Juliaca was established as a watering station for steam locomotives on the edge of the salar, half way between the town of Uyuni and the Chilean border, on the line joining the mining city of Potosi to the Chilean port of Antafagosta on the Pacific ocean.
The town is slowly dying now that trains drawn by diesel locomotives go right through without stopping.
We were glad to get here for Doro had promised that a woman acquaintance of his would prepare an "asado" (grilled beef) for our lunch.
As usual, the noon train whizzed by without stopping on its way to Uyuni and Potosi.
Doro's lady friend prepared lunch as he had said but it was only a watery soup and mediocre spaghetti.
She did not want to be photographed nor did she feel like talking to us even though she did speak some Spanish in addition to her native Quechua.
This could have been a church but there was nobody around to ask about it.
After lunch we drove closer to the endless salar where I spotted this lone shepherd with his flock of sheep.
Moving west we passed these few houses and a cattle corral on our way to the village of Jubica on the edge of the salar.
The Colque Hotel offers this great view over the small village of Jubica on the edge of a large peninsula that extends into the Salar Uyuni. The salar covers about 12 000 square kilometres at an altitude of 3560 meters. It is relatively young in geological terms and the salt layer seldom exceeds 6 to 8 meters thick. It is a remnant of the huge Andean Minchin sea that extended from the Chilean border south well into Peru in the north 40 000 years ago. This inland sea dried up leaving behind the Titicaca, Uru Uru and Popoo lakes as well as the Coipasa and Uyuni salars.
The Colque Hotel was well built by people who knew something about the hotel business but now, it is very poorly managed by the local people who took over when the original owners left.
Actually, I can't really say that it was managed, the term "occupied" would be more appropriate. It had no staff other than a old Quechua woman who sold beer. Doro and the other drivers could use the kitchen but they had to bring their own food. We had vegetable soup and anaemic spaghetti again while some other groups had chicken or steaks.
A lot of beer was sold that night and it got quite noisy.
The next day, February 19th, was the day of crossing of the salar!
The weather was great but Doro was drunk after boozing all night with the other drivers. We did not leave before 9 o'clock but then he was very much in a hurry and I had to insist for him to let me take this picture of the Jubica church.
Very soon we had caught up to other 4by4's racing over the flat salt pan at breakneck speeds.
Doro was having a great time calling out to the other drivers in Quechua and making obscene gestures at them.
Most drivers slowed down when we came to a place where the salt was covered with water but Doro and this SUV raced on...
... we would pass them on our right...
... and they would catch up and pass us on our left.
It did not look too dangerous considering there was nothing to hit ... except one another, but I felt uneasy to be at the mercy of a drunken driver.
The alcohol and the excitement of driving so fast put him into an exalted state and he started telling us how important his family was and how he was the best driver on the salar!
Something was wrong in his head. The three of us were looking forward to our lunch stop at the Isla de Pescado and it was not because we were hungry!
It was a relief to get out of the Land Cruiser! This island, lost in the center of a sea of brilliant white salt, offers great views over the salar with picturesque Cardon cacti in the foreground. It has shops and a decent restaurant but it's a tourist trap for it is an inescapable stop for anyone visiting the salar.
It was given the fancy alias of "Incahuasi" for the tourists.
We were counting that Doro would have time to sober up during the lunch hour but I soon realised that he had joined other drivers in a beer drinking bout in the thatched shack you can see next to the red SUV in this photo. I went in and challenged him to stop drinking or to give me the keys so I could drive. I somehow managed to drag him out of there after some haggling and we left to cross the 70 km expanse of salt to the town of Cachani due east of here.
Doro calmed down and we set off. The view was really stupendous but it would have been more enjoyable without worrying about our driver. We stopped to take this 360 degree panorama shortly after leaving the island.
Crossing a featureless desert like this is like crossing a lake. You aim for some feature on the horizon in order to maintain the same course. After a while I noticed that we were repeatedly creeping to the left and realised that Doro was falling asleep, waking up, correcting his course and falling asleep again! He was driving at 80 km/hr with fully closed eyes. What a ride!
Our destination Cachani, is in line with the 5 950 m Cerro Huanchaca which is the last peak on the right, just left of the big cloud.
A dozen km or so from the shore we came up to another well publicised tourist attraction, the salt hotel. It is entirely built of salt blocks except for the thatched roof with fibreglass skylights.
Even the furniture is made of salt!
Still closer to shore we crossed salt gatherers taking their load to Cachani for processing.
Salt is the livelihood of Cachani's 70 families. They ship some 25 000 tons of salt a year in bulk bags and a variety of retail packages.
Doro drove us first to the train cemetery to look at rusty locomotives before entering Uyuni. I was glad to have arrived and he appeared happy to have delivered his packages safely so all was finishing well.
I took a room at the Kutimuy hotel, visited the town and bought a bus ticket for Potosi the next day. Later, I had a decent dinner with Barbara and Peter before turning in.
It's a big cathedral for a small town!
This shaded street goes from the cathedral to the clock tower. The building on the left is a busy covered market.
Here is the other end with the clock tower where a transversal street is occupied by an open market.
Here are some views of that open market. It leads to Colque Tours' Kutimuy hotel that is the best in town.
I really enjoyed my three day, two night excursion in the altiplano and across the salar.I do recommend it to lovers of mountain scenery.
Looking over what I have written about it I find many negative comments that could
be omitted because they are not very important. I will not, however, remove any of
them because I think it is important to call things the way I see them and because
this excursion could be first rate and world class with only a few minor changes:
- drivers that don't drink and that don't mind talking with tourists
- a minimal amount of documentation about the altiplano and the salar, including a detailed map.
- better food on the road and in the Colque Hotel.
Maybe these minor problems will be solved by the time you, the reader, decide to
go see the Salar Uyuni for yourself!