Caliente has 2 meanings!
The following day we had booked ourselves into a 4 day tour of the famous Bolivian Salt Flats. The 4 of us and Siobhan (our 5th honorary member) piled into our jeep together with Santos (our driver) and his wife Celia (our cook), both who were to become our adoptive parents over the next few days.
Day one of the tour was interesting. Our first stop was at a dormant volcano and then we stopped for lunch just passed a town that looked completely deserted. Santos was pretty adamant that we didn’t go back to look at the town, we soon found out why. While eating our lunch from the back seat of the jeep we saw herds of children running our way. It was only the little girls that were brave enough to go first. They stood awkwardly watching us eating our lunch until the guilt got too much for us. We gave the group of girls a packet of biscuits to share which straight away the oldest girl stuffed into her jumper to hide. We quickly saw all the boys of the town running our way too. By then we had finished our food and had given away all our treats. Celia packed all our extras into a bag and gave it to the kids who were delighted and ate the whole thing straight away.
We all felt a bit heartbroken driving away from the kids after that but Santos packed up the jeep and on the road again….. Short lived though as we quickly got a puncture. Not surprising as the conditions of the “road” were pretty dangerous. Poor Santos, stuck in a jeep with 5 girls, had to try to fix the tyre until we stepped in. We managed it between us (i.e. we managed to get the tyre back up on the roof of the jeep AFTER Santos had fixed the whole thing). This is obviously pretty common as he had overalls at the ready.
Onward through the desert, mountains and lagoons to the small town of San Antonio De Lipez, 4200 metres above sea level. The place we were staying in was basic to say the least. It was a concrete room with mattresses on top of concrete bases. Lights off at 9. There were a few other groups staying with us but our protective “dad” Santos encouraged us to have an early night as we were up at 5am the next day. It was quite cold that night so we all slept in our clothes, tracksuits, hoodies, hats and wooly socks.
Early start, coffee had by all to keep us awake. Off on the jeep to the National Park. We finally were brave enough to ask Santos if we could play some of our music… or as Eimear put it “To rock out Boliviano style”. Eimear offered up her playlist first, which included such gems as…. Vengaboys- Boom boom boom, Aqua- Doctor Jones and also Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff- Boom boom Shake shake the Room (which lasts over 7 minutes). When Will Young- Evergreen came on, and we saw Santos’s face, we quickly replaced Eimear’s playlist with Maggy’s more appropriate playlist of bangin’ choons. With this as the backing track to the day we saw some beautiful sights, The Red Lake, The Green Lake, The White Lake (due to different gases and sediments from the surrounding volcanoes) and finally to the Aquas Caliente (Hot Springs), what we had been really waiting for all day. We hadn’t showered in 2 days, this was like heaven in the form of a big shared bath. We have all gotten very close on this trip.
That night we were kept in a separate hostel from the rest of the groups. We thought it was really odd until a few days later we found out an interesting fact. We had kept asking Santos to open the windows because we were so “caliente”, which to our horror, it turns out means not that we are hot but that we are horny! Poor Santos and his wife must have been horrified by our openness and thus kept us away from the other jeeps containing any form of males.
Day 3 was more lakes and lagoons and mountains. We saw cool rock formations from when a volcano erupted. We got to see a live smoking volcano and geysers that were literally spitting magma. Sarah and Eimear ventured the recommended 5 metres from the geysers only to have to hurry back to the car because of the smell of sulpher. The jeep stank of eggs for quite a while after that.
That night was spent in the Salt Hostel. A hostel built entirely of salt, the seats, tables and even chandeliers made of salt. Maggy licked the walls…. They did NOT taste good.
Final day, although we had had a great time, we were exhausted from the early mornings and non stop driving. Finally on to the Salt Flats. The highlight of the tour. We got up at 4am to watch the sun rise over the salt plains. Very rosemantic. After breakfast we went to take our “loco photos”. The Salt Plains once used to be a lake but was evaporated by the sun and thus remains the salt. We had so much fun taking pictures although after an hour and a half we had exhausted the models inside us and had used up all our props. The pictures will explain it all. Note: it takes at least 10 mins to coordinate every photo…..with Eimear being an instruction Nazi, shouting at everyone to move positions.
And so the tour came to an end in Uyuni and we said our goodbyes to Santos and Celia. Kissing and hugging isn’t big in Bolivia or maybe it was something to do with our references to being caliente but either way they rejected our affections and we ended having a very awkward farewell.
The 5 of us decided to get straight out of the filthy little town of Uyuni and straight on the bus to Potosi to blow up some stuff.……