Insane Terrain, Part I
Has anyone ever heard of Bolivian salt flats? Has Salares de Uyuni ever been issued from yours
or someone elses tongue or momentarily graced a converastion? If you are like myself and my other 5 travel mates to the stars who recently visited the Flats, then you probably have not. However I think the hidden and undiscovered air that surrounds and evelopes the Salares de Uyuni adds to its completely other worldy nature. I am talking the same ranks as E.T., black holes, Neil Armstrong, Reses Peanut Buttercups. It was like stepping into a hallucinogenic dream while still in waking life, yet in the place of purple Chinese speaking dinosaurs that I usually see there were the most eclectic and alien landscapes I have ever beheld. The sheer expanse of the frontier, the random, drastic, and
constant change of terrain, and succumbing to cabin fever while being packed inside an SUV for an unGodly amount of time combined to yeild an unforgettable experience. An experience whose fresh recency still brings about pangs of claustrophobia.
Now for a few details....get ready to digest some numbers. Six travelers comprised the tourist factor: Stephan, Inook, and Damion were the friendly French. Daniella and Sandra represented Swizterland, and yours truly was holding it down for America del Norte. Our ages all spanned the twenties. Two Bolivian extroverts comprised the crucial knowledge and expertise that proved instramental to the
relative success of the trip: Lucas the driver and manic coca leaf chewer, and Marta the cocinera or cook who puts ex jailbird Martha Stewart to shame. So we have 8 more or less strangers willfully electing to spend 72 hours together in the closest of contact. In those 72 hours, you never had a solitary minute to yourself, save the time spent boxed in on four sides communing with a porcelain God. Eight back to back meals were eaten together; two nights of group sleep. Each of the tours three days featured a 10 hour average inside the close confines of a Toyota 4runner rubbing shoulders literally and figurartively with new traveler friends. Paradox or not, everyone managed to remain cheerful, freindly, even jubilant in the face of shower fasts, 430am wakeups and extremely close contact. What do we have to thank? The insane terrain of the Salares de Uyuni. I want to dive into a two entry installment of the amazing and awesome sights, beginning with the first day.
The massive plains of dried salt were the first attraction of the three day tour. After driving 30 or so minutes from the town of Uyuni, an expanse of white slowly became our world. Na+ soon stretched to the limit of sight, blanketing everything between points on the horizon. Santa could not have dreamed of an xmas any whiter, in September or any month. No roads, no
buildings, nothing of a vertical nature AT ALL. Nothing greeted you that wasnt emitting a color wavelength of white brilliance, save beautiful mountains and active volcanoes half hazardly sprinkled about the horizon. Visions and emotions of surreality began to bloom, as we were driving over what would very soon be used to season food around the country. Acres and acres and acres of salt. Virtually infinant amounts. I had many locals verify that the resources plentitude could never expire. It is unfortunate that the salt isnt a more valuable resource, as if it was the black gold, sheikhs of those big and violent deserts of the middle east would be groveling before the feet of Bolivia...in the inport export business that is. At a meager and stranded feeling salt processing factory we learned that the resource was so inexpensive that it was a matter of dollars to the ton.
After playing i
n piles of white, and taste testing the ground, the novelty reached its apex and began to decline. The clan of 8 wild cards piled back inside the 4runner and a violently bumpy existance was endured for the next 90 minutes. We next arrived at Isla del Pescado, and I hope I have that name right as Fish Island really doesnt make any sense as a name for the location. In the middle of the dried salt flat there rose a baby hill aspiring to be so much more. Its stunted growth was more than compensated by its interesting rock formations and veritable forest of cacti taking up residence on its sides. REALITY CHECK. I am in the middle of some prehistoric bed of salt infinity, standing atop a lone hill which contrasts against the glaring ocean of white with cactus green. Reality checks were a daily exercise over those three days as some of the environments I found myself in were simply unbelievable. I love any situation where you have to stop yourself and mentally confirm what you are seeing is real, and you are doing what you are actually doing. As a goal I strive to make my realities unreal, to make them hard to believe.
At Isla de Pescado we hiked simple trails to beautiful sights, ran amuck, and delved into our first group lunch. The meal was marked obviously by setting and company, but more by the outrageous politeness and generosity us strangers showed one another. After eating upon a table fashioned out of salt, we took time to take pictures of a more creative nature. The fact that everything was completely white made it so that there was no color difference discerning between background and foreground. This provided some very interesting photo opps playing with size disparity. Peep the pic. The water babies lotion
belongs to me and my sensitive skin, gets laughed at every time, and is the gift that keeps on giving from one Megan Iguchi who left it in my apartment in South Korea lifetimes ago. The area really did provide for some amazing illusions depending on your creativity. Regretfully I was not on my creative game as there were other pics like this one that is cooler than ice cream.
"Vamos amigos!" says Lucas with coca leaves issueing out the side of his mouth. Time yet again to hit the road, even though the vulnerable tires of the 4runner touched road, (or paved cement) for a combined 20 minutes the entire journey. A complete lack of pavement, an abundance of dirt, rocks, and salt. We arrived late in the day at a pueblito perdido or little lost village which kept very close to the middle of f*cking nowhere trend . It was a village of nearly 200 inhabs, all living in closely concentrated basic one level structures. Nestled tightly in a small valley between two lazy rolling hills, there was running water for all yet electricty only for those select few who could afford the gas along with their generator. The hostal we stayed at was easily the most rustic and basic of lodgings I
have ever experienced. It was almost completely constructed of salt. The walls were made of salt bricks, cemented together with salt. The floor was white, crunchy, and granulated. The bed frames were oh so salty. I felt peppers jealousy welling up into a spicy rage. The only thing that seemed not to be sodium comprised was the mattresses, blankets and pillows thanks to all that is holy. It is here that I must end this novel as I have a 10 hour night bus leaving to Potosi, literally the highest city in the world at 4500 meters and change. Day 2 description coming soon. Until then, stay hydrated, moisterized, and think of me when you look at that little glass bottle of white on your dinner table. Paz.