Because of a lack of wifi, we missed a good offer on our tent, meaning we are still carrying it around. And stuff you carry on your back, you might as well use. So while booking a tour to the famous Uyuni salt flats, Thomas casually informed about camping options, eager to start a new adventure.
Romance is not dead
Since competition amongst tour agencies is tough, Thomas’ eagerness for adventure was matched by the agency’s eagerness to make a sale. Without hesitation we heard the words: ”Sure, no problem, of course you can camp there.”
We were over the moon. It was surely going to be a unique experience and we were going to be the only ones there. The stars would be superfluous and romance would be in the bloody cold air. In short, we couldn’t wait.
Preparing without knowing what to expect
The first day we would visit lagoons, flamingos and a vulcano before being dropped off at our camping spot. On the way there, dinner would be arranged and the camping could commence.
We had packed headlights, lots of layers, bought new Lama sweaters and made sure we could survive at least two days on the amount of cookies we had with us. That is, if I could keep them away from Thomas long enough. I like a challenge though.
By the time we were getting close to the salt flats, it became clear that it had rained. Only a little, according to our guide and he also assured us that after rain, it would normally be dry for at least a few days.
Our driver was less comfortable with our camping plans and tried to drop us as close to their go-to hostel as possible, meaning not even close to the flats.
Even our guide was having second thoughts by then, mainly because of the cold. We convinced them to take us to the flats anyway, only to discover that they were completely flooded.
We found a sort of dry spot near the entrance and checked the ground to see if our pegs would be able to go in. It looked piercable enough and we had brought a rock to hammer our pegs through the hard spots. We asked one more time if the water would rise more and after a reassuring response, we decided to go for it.
The catch? Our driver and guide did not want to leave us there, since we didn’t have had dinner yet. They dropped us back at the hostel, while pointing out recognisable things along the 5km road that we’d have to walk back after dinner. In the dark. With our final thumbs up, they left.
The escape plan
We, by then, were very aware of the risk we were taking. Camping off the grid in Bolivia, a country we had only just entered, in circumstances that we knew little about. We had made the deal that our ”in case of emergency plan” was walking back a kilometer to a kind of motel looking building and hope for the best.
We ate dinner in no time, changed into our thermo layers, put on our headlights and looked at each other for the final go. We were on our way!
Light up the darkness
Oh my, those stars that were peeking through the clouds. And oh my, those cars that were rambling along the dirt road we were following.
Lots of 4x4s were still coming from the flats and we were the only ones on foot. With all the stories about reckless driving in Bolivia, we signalled every vehicle with flashing headlights.
Halfway, we noticed another light. Majestic lightning flashes colored the horizon. So far away that we couldn’t hear any thunder. We were intruiged but not really worried. We did realize that on a salt flat, you don’t want a thunderstorm near you.
Stop. Hammer time
We made it. All we needed now, was a safe spot for our tent. What worried us was the huge amount of 4×4 tracks and the knowledge that at 4:30 cars would come and watch the sunrise. We didn’t feel like waking up to a 4×4 running over our tent.
It turned out there was only one safe spot and we started pitching our tent. After 30 minutes we came to the conclusion that: A. The top layer of salt was to mushy because of the rain to hold a peg. B. The bottom layer was to hard to penetrate in the spot we picked, even with our hammer rock. Shit.
It was time to give up. To make sure we weren’t out in the cold in vain, we at least wanted to do a little stargazing before returning. We turned off our headlights and looked up. In 30 minutes the sky had become completely cloudy.
To be honest, we were getting “a little” cold and decided that the motel looking building was our best bet. We didn’t want to take the risk of walking back 5 kilometers, only to find out that the hostel we ate dinner at would be full.
We’re not salty about it
You might think that we’d be disappointed about this setback. But once we opened the door of our best bet, we saw that we were in a real salt hotel. Yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like. Everything is made of salt. The lady behind the desk looked pretty surprised at the sight of two muddy, cold and happy travellers late at night.
The downside? These hotels are crazy expensive. We quickly decided on a budget and then even managed to negotiate a pretty good price. We looked it up. On booking.com it was €149 for one night and we paid a grand total of… €30!!!
We entered our room and at that moment it started to rain. Heavily. If you think that we were happy to be inside by then, you can imagine our joy when right above our heads thunder and lightning crashed with great force. We got lucky.
Needles to say, we slept like babies in our cozy salt beds. The next morning, we walked back to the hostel, had breakfast and waited for our guide to take us to the salt flats for some cheesy but awesome pictures.