The Flattest, Remote and Un-inhabited Terrains
Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats, the largest mirror on earth, was in my mind for a long time. I headed remote central Bolivia in 2016 to see why the world’s flattest piece of land is listed as one of the most beautiful places in the world. It is so flat, high and reflective that the area is often used by satellites to calibrate their instruments. But what is there for travelers in this barely inhabited region. I was curious to find out.
The first challenge was to quickly adapt to 12,000 ft. altitude at the La Paz (the highest administrative capital in the world) airport when flying from Dallas, which is at sea level. Even though I am pretty good with altitudes, the elevation change in 5 hours showed some signs of fatigue. I spent a few days in La Paz exploring its urban jungle while acclimatizing to get on the journey ahead. Thanks to Mi Teleférico- the world’s longest and highest cable car system, it was easy to get around the city. The street life in La Paz is noisy, chaotic, often theatrical but never dull. There are footprints of the colonial era at every corner. The city has its peculiar colors and fragrance everywhere- in food, drinks, shops and even in churches. Popular Bolivian cuisines and homegrown spirits made me ready to fly to the small town of Uyuni.
Internet off, camera on. Three rugged 4X4 SUVs loaded with food and fuel were ready to take a group of 15-16 people on an adventurous ride for the next three days. The only connection to the real world was the satellite phones with our tour guides. As the first day unfolded, I realized for the first time in my life how it feels to be in a remote place in a foreign country with no connectivity whatsoever. We drove for hours on the salt flat, so flat and clear that we could see the horizon and feel the curvature of earth. Everywhere, everything was salt. Lake Minchin dried up 40,000 years ago, creating the largest salt flat on earth that contains an astounding 10 billion tons of salt and covers over 4,000 square miles. How much is it?? I guess enough for entire humanity for centuries to come!
Even the hotels we stayed at were made of salt. A salty day full of dryness, whiteness and flatness had a brief moment of some vegetation and unevenness when we visited Inca Wasy island- an island with giant cacti and coral rock formations. After a nice hot dinner, I wanted to take some moments to absorb what I saw that day. I was thankful that I witnessed all of this beauty.
The next day was more colorful and with some intense variation. The desert of Chiguana surrounded by volcanoes, the Andean lagoon crowded with colorful flamingos, the big desert of Siloli at 4,550 meters – the highest and driest in the world, the Rock trees, the Red lagoon filled with pink flamingos, the 5000 meter high Sol de Mañana volcano with boiling mud pots. The freezing cold day ended with a relaxing dip in a natural hot spring, gazing at the Milky Way galaxy in the clear, dark sky. Thankful to the Universe once again!
The intrepid tour wrapped up around the Chile-Bolivia border, driving through an extremely barren and harsh valley of southwestern Bolivia that spreads across the tough Atacama Desert and Salvador Dali Desert. No signs of humanity in this part of earth. 8 hour ride through un-inhabitant lands, dusty deserts and dry mountains finally back to humanity and connectivity in Uyuni.
I still had some fun left, but not much energy though. A series of bus rides to get to Santa Cruz de la Sierra with stopovers in small towns of Patosi and Sucre experiencing slow-paced life and delicious food. Bolivia is definitely a country to visit again.