Bolivia’s train cemetery close to Uyuni
The small village of Uyuni has recently become popular because of the tourist obsession with the salt flats. It offers dusty streets crowded with gringos, restaurants with prices like the ones on 5th Avenue and smelly hotels. For all my friends saying on Facebook that they envy us of our travel and the interesting places we visit, I wish you could see the hotel room we slept before entering the salt flats. It was the smelliest, the dirtiest room I’ve ever been. It seemed the sheets haven’t been changed since the last rainy season.
After a night like that and a matching breakfast, we entered Salar de Uyuni not in our best mood. Just few kilometers later, everything changed. This is a place of other world, unusual beauty and magic. It is known for its incredible vastness – Salar de Uyuni spreads on 10 582 square kilometers and flatness – it varies just in one meter in its whole area. The satellites orbiting the Earth use Salar de Uyuni to calibrate their measuring instruments.
To say that the place is beautiful is understatement. It is unimaginable. The pictures can show only a small fraction of its strange and out of this world beauty.
Long time ago, Salar was one huge prehistoric lake with volcanic islands. When the lake dried up, the islands left as the only darker and higher spots in the white deserts. We planned to camp there for the night and were advised to camp somewhere on the islands.
When we stopped for the nigh at Pescado island, the first thing we noticed was the gigantic cacti. They grow only one centimeter per year. The one on the picture below, using Ivan as a measuring tool, should be around 900 – 1,000 years old. Respect, old man…
That night was totally different than the stinky Uyuni hotel. We slept in the car and enjoyed every bit of the night. The air was crispy and cold and the stars were shining above as. Ivan even didn’t have enough breath to snore at 3,600 meters altitude, so the night was beautiful and peaceful. The wind, never stopping, was shaking our car like a cradle.
The morning was even more beautiful, if this is even possible. The flats had some pinkish tint and looked like a teenage girl’s room. Our island was surprisingly filled with life. We spotted two types of hummingbirds, one other small bird, few mice and a Bolivian viscacha. Looks like they were not used to people and were not afraid of us. It’s a strange feeling to have a hummingbird perching on your green hat when you are trying to pee behind a rock. Sorry, no pictures of this private moment.
With my obsession to bring stones from everywhere, I got a salt brick and safely tucked it under my car seat against all Ivan’s arguments, with having every intention to bring it back to Canada.
Lagoons of all colors
When we were at Death Valley, California few years ago, they used to say that the nature is naked there. Now, when I visited Laguna Colorada and Laguna Verde in Bolivia, it looks like Mother Nature is in her swimming suit in California. She is truly naked around Laguna Verde.
This is the most hostile place I’ve ever been to.
When I was young, I used to dream to be an astronaut and to visit other planets and other worlds. So far, this place is the closest to my dreams.
When we slept in our car at Laguna Verde at 4700 meters altitude, the outside temperature was –10 Celsius. I am not sure how cold was in the car, but in the morning, we found that the few bananas we were carrying were frozen.
In my so distant younger years, I used to do some mountain climbing. One of my friends once said that mountain climbing is the most dangerous, difficult and expensive way to go to places where you have nothing to do at all. I can easily say the same about going to Laguna Verde.
It was 200 kilometers drive each direction on a dirt road (actually, more sand and rocks road), mostly on second gear, praying every minute that the next rock on the “road” will not break something on the car.
Yes, there was no single reason to go there. But I didn’t regret it for a bit once we were there…
And by the way, driving on the Salt flats could also be fun…