Out of this World

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

We are not sure that we have time or even want to go to Uyuni. We’ve heard from other travellers about the salt flats there and the guide books all insist it is a must see. But really, of what possible interest can a salty desert be?

Carlos, our La Paz guide, convinces us to go, makes all the arrangements for an early morning flight there, a guide while there and a late evening flight back to La Paz. Says he’ll give us our money back if we are not satisfied. What have we go to lose? So, we go.

And OMG! The place is stunning, spell-binding and mind-blowing. Words cannot describe the strange beauty and even the photos do not do the place justice. What’s missing from the photos is the blinding light, the silence and the sense of emptiness. Utter peace and nothingness.

Until we encounter some islands arising from the salt that are covered in cacti and home to a few llama. How is this even possible?

At one time the entire area was an inland sea, flooded with salt water, that extended hundreds of miles north, all the way to Lake Titicaca. As the climate warmed, the water evaporated and the salt remained. It is 10 to 30 meters deep and wet just below the surface.

When the water receded, islands, and even a few volcanos, that were previously under water, appeared and desert life flourished on them. There is a rainy season, from December to February, when the area is once again flooded and the salar becomes like a giant mirror.

Colchani is the jumping off point for trips onto the salar. It is straight out of the old west and we expect to see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid come walking down the street. As the legend and the movie go, the pair spent their last years in the south of Bolivia and Colchani is a shoe in for a late 19th century frontier town. Abandoned buildings and even abandoned rail cars. And a whole lot of sand and dust. It is hard to tell where the sand ends and the salt begins.

The day is yet another remarkable one. While Peru gets top tourist billing, largely because of Machu Pichu, we have come to appreciate some amazing travel destinations in Bolivia. Copacabana, La Paz and Salar de Uyuni … all worth the effort to get there.

Carlos is at the La Paz airport to meet us when we arrive back after our day at Salar de Uyuni. We don’t ask him for our money back!

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