Here’s a gaowei GIF to start the post off (but I’m really trying to illustrate a point).
For those who take things too seriously: I didn’t actually become a Mrs over the holiday. We did, however, make like a wedding party and take lots of photographs at our 2D1N stay in Uyuni, the gateway city to the world’s largest salt flats, Salar de Uyuni.
The trip to Uyuni is a photo-loving girl’s dream come true. The large expanse of salt flats make for a good backdrop for “crazy pictures” (as our guide put it). It’s extra beautiful if it has rained, because then the salt flats transform into the world’s largest mirror, like so:
No such luck on our end, but the flats still remained a glaring white, making it the perfect place to take perspective shots.
As one has probably guessed, the white stuff is salt. Just 5 squared kilometers out of some 10,000 have been allocated to the Colchani co-operative of salt farmers, a small town of 611 people. Legend has it that a grieving goddess, whose husband ran away with another woman, started to cry while breast-feeding her son. Her tears mixed with milk and formed the Salar.
While lithium is another product they have been dealing in more, most of the salt is harvested for consumption within Bolivia and sometimes Brazil.
Salt is an economic alternative to now-depleted mineral mines. Because minerals used to be such a big thing, British trains were brought in to create a transport network. When the industry collapsed in the 1940s, the trains were sent to die… in the train cemetery. In its new life, it’s really a glorified playground for tourists to take more pictures by.
Trains still run between La Paz, Uyuni and Potosi, though with far less frequency than in their heyday. I suppose that only translates to more opportunities for thought-provoking horizon shots.
Along our journey, we saw llamas that Alan would not leave alone.
As we travelled through the flats, we reached its center — Isla Incahuasi, Quechua for Island of the Incan House. (It’s also known as Fish Island because it apparently looks like a fish from a distance; I did not see the semblance.) It’s not really home to much besides gigantic cacti and unflushable toilets (imagine hundreds of tourists with bladder issues… ugh), but it was yet another photographic opportunity that reminded me of my lack of height.
We also visited Phia Phia Island, an island that’s mostly a giant cave and one lone cactus.
Our sunset by the salt flats was surreal. Our guide brought us to this “concert hall” — a stage made entirely out of salt blocks, where the townspeople came out to celebrate the town’s birthday.
At night we stayed in the Chuvica salt hotel. Yep, you guessed it. Everything was made out of salt: walls, tables, beds. My sleep was surprisingly comfortable, although the super padded (7 layers!) of blankets helped.
Perhaps one of the most magical parts of my entire winter trip was watching the stars in complete darkness, save for the occasional glare of headlights from the few passing cars. The deepest of blacks, a jar of stars emptied across the sky, swathed in misty clouds. Alan and I sat there marveling: the last time we had the opportunity to see stars in pure glory was on a beach in Laoag, Philippines, Dec 2007. There was a time where we would have been blown away by nature’s sheer beauty but I think even Perfection loses its lustre if you don’t really sit down to appreciate it. I was glad for the reminder.
Day 2 was far less eventful: we visited the active volcano Ollague, and again camwhored.
The viewpoint consisted of funnily shaped rocks, with its own tiny caverns — perfect for framing shots right out of America’s Next Top Model.
We also visited Turquiry Lagoon, a smelly pond with high levels of sulfur, and also home to pink James’ flamingos. I think I would have appreciated the sight a little more if it didn’t smell so much like rotten eggs.
Our last stop was the rock valley. Over time, weathering and erosion creates all sort of shapes and patterns, including this condor-esque one.
I think what made this short journey so memorable was our mode of transport, the 4WD. This thing can go across any terrain, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget sitting on the top with my friends, the wind blowing in my hair, all of us belting “IT’S MY LIIIIIIIIFE IT’S NOW OR NEVER I AM GONNA LIVE FOREVERRRRR.”
Anyway, I shall leave you all with a selection of photos from the salt flat… Make sure you scroll all the way to the end to see my favorite.
And what you’ve all been waiting for…
RACHEL’S SALAR DE UYUNI LOWDOWN
- Who to go with: Book with Quechua Connection (a legit company even though there’s no website; email firstname.lastname@example.org) and ask for Jose, a great driver, awesome photographer and superfun DJ (he has an iPod stocked with a billion English songs to rock out to)
- What to bring: Sunglasses (the glare from the flats can hurt), sunblock, altitude sickness pills if you haven’t acclimatized yet, props to take pictures with at the salt flats — we brought a Pringles can, our stuffed toy Simon
- How to get there and survive it: We took Todo Turismo (~US$39 one-way), a 10-hour bus ride through Hell. It’s shaky and I got woken up cos I was doing the shimmy for 10 minutes straight. The bus is great (serves food, leans all the way back) but the road isn’t. Bring sleeping pills.
- How long to go for: Due to time constraints, we took the 2D1N tour and practically did nothing on the second day (because the route is a circuit). I’d take the 3D2N if I could do it again.