We’ve been in Bolivia now for a few days. Spent a night in Tupizo on our way to Uyuni. Nothing in Tupizo worth writing about so we’ll give that a skip. The change in environment, architecture, culture and well, everything, is amazing. Bolivia is the extreme opposite to Argentina and Chile. Potholes, dirt roads, unfinished mud brick houses and rickety old vehicles. The people are much darker skinned, shorter and wider than the southern countries and things are cheap as chips here. If only my bank card was working :-/ But lets tuck into the meat of this post. Uyuni and the spectacular Salt Flats!
Uyuni itself is an interesting little place. Our hotel (the name alludes me currently) was just a stones throw from the military base and the soldiers where quite quick to reprimand you should you pull out your camera. A block down was the main street and had markets lining the side selling all sorts of fruit, veg and local street food. Chicken seems to be the food of choice with a fried chicken “restaurant” on every corner. Somehow, Mexican food has also made its way down here. Internet in general is pretty shocking but you can get by at one of the Internet cafes. I paid 14 bolivianos for about 1.5 hours. There was an interesting looking bar down the main road but unfortunately I cannot tell you anything about it as we were forbidden from going to is as it has a bad reputation for spiking drinks. For the most part, my time in Uyuni was rather quiet and relaxed as my bank card was not working for some reason and I was therefore poor.
At 10:30 am 19 of us jumped into 4 jeeps and set of for a day of saltiness. Our first stop was a little salt factory on the outskirts of the salt flats. We were told about the salt mining process and that the miners are only allowed to mine salt in a 5km border around the salt flats as the rest of it is a national park. Shoveling the salt into pyramids, they are left as such for 3 weeks to allow the water in the salt to evaporate and drop to the floor. The salt is then shoveled onto truck and dropped off outside the factory where the chunky crystals sit for another few weeks continuing to dry. After that, the chunky salt is put onto a giant oven and heat applied white salt is shoveled around until completely moisture free. It is finally put through a grinder to turn it into the fine ta ke salt we know and sealed in bags. A 100 gram packet of salt costs 1 boliviano and strangely enough, a 50 kg packet of salt cost only 12 bolivianos. Sweet nothing compared to the amount of work required to get it there. The conclusion of that part of the tour left us in a handicraft market with many salt-made items such as jewelry boxes and llama key rings.
Next we were off to the Salt Hotel which is quite some way into the salt flats. The entire structure (bar its thatched roof) and internal furniture is made out of salt. It used to be a functional hotel however a hole which had been dug behind the hotel for the sewerage and other waste started to turn the salt black and affect the water supply below the salt. Wasn’t as impressive as first imagined and they were a bit greedy by making you pay 5 bolivianos just to go to the toilet (this was the only toilet stop). I do have some photos nonetheless. Next stop was lunch (spaghetti and meatballs) and the fun kicked in?!
The main attraction to the salt flats is the camera fun you can have using depth of field tricks. All sorts of props were brought out from our stash such as plastic dinosaurs, beer bottles, wine glasses, books and anything that could be used as a prop. We split up into little groups and played around with various shots and angles for a good hour. There was the mandatory nudie shot which had to be done (as far as some of us were concerned). Unfortunately, those pics will not be making their way onto Facebook… Sorry :-P The photo shoots were a lot of fun but my favourite experience was also a personal one. Stilling my iPod in my ears and putting Hayden on, I picked a random direction, closed my eyes and just walked. An unnatural experience initially as instinct dictates you are going to walk into something but not possible in the salt flats. After a minute or two, the concern vanishes leaving you in a blissful freedom where the world around you no longer exists. The salt flats gave me the most liberating experience I have ever experienced. To top it off, I had a blind run back in the direction of the base camp.
The salt flats was probably the most amazing and freeing experience I have ever had. There are very few places in the world where you can close your eyes, pick a random direction and run flat out without having to worry about slamming into something or tripping over someone. Of all my experiences in South America so far, this has been by far the bast (bar the toasty sunburn I got) and I would recommend it to anyone without battering an eye. There are a lot of tourists and only two ATMs so probably best to have cash on you before hand as it is quite common for the ATMs to run out of money. So come on now, your turn!