Monday, July 16, 2012

Salt - and lots of it.

This weekend I saw one of the most beautiful places in the world (and certainly one of the most unique). As I mentioned several months ago, the Salar (salt flat) of Uyuni was right at the top of the list of things I wanted to see while I was here, and it didn't disappoint.

The only downside of the trip is that it is a little bit grueling. We started out at 5:45 am on this tiny toothpick of an airplane. To give you a sense of how much adventure we're talking, I'll just say that there was no door on the cockpit. During the entire flight you could peer over your seat and watch the pilot at work. Perhaps even more telling was that the airport in Uyuni was just an empty shed. There were no toilets, no electricity, no anything. The best part was the fact that there was no security at all and we actually could stand on the tarmac and watch little propeller planes take off and land. When we arrived the airport guys (all two of them) just set the luggage in a pile on the tarmac and we crowded around to pick up our stuff. This is the way all flying should be.

 I suppose I should note here that both the flight and the hotel in Uyuni were just what everyone had promised us - utterly freezing. Bolivia doesn't seem to have discovered the joys of central (or any) heating and Uyuni can be pretty bitterly cold. Fortunately for us once the sun came up it was actually great outside. But just be warned - if you visit, dress like you're going skiing. And splurge for a hotel with heat and hot water. You won't regret it.

Okay, back to the trip. These montons above are piles of salt, drying in the sun. (Yes, we tasted them. And yes, they were very salty.)

Our landcruiser. The town of Uyuni must have half the world's supply of landcruisers. It's a testament to the size of the salar that even with a small army of landcruisers setting out each morning we spent the whole day in almost total isolation on the salt.
Fun fact: The salar is 25 times the size of the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Its area is 4068 square miles - for comparison, the land area of Rhode Island is 1045 square miles. (I guess that explains where all the other tourists went.)
View from the island of Incahuasi somewhere in the middle of the salt. It was comparatively crowded, but worth a visit.

The salt flat is obviously really good at reflecting sunlight. So much so that I imagine you could do some permanent damage to your eyesight if you didn't wear sunglasses.
I also imagine that it would be an excellent tanning bed, though I didn't have time to investigate that possibility.
(Once again, I just can't hold a camera straight. Apologies.)

And of course, there were llamas.  In fact, we ate one for lunch...

Sorry buddy.

Amazingly, as remote as the salt flats are they are a comfortable weekend trip from La Paz. (And if they worked the flights out right it could actually be a day trip.) If you are anywhere in South America I highly recommend a stopover in Uyuni. This was easily one of the highlights of my summer and is tied at first place (along with Lake Titicaca) for the coolest thing to see in Bolivia.

Oh, and happy La Paz day. I'm off work and spending the day recovering with my radiator cranked up all the way and the TV on.  It's a good life. Two more weeks of my internship!

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