Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Salar de Uyuni - A Photographic Adventure Into The Largest Salt Flat in the World

As the largest salt flat in the world, encompassing an area greater than 4,000 square miles (larger than the combined areas of Rhode Island and Delaware -- thank you successful Google search for "what is 4000 square miles large?"), the Salar de Uyuni is one of those places that words are truly unable to describe. A never-ending landscape of blinding salty whiteness, stretching as far as the eye can see, this once prehistoric lake is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of South America. A tourist attraction that nearly passed me by due to several unfortunate situations:

- Thanks to Global Warming, El NiƱo, Al Gore, Manbearpig, and whatever other aspect you would like to blame for "unseasonable weather," almost all Salar de Uyuni tours had been cancelled for the prior month due to a freak winter storm that left more than 1/2 of the area covered in dangerous ice, snow and unrelenting wind. As one of the first groups to complete the full 4-day tour (less a few detours here and there), I consider myself quite lucky to have had such fortunate timing (especially since my initial group was cancelled due to a "sick jeep," thus leaving me stranded and searching for a new group only minutes before departure).

Nevertheless (which I now have discovered is my favorite "blog transition" word), before I leave with you this primarily photo-only post, I must provide a bit of summary in regard to the tour along the Salar de Uyuni:

- Trip Background = 4 days/3 nights, 1 jeep, 5 passengers (myself, 2 Kiwi's and 2 Brit's) and 2 "guides" (i.e. driver and chef) that provided us with extensive knowledge of the areas which we passed through (i.e. Extensive knowledge = Spanish descriptions of town names as well as an estimate of the # of families residing there). Being the only "Spanish speaker" in the group, I was responsible for translating all the information to the group, and thus, I am now pretty much an expert in Spanish numerology.

- Trip Schedule:

* Day 1 = Driving along the barren Altiplano, stopping every few hours to enjoy the aimless grazing of several thousand llama's
* Day 2 = Driving by smoking volcanoes, hot springs, geysers and some colored lakes (as well as undocumented colored flamingo's)
* Day 3 = Driving by lots and lots of shapely rocks
* Day 4 = Driving through the Salar de Uyuni

- Trip Summary = Lots of driving (if the schedule above did not provide an indicator of such), repetitive iPod playlists, more driving, freezing cold nights (I believe we hit 5 degrees at one point), a bit more driving, freezing cold mornings, just a bit more driving, and then basically everything else depicted in the photos below.

- Weirdest Moment = Driving at about 40MPH within a smaller salt flat, and having the wind completely die on us. You could stick your hand out the window and feel absolutely nothing... quite possibly the strangest feeling of my life. Even our trusty flags on the front of the jeep were completely still. Very "The Day After Tomorrow" esque.

- Fun Fact = The Salar de Uyuni is estimated to contain 10 billion tons of salt, of which less than 25,000 tons is extracted annually. Thank you Wikipedia.

- Not So Fun Fact = Due to an overwhelming number of providers that supply tourists with lead-footed drunken drivers, almost a dozen people die every year along the Salar, making it quite possibly the most dangerous tour in all of South America. (I've included a photo of an extremely lucky group -- of which a friend of mine was a part -- that survived a near disaster).

Onto the pics:

Next Week: Chile - No Me Gusta

Commencing our 4-day journey along the barren 12,000 high Bolivian Altiplano (i.e. high-ass-flat-ground)

Obviously this tour was one of my favorite's due to the excessive amount of Llama's seen along the way

Reaching the highest altitude of my entire trip via the strenuous means of sitting in a 4-wheeled vehicle = 15,928 feet

More Llama's!

Random hot spring visited during Day 2 - Quite the welcome relief after spending the night in 5 degree temperatures

Less swimmable hot springs - Unless you are able to withstand 250 degree heat

The lack of ANY sort of fences or warning signs as you traverse mere inches between these "bubblers" probably wouldn't fare so well in the States

Laguna Colorada - One of the many "colored" lakes visited during the trip

Day 3 - Valley of the Rocks... very aptly named if you ask me

"Planking" - A new phenomenon that seems to have hit Facebook albums around the world. Figured I'd partake in at least one of them.

I'll be accepting that offer to National Geographic any day now...

One of the many "shaped" rocks we passed during our drive through the Valley. This one is a condor (obviously)

Our jeeps were quite badass

Favorite sign of the trip

I imagine this photo will be making it's way into a frame one of these days

The Salt Hotel - Made entirely of (I'll give you one guess)

Salt Chandelier

Several members of our group enjoying the daily tea/snack time - Our daily reward for enduring almost 8 hours of bumpy, unpaved roads

Day 4 - 4:30AM wakeup to see the sunrise over the Salar (I think we were trying to spell "Haltx"... whatever it may mean)

Long legs

Incahuasi Island (i.e. Island of Cacti)

Definitely putting Texas cacti to shame

Guides enjoying a friendly game of soccer as us gringo's enjoyed our breakfast

Breakfast Tables = Salt Slabs on a rock

Close-up of some salt

Further away shot of the salt

Driving along the neverending Salar de Uyuni (definitely could have used some sunglasses to save my eyes from the unavoidable blinding whiteness)

"Loco Fotos" = Crazy picture time (No descriptions really necessary for these -- Just an open imagination and a bit of confusion)

Loco Foto #1

Loco Foto #2

Loco Foto #3

Loco Foto #4

Loco Foto #5

Loco Foto #6

Loco Foto #7

Loco Foto #8

Loco Foto #9

Not many mechanic shops along the Salar... thus a dental-floss-thick piece of rope unsuccessfully pulled the broken-down Jeep until it snapped about 20 feet later

The less-lucky Jeep of my friends group that suffered a more serious, drunken lead-footed driver, "breakdown" (unbelivable that everyone survived)

A bit of rain from the night before provided an amazing reflection pool

Mini salt mounds at the end of the Salar, as well as our 4 day amazing journey

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