My Travel Moment; salar de Uyuni

We arrived at the amazing salar de Uyuni; a bleached desert continuing until the eyes generated shimmering mirages, devoid of wildlife except cacti and pink flamingos. Perception was cruelly played with by the blazing whiteness of the salt and conditions were perfect to create mind altering photos. The landscape was a Dali canvas; stark and alien;; it almost looked two dimensional, the lights and colours giving the impression that there was no depth to the scenery.

The flats are at 3650 metres above sea level and over the next two days I climbed to debilitating altitudes of over 5000 metres, whilst frustratingly attempting to appreciate some of the world’s most incredible landscape. My head started feeling like it was in a vice that was being tightened. The elves in my brain were on strike, hammering their little tools against the wall of my forehead and their little
booted feet stamping on my eyeballs. I was in some pain and was given coca leaves to chew; which I don’t think I did properly, they are meant to be masticated for 45 minutes, not 5 minutes, but they helped a bit. By the time we got to the amazingly beautiful Laguna Colorado I was in pieces. I couldn’t get out of the truck or appreciate the lunar scenery. I was trying to combat the altitude by drinking 4 litres of water but there in led to another problem. This being desert there was a serious lack of bathrooms and no friendly bushes. The sparsely located banos all charged for various services which didn’t always include toilet paper or water and forget about soap.

Both nights I spent awake in abject misery, as the elves gathered force and my bones ached. I tried to compare the wretchedness to other trying times but of course nothing compares to the present. The emotions and pains of the past are dulled, the sharpness felt at the time is blurred; the importance faded by the blessed cotton wool of memory. Nothing feels as significant and painful as the here and now. The final morning we were woken early in temperatures below freezing to see geysers in the dark; when we arrived, I was feeling beyond sorry for myself. I stayed in the truck (more precisely a 4 x 4 Toyota Land cruiser) with a scarf over my eyes. It was also below freezing outside. I think my not so silent moaning was embarrassingly audible. I was asked in Spanish how I
was. I couldn’t even think or speak in English, let alone Spanish. I managed to murmur “Quiero morir” translated “I want to die.” I was handed a mug of hot water full of coca leaves and made to drink the sour and bitter tea. Thirty minutes later I was a different person. I could actually string a sentence together, open my eyes and not have to hold my head in my hands.

H Pollock

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