We were dropped off the first night at the hotel where we happened to be two of the only four guests---in the middle of the salar (salt lake), no electricity, no light, no running water. The entire building and all its furniture were constructed of bricks of salt, and we kept tasting things just to be sure. Yep, the floor is salty, yep, the wall is salty, yep, the bed is salty. My stomach started churning, maybe I shouldn't be licking all the furniture... With the hotel in the middle of the salar, they have to carry away waste in barrels. The toilets are nothing but seat-covered tubes running to a metal drum in back of the hotel. You flushed by pouring a bucket of water down after your droppings. Believe me, a churning stomach under these conditions is not the most welcome experience.
The salt hotel, however primitive, was an incredible experience. And the display of stars that night was the most incredible I've ever seen.
The next three days we continued in the Landcruiser with a small group of tourists past volcanoes and colorful lakes stopping to take pics of wading pink flamingos and deserts straight out of a Salvador Dali painting. The nights were freezing, my stomach never stopped churning, but the trip was well worth it.
At 5:30 this morning they took us to a hot spring pool at about 4,500km in freaking-cold altitude surrounded by ice. When we arrived there was a group of 20 bundled tourists dipping their fingers and toes in, shaking their heads and looking at each other. I had slept cold that night and was really looking forward to this bath, and there was no way I was letting the cold scare me away. I had even slept in my bikini in anticipation of this moment. Being a hot spring veteran in Japan (as I like to think of myself, ho ho) I knew it would be all right as soon as I was in the water. I stripped out of my hat, scarf, gloves, winter coat, clothes etc. and jumped in as quickly as possible. People thought I was nuts. Some people even applauded. Eventually a few more brave souls joined me and convinced the others that it was really nice. All they needed was for sometime to break the ice, literally.
Freezing outside, toasty warm insideI crossed the border into northern Chile today. Prices are shocking compared to Bolivia but showers are hot and I feel like I'm in civilization again. I'll try to put up pics soon, but the internet connection is still slow here...
Thanks everyone for your birthday messages!