We reached the Bolivian border post, a small metal barrier across the road, 16km after leaving Peru to find a couple of policemen on duty but no immigration official. Unable to commence with obtaining the TIP (temporary import pemit) for the car or in fact do anything at all we waited. Eventually, the police tracked down the immigration officer and he turned up (complete with wheelbarrow – still not sure why!) and we could get on our way once we had tried to explain the nuances between Great Britain, the United Kingdom and England. Finding it later than expected (time zone change again catching us out) and being windy and cold we found a roadside camp and supped on vegemite and crisp sandwiches in the tent.
At this point we felt we had some tough decisions to make in terms of wanting to see what Bolivia has to offer, but also being very aware of the onset of winter and therefore decided that our time in Bolivia would have to be short so set off for a couple of days in Sucre before heading west to Uyuni. The drive to Sucre was long, nearly 700km and 12 hours but beautiful as the road took us up through altiplano landscape and past towering mountains, all until the last part, when the tarmac disappeared, the rain set in, and darkness fell. At this point we had no choice but to push on to Sucre along what was now a gravel track, where at times we could hardly see which direction the bends went off at, the hostel was a welcome sight. We used the next day to prepare for our forth-coming expedition across the Lagunas route, by cooking vast quantities of Bolognese and stew ready to heat up again, as well as seeing the sights of the town.
Arriving in Uyuni on the edge of the Salar earlier than expected we decided to see how far onto the salt flat we could get. It being the rainy season, while excellent for mirror pictures, it’s lethal for vehicles. On initial inspection this did not look a good idea judging by the large bus sunk up to its axle and at a very odd angle but having watched a number of 4x4s cross the flooded section we crossed our fingers and went for it – very slowly, in their tracks. Nothing ventured, nothing gained! The salar is the worlds largest salt flat, over 12,000 sq km and at an altitude of 3653m and even the numerous tour groups in their 4x4s look tiny amongst the vast horizon of endless white salt and blue sky. After a few obligatory photos, a stop at the Dakar Rally monument and having coated the car in a thick layer of salt – not a good idea – we returned to Uyuni.
The car was given a thorough wash and oil spray and we had an excellent pizza to warm ourselves up before heading to the extraordinary sight that is the train cemetery just out of town to camp for the night in the shadow of 19th century locomotives lying rusting.
Loaded with fuel, for us and the car and plenty of water we set out for the Lagunas route early next day. The route takes you past a number of lagoons of varied colour, through a range of harsh, diverse landscapes, is nearly treeless and punctuated by volcanoes and thermal hotbeds. As we can not do justice to the landscape in words you’ll just have to enjoy the pictures………..