A Tour through Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia: A Land of Extremes

A vast expanse of crisp whiteness stretched out before me as I steppedout of the jeep. Dazzlingly bright, the gleaming salt contrasted spectacularly against the bright, blue sky and backdrop of craggy, snow-capped peaks. We had arrived at the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt desert.

Located within the Altiplano of south-western Bolivia, 3,656 metres above sea-level, the miles of salt desert was once occupied by a series of large lakes, which disappeared almost 13,000 years ago, leaving the bizarre landscape known today.

Sustaining ourselves on a lunch of llama (chewy, but surprisingly nice) we headed to ‘Fish Island’, a weathered lump of petrified coral, which stuck out like a strange carbuncle against the surrounding landscape of perfect white symmetry. Rising from the rock, like furry fingers, giant cacti dominated the island- some standing as high as 12 metres. I even saw the resident Rhea, an ostrich-lookalike, which stalks around the island, leading you to wonder how on earth it got there.

A night at a Salt Hotel followed. Unexpectedly luxurious, I slept rather comfortably on my slab and even bought a beer from the salt bar before sitting down to the salt table for dinner. Handily enough, you could even crumble a bit off the table, to spice up the stew. As the darkness set in, the desolate expanse of desert slowly turned pink and orange, as the blood-red sun descended.

More amazing sights were in store the next day. Back in the jeep, we climbed steadily up into the heights of the surrounding mountains. As the air got thinner, we got out the cocoa leaves. Chewing and resisting the urge to swallow (my friend was not so lucky) my cheeks began to numb to the point that I had to prod them. I decided I didn’t know what all the fuss was about. As we continued to ascend, I could see the majestic volcano in the distance, standing proud against the backdrop of red,
sandy desert. Its snowy peak shimmered in the steamy sun, almost like a mirage.

Climbing to almost 5,000 metres, the altitude of Mont Blanc, we reached the viewpoint and boy was it worth the wait. The volcano burst into view, reflecting perfectly in the crystal- clear water of a turquoise lagoon, which twinkled below. Scattered with dots of pink, a flock of fluttering flamingos, the lagoon seemed so alien in an almost moon-like landscape- a true land of extremes.

S Gibbons

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