A Rough 24 Hours

We left you on the dazzling salt flats of Bolivia last time and only half way through the first day of our trip from Uyuni to San Pedro de Atacama. After we’d had fun making our proportionally distorted photographs it was back to the jeeps and onwards to Isla Incahuasi (Fish Island).

The island gets its name because quite simply as you make your way across the salt flats, its fish like shape emerges exactly like a fish out of water. it’s a relic from when the desert was at the bottom of the ocean and it’s made from solidified coral and covered in cacti.

Wearily Dom and I dragged ourselves up the rocky path towards the summit. The island catches the wind on certain sides and as we rounded a rocky point the sound of whistling filled our ears.

This whistling was the wind playing the cactus spines. It was surprisingly loud and totally relentless. We sat to enjoy this odd orchestra for a while and decided that climbing to the top wasn’t actually necessary. We had an unlimited view of the desert from where we sat and frankly we were too tired to bother. Never underestimate how tiring travelling can be.

Back into the jeep it was time to watch the sunset (surprisingly  underwhelming) before taking the road to the Salt Hotel. On the way we passed a beautiful pool full of the most turquoise water I’ve ever seen. Totally natural, it looked as if a trendy designer had dropped it into the middle of the desert as part of an exhibition.

I’m not going to lie, the salt hotel looked pretty rough and ready from the  outside and we were a little apprehensive about facilities for the night. However, inside was a different story. A welcoming foyer with cushion covered salt sofas and cosy rooms awaited us.

Following dinner, it was early nights all round as we’d be on the road by 5.45 the following day.  Dom and I pulled back the curtains and took in the perfectly clear skies with stars twinkling brightly before closing our eyes for a good night’s sleep.

Oh dear, this was not to be. You’ll be glad to hear I won’t trouble your senses with a graphic description of the next few hours. Suffice to say, Dom and I were not at all well. Whereas Dom only had a bad tummy I had to contend with that and vomiting. We were both feeling extremely rough.

And here Red Planet really let us down. Dom had succumbed earlier in the night than I so was a little more able to cope with the situation. Having found the hotel owner he asked for the guide to visit us. Forty minutes later and following another request, Carlos finally arrived bringing his ‘well what do you want me to do about it’ attitude with him.

As he and Dom tried to come up with a solution I had to keep scooting past him to use the bathroom. It was pretty hellish but apparently he still couldn’t see why we couldn’t carry on for another day of jeep tours across the desert with no toilets other than Inca (to remind you, an Inca toilet is basically going alfresco!)

After much debate it was finally agreed that we would be taken back to Uyuni in a jeep while the rest of the party carried on across the salt flats, the Atacama desert and to our final drop off at San Pedro. Once back at Uyuni some way of transporting us to San Pedro would be arranged.

However, Red Planet office in Uyuni had other ideas about this. I could  write for hours and hours about their treatment of us,  their disdain, their unwillingness to help, their total disregard for customer service, but we’d all get bored.

All you need to know is that at first they refused to offer us any help. We emailed STA, whatsapped my brother for details re holiday insurance and even put a call in to the consulate in La Paz (we couldn’t get through). Two simultaneous things occurred which brought about a change so you can decide which one you think helped us the most.

First, I told them there was no point quoting prices for jeeps and transport in US dollars as we were English and used pounds. Secondly Dom, said we’d do all we could to tell all social media outlets about their attitude. Within minutes we were being booked into a hostel which they would pay for and were presented with a bus ticket which would take us to San Pedro (they also paid for this).

Following a day in bed, an ice lolly, bananas and lemonade we were ready to catch the 4am bus. We couldn’t leave Uyuni quick enough.

The journey across the Atacama desert was long but also, at times, stunning. I did feel sorry for Dom though as the Atacama had been one of the highlights he was looking forward to. We just hadn’t envisaged our trip across it quite like this.

And then to add insult to injury the bus didn’t even go to San Pedro but carried straight on to Calama where we had to wait a further three hours to catch a bus back to San Pedro.

By the time we arrived, we’d been travelling for 14 hours and Kass and Helen were extremely worried about us. They’d asked Red Planet for information about our whereabouts only to be told they didn’t know where we were! They’d also had their own issues with Red Planet as our jeep companions Luis and Pedro had really suffered with upset stomachs and breathing difficulties due to altitude respectively. Again, the cavalier attitude had been staggering including, unbelievably, refusing to stop to get the oxygen canister from another jeep. I know what you’re all thinking – why wasn’t their oxygen in every jeep!? You couldn’t make it up.

Thankfully we’d all survived to tell the tale but I would be in NO hurry to recommend Red Planet to anyone. By all means do the tour across the Salt Flats but choose another operator to go with. Thankfully this was just 24 hours in a 5 and half week experience and we could now move on.

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