And finally it’s time to leave the Salt Flats and head back to civilization. First, though – because it’s a long way from there to anywhere – we had one more day to cross the border into Chile and spend one more night out in the middle of nowhere.
After four days there’s not a lot more to say about the sights. Llamas. More flamingoes. Mountains. Shipping containers for eating and sleeping. Smooth sailing while driving on the salt flats themselves but then plenty of bumpiness once we were back on gravel roads.
One interesting observation. When we crossed the border back into Chile our driver and crew changed. Bolivia doesn’t like Chilean workers coming over so when we were in Bolivia there was a Bolivian crew (driver, cook, helper) who traveled with us. When we got to the border we said goodbye to them and picked up the Chilean crew – driver and cook – for the last night. We were excited about the new cook, a guy in a real chef’s outfit, suggesting even better food. Alas, it was not to be. Notwithstanding the chef-looking clothes, we liked the ordinary Bolivian woman’s food better. There’s a lesson there somewhere.Oh, and another strange observation. We’ve traveled back and forth across the Chilean-Bolivian border a few times now, from Bolivia to Chile to Bolivia to Chile and ultimately back to Bolivia. Now Chile is west of Bolivia and in a different time zone, so you’d expect to set your watch back an hour, right? I mean, if it’s 10 AM in Boston, it’s 9 AM in Chicago. For some strange reason though, going from Bolivia to Chile it works the other way. If it’s 10 AM in Bolivia, it’s 11 AM to the west in Chile. Very strange and very confusing.
So that was it. From the Salt Flats we drove across the border into Chile and spent one last night in a shipping container. Our guide Danilo had figured out that we definitely like to hike so he worked some pleasant hikes into our journey and then finally the last day we drove into Iquique, the strange beach town in northern Chile. I say strange just because, well, everything about it seems strange. Of course what we loved most after five days was having Internet access again. My God, how different life is when you can just look at the news or weather or Facebook whenever you want. Civilization again!
After just one night in Iquique we flew to Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s biggest city, before we head on to Paraguay. Our trip through the Salt Flats and all that hiking was fabulous, but it’s also good to be back to normal.