After breakfast it was time for the mummies. All of us had to buy a ticket for 30 bolivianos (it also includes entry to small museum and one use of public toilet – which is normally 5 bolivianos). We had to wait for driver to return for us, he told us it might take him thirty minutes. So we waited. Thirty minutes, then forty five minutes and then an hour. We decided to start walking there on our own (it is roughly 4km from the hotel) accompanied by a friendly village dog.
After 15 minutes we saw a car coming down – it was our driver. He told us to wait for him there. In next 10 minutes he picked us up and brought us to the small house where excursion to cave with mummies started. It was quite interesting but sad at the same time. I would not want my remains to be tourist attraction (I know it is hypocritical from me as I went there and had a look myself but I did not know I will feel like that when I saw them on my own eyes). Anyway after this experience we wanted to walk to first volcano view-point, driver told us that we have to be back in an hour and half as there will be another car with other group of people waiting for us. We made it but it was not easy. We walked harder trails, but what got us here was altitude. We had to stop every hundred or so meters to catch a breath. The view in the end was worth it, weather was great and volcano had many different colors. We just wished we had more time to spent there. Shortly before our way back to the car we met two guys with a local guide, they walked to the crater of the volcano. They told us they had to start really early in the morning as the way up there and back takes more than 8 hours (it costs 500 bolivianos per person if you want to go to the top).
We were running down to make it in time, no legs broken, we safely made it to the car (with new driver and new people to talk to). On our way to cactus island we stopped at the salt flat for photos again. This time it was even better as our driver had a plastic dinosaur in the car. It is really great prop to have when you are taking pictures there. There was also little bit of water and we had a chance to walk in it (ladies from our car told us it is great for skin and painful joints). The only problem was that salt crystals are really sharp and after few steps we felt really sorry that our flip-flops are at the bottom of our big backpacks (thus unreachable).
After that it was few hours drive to get to cactus island (Incahausi). We had to pay entrance fee again (30 bolivianos per person). It was quite an interesting place with lot of cactuses, it is hard to believe that you have a place like that in the middle of salt flats.
To make this place even more interesting, we were switching car again (hopefully for the last time). We met our last group of people (four chinese tourists) which we were suppose to spent next three days with. As before only seats available were the ones at the back of the car. It was a long ride to our next hotel, at least two hours. When we finally got there, hotel was empty, our driver knocked on the door and then called the agency. Owner and the rest of the stuff were in Uyuni as there was some kind of fiesta (which we did not know about) and it would take them at least an hour to get here. So the decision was made to leave our backpacks there (outside right in front of the door) and went out for a sunset. It was amazing experience (again) only thing we did not like was strong wind which brought lot of sand crystals with it.
When we got back from sun set it was dinner time, tasty chicken with fries (and no rice!). After that we paid for a shower (10 bolivianos per person). Showers are not included in price of hotel anywhere in salt flats (at least that is what we were told in all the agencies). Shower was necessary after hike to volcano viewpoint this morning. This hotel was better than the previous one, they even had electricity available whole night for our phones to charge. We decided to go for a sunrise next morning, thanks to little misunderstanding we were out of the hotel 40 minutes earlier than was necessary. That was the time needed for Sun to appear over the mountains in the east. But I am glad we did it as it was another magical experience (we were the only ones outside as the rest of our group prefered to sleep).
After breakfast we were on our way again, first stop was at the viewpoint of one semi active volcano. It was quite far but we were able to see some smoke rising from the side of the mountain.
There was a shop, chorizo burger stall and even toilets available (for 5 bolivianos). After this we were going to lagoons (and lunch server by our friendly driver Lino). There were some flamingos at first lagoon but they were quite far, still we were excited as it was first time we saw flamingos in the wild. After lunch it was time to move to another lagoon. This time flamingos were much closer (we found out that young ones are not as colorful as adults – they are just gray). Our driver told us that flamingos spent whole life in the lagunas, pooping in it (and providing food for bacteria) and then eating what ever grows there (thanks to their own poo). We had two more places to visit that day – Stone tree and Laguna colorada. It was important to get to the last lagoon in time. Our driver told us that without sunlight it loses a lot of its amazing red color and it was already getting late. So we pushed on.
First stop was at the Stone tree. We had 20 minutes to spent there. Everyone wanted to use toilet (they were suppose to be free there). There were some arrows pointing to bathrooms (banos) so we followed them. Funnily enough when we got to the building there were some guys working on it. They told us we can go to any rock we like and do our business behind it (really for free). After that was time to look at the rock, it looks lot more spectacular in the agencies brochures. Still it was interesting to see (I think the rock is of volcanic origin) and it really looks like a tree. It was very windy so we were glad to go back to car and continue to Laguna colorada. Before we left there was a short delay as wild fox appeared near the parking place, we were not allowed to leave the car as overly friendly fox might be dangerous. After some “oohs” and “aahs” from our chinese companions and some pictures we were on a way.
Laguna colorada is in the national park (Reserva Nacioinal de fauna andina Eduardo Avaroa), entry fee is 150 bolivianos (not included in the tour fee, but you can stamp your passport in the office once you write down your details and pay the fee). Stop at the lagoon was very short as it was even more windy than at the Stone tree. The view was amazing, even though you have to wait a little to get a nice shot without tourists. This time we saw what was in the agency brochure, lagoon had really beautiful red color and mountains all around it were just spectacular.
This was the end of third days program and our hotel was less than an hour away. Or should have been, we were half way there when we heard a strange sound from the bottom of the car. Our driver stopped and investigated. Something related to shock absorber broke up. He put on fancy overalls and went out (and under the car) to fix it. He was back in ten minutes, it was impossible to fix the issue. Luckily it was not end of our tour, we only had to drive much slower. Hostel was not as nice as the previous one, electricity time was limited. Dinner was much simpler (soup and spaghetti with vegetable sauce) but our table got a bottle of wine (probably ordered by the agency as no other tables got it). This night we had to share a room with two girls from our group, which was not a big issue, until one of them started to snore (really loudly – I could not believe that such a small person can snore like that).
We had to wake up at four o’clock in the morning to make it to geysers in time. Even with broken car we made it. The place was already full of tourists. First attraction was hot steam vent. It was artificial, pipe in concrete with some valve hidden nearby. It is possible to stick a hand in the steam (it is not too hot) or jump through it if you are brave enough. After that you can walk among the hot springs. You’ll never be able to get that close in Yellowstone. In this place there were no fences or other restrains. Also there were no geysers erupting water (or mud), just hot bubbling pools and lot of steam. Next stop was small village with one more lagoon (and flamingos) and hot pools. We only had an hour to spend there and half of it was necessary for breakfast. Still we paid six bolivianos and entered hot pool. It was amazing especially after very cold morning (thanks to the altitude it was -10 of celsius at the geysers).
We did not even get out of the car at the Dali’s desert. Only took some pictures through the windows. It was nice but we saw so many sandy mountains and rocks in past few days that it was not worth the time. One last stop was at twin lagoons (blanca and verde). White lagoon was white but green one was brown, our driver told us that it is green only when it is windy as bacteria, which gives it a green color, are at the bottom and strong wind is needed to lift them to the top. This was pretty the end of our bolivian adventure. You can read more about crossing to Chile here.