The Salar de Uyuni is pretty much the ONLY reason to go to Uyuni (Chris's pizzas at Minuteman are good, but still). We booked the standard three-day, two-night tour of the salt flats, and asked for a dropoff in Chile at the end of the ride.
Accomodations are rustic, food is mostly good, and the weather when we were there was quite seriously superduper cold. I guess that's what happens when you're at 13,000 feet in the middle of winter. (Housekeeping note: we booked with Estrella del Sur, but were lumped together with wonderful people who booked at two other places.)
Stop One is at a train graveyard just outside of town. The trains are rusting husks left over from a time when outside companies were extracting minerals from the Salar and were abandoned in the 1940s. Now you can climb on them. (An aside - the Salar de Uyuni is thought to contain between 50 and 70 percent of the world's lithium reserves! They're currently not being mined.)
There's an obligatory stop in a teeny town that seems to survive by selling sweaters, hippie bags, and small knick-knacks made of salt to tourists on Salar tours. There are bathrooms there, too, which are preferable to peeing on the salt flats themselves. Probably.
And then... the flats proper!
It's pretty much impossible to overstate the impact of this place. Along with their smaller sister flats, the Salar de Coipasa, they're all that's left of a 12,000 year old lake. The Salar de Uyuni is 25 times the size of Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats, and covers over 4,000 square miles. Of salt. It's the whitest white you've ever seen, topped by the bluest blue, and it's brilliant and blinding and utterly enchanting.
The men who still work there, shoveling salt into trucks and taking it to be processed, wear ski masks and sunglasses if they can get them. Logan asked this guy if working the flats was difficult, and his response was "This? This is not hard work. Women are hard work."
In the wet season, Lake Titicaca overflows, and this water eventually makes its way into the Salar. A lake only a few inches deep forms, and the surface of the Salar becomes a mirror, reflecting the mountains at its rim with perfect symmetry.
In the dry season, the salt is cracked and weathered and white, white, white.
As you can tell, we were lucky to be able to see a bit of both.
Confronted with all this vast indescribable otherness, our response was to desperately try to tame it by acting the fool. We took our first ridiculous jumping picture ever. (I think we need some practice.)
We played with perspective. Edible Logan!
And tiny strongman Rachel!
We can only keep up that level of goof for about ten minutes, which is definitely a good thing. There was more to explore!
Another one of our Day One stops was at Isla Incahuasi, otherwise known as Fish Island. It's an otherworldly rock outcrop covered in very, very old cacti that rises above the Salar. You can (and should) climb it for amazing views.
Flip that hair girl!
The place is surreal. Where you look off of the island, expecting water to reach off into the horizon around you, but instead, there's all that dazzling salt again!
Those cacti you see dotting the island are thought to grow at a centimeter a year. Even with my shaky grasp of the metric system, I know that's not very much. We saw one cactus (recently dead, unfortunately) that was dated at over 1200 years old.
And the overwhelming white stretches off into the horizon in all directions. Teeny car for scale.
I should mention here that our tour was in a 4X4, with a driver, a cook, and five travelers. Things were quite crowded in there, so it was extra lucky that our fellow tour-takers were awesome. There was a girl from Korea by way of California who's going to school in Dallas; a very cool Turkish girl who we're hoping to catch up with when we're in Istanbul later this year; and a couple, he from Switzerland and she from Korea, who currently live just outside Lausanne. Great people and wonderful conversation!
The cook, Clementina, did a lovely job with limited resources. Day One lunch - giant veggie salad, the best quinoa of our trip, and LLAMA steaks!
Ricardo, the driver and all around handydude, did quite well offroading us over lakes and through saltpiles (though we did get stuck in a blizzard, which I'll talk about tomorrow).
Night One, we stayed in a salt hotel in the hamlet of San Juan. Thank goodness for propane heaters and rented warm sleeping bags! Here's Ricardo, unloading our luggage off the top of the car. Those are all salt bricks.
The beds were fairly comfortable, and there was power so we could charge our phones. The hardest thing to deal with about the place was the crunchy salt floors! Not awesome when you stumble out of bed at 4am to take your popsicle tuckus to the baño.
Next: Day Two. Flamingoes, crazy-colored lakes, desert, and LOGAN'S CAMERA BREAKS. (Thank cheeses it's fixed now, or just typing that would have sent us into more weeping.)
Check out our Flickr stream for even more bizarrely enchanting salt pics...