A Tour of the Bolivian Salt Flats
With the jeep full, our tour departed. We drove out an hour or so from the strange deserted-ness of Uyuni to the old abandoned train yard located strangely, where there were no train lines. Old steamers, slowly dissolving in the arid desert winds, rust carried away on every breeze, entropy dismantling these once magnificent beasts piece by piece. We made that graveyard our playground for an hour or so, climbing their faces, running their roofs and swinging from their bones.
From there, it was on to the largest salt flats on earth (Salar de Uyuni), a surreal expanse all in white, the horizon only occasionally interrupted by distant volcanoes. We marveled in the reflected sunshine, tried unsuccessfully to get those perspective photographs that everyone seems so well versed in, ate alpaca steaks on the back of the jeep and headed for the ‘hotel’ made of salt that would be our refuge for the evening.
Day two was a long drawn out affair, sweltering in the back of the jeep being ferried across martian landscapes from one rock formation to another. The day was saved beautifully by our final stop at the Red Lake, a stunning algae covered body of water that changes its colours as the sun moves across the sky. We were relieved to arrive early at our hostel in the desert and apparently so was our driver.
We gathered for our 4.30 AM role call to drive for sunrise over the salt flats but our driver did not show up. The only clue to his whereabouts was the discarded bottle of spirits by his cab door. Sure enough, 45 minutes later he stumbled our way. A little, old and withered guy, looking like an old piece of fruit left forgotten in the sun, he climbed into his seat awkwardly and we were off. One of our Spanish speaking companions tried in vain to see if he was fit to drive but the man got real defensive, real quick. As we white knuckled it in the back, our gin soaked driver up front swerved from side to side, accelerating through thick dust clouds until we could take no more. Passing another tour by the side of the road, we arranged for our driver to follow it to the next stop where he could sleep off his libations.
As he did, we marveled at giants geysers atop the volcano. The sulphur in the air burnt the nose, the clay at our feet bubbled violently and water in all three of its forms dominated the landscape. It was quite literally breathtaking. While sleepyhead driver rested, we soaked ourselves in the natural hot springs, thick steam spinning and diving to reveal jaw dropping volcanic landscapes as far as the eye could see.
Romeo had his Juliet, American Beauty had that floating plastic bag, Forest Gump had the reflective equipoise of the heavens and the earth and now I have the superlative majesty of the Bolivian salt flats, its constituent Martian landscapes and its forty degree natural hot springs.