for anyone who knows me, it is a fairly common fact that I a) love my sleep and b) could probably count the number of sunrises I have seen on two hands. However, I can honestly say I have never been more pleased to have been awake at such an ungodly hour. It was amazing. Wonderful. Mindblowing. Just look at the photos for goodness sake. LOOK AT IT.

 

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The day consisted of slack-jawed admiration, ozone-free, cancerous sun burn and the optical illusion poses now mandatory for this particular trip, taken with the help of our new Brazilian friends with whom we shared our 4×4.

We ended in Uyuni, with a plate full of chicken, which we were soon to regret. Oh so much regret.

During our thrilling eight hour wait in Uyuni for our overnight bus on to Sucre, Mark’s stomach started to rumble. Growl. Bellow. He then made very good friends with the restaurant toilet, and mid way through our – otherwise fairly comfortable – journey, he projectile vomited through the bus doors and set off a series of crying infants.

Arriving in Sucre worse for wear and definitively smellier, I was feeling smug. For once, I had not succumbed to the dreaded traveller’s diarrhoea, the bane of every backpacker. My stomach had finally developed into an iron clad cave of strength and digestion.

A little over an hour later I was bent over a toilet, and there I remained for the best part of three days. Sadly this meant I couldn’t even get through a dinner with a couple of brilliant Aussies we had met back in Mexico (who we persuaded to join us early in Sucre) without cuddling the nearest basin.

Thankfully, after a long day of travel, some SuperNoodles and a New Girl marathon, we are both on the mend and looking forward to exploring our home town for the next four days, Samaipata. Delightfully quaint, this wifi-free hilltop town is the new Mecca for hippies (AKA hipsters before hipsters were cool) and is the ultimate chill destination.

Essentially, the perfect place to nurse our shattered souls and battered bowels (apologies for the visual) get some much-needed miles in our legs and watch season five of New Girl. Hell, we may even do some yoga. Watch this space.

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