4 Days of Salt

Far from being as boring as it sounds, The Salt Flats in Bolivia were actually one of the most astoundingly beautiful places we’d been so far. The thought of a 4 day tour consisting entirely of salt might, for want of a better phrase, be slightly unsavoury for some, but the 4 day salt flat tour is somewhat misleading, but in a good way. The salt flat part of the tour only takes about half a day, but that is not until you visit the train cemetery.

An excuse to spin some money from some abandoned and rusted machinery. Or a way to fill some time. Either way, what was moderately interesting, was that the coal powered steam trains were purchased from England to move minerals across South America. The coal powered trains, it transpired, were consuming vast quantities of expensive coal. They then realized that coal was not a commodity they had in that region and the poor old steam trains were laid to rest in place of their more economically sound diesel relative. But they did make them into a playground; so it’s all swings and roundabouts.

Then on to the real reason we were doing the trip; the salt.
The salt flats of Uyuni, or Salar de Uyuni as they are known locally, are an incredible expanse of totally flat and arid land that stretch for a mind boggling distance. It seems that no one really knows how they came to pass but it is thought to have been the result of the fault lines and frequent plate movement that lifted a large sea above sea level. This eventually dried depositing metres and metres worth of salt and a perfectly flat landscape. The shift in height or the extent of the land undulation is said to be under a metre across an expanse of over 4000 square miles.
What is agreed however, is that they are a great source of salt and a worthy venue for tourists to visit and try to comprehend these sorts of distances. And to take some pictures.

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Salt collected in piles for ease of transportation.

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A short drive across the monotonous landscape and you arrive at the cactus island. It sticks out like a sore thumb, absolutely nothing for miles and all of a sudden, the most dense array of cactus, clustered into a relatively confined space. Some of the Cacti are said to be over 1000 years old. Bizarre.

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Later that day we headed across the reams of salt to experiment with some perspective shots and to enjoy the sunset. These are not as easy to make convincing as it might seem, so short of embarrassing myself with something that would be more at home in a poorly funded 1950’s film, here are some of us utilizing the dimming light conditions around sunset and showing off the unique patterns that salt often makes on the surface.

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After a cold night in the remotest of villages, we set off to discover what else the region had to offer. It didnt disappoint. Prepare your eyes for stunning vistas a plenty. Panoramic shots seem to be a relatively good way of demonstrating the colossal distances and mountains that we experienced that day. Definitely worth clicking these images to get a full screen appreciation.

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Panorama complete with our transport.

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One of the most incredibly coloured mountains, no idea what it’s called or where it is. Our driver’s English was absent. As was my Spanish.

Day three was my favourite day. Flamingos, a red lake and star gazing whilst basking in natural thermal pools after a steak dinner.

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The Burgundy character of Laguna Colorada (coloured Lake) is caused by, I think, algae that lives in the water. It is only red for a short period of the day when the algae are feeding from the sun.

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Look closely – Pink Flamingos!

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The extreme right of the image shows the changing rooms and thermal pools. This was sunset, just before our dinner. We didn’t enter the pools until it was about 9pm, pitch black and about 3 degrees!

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There are flamingos here too!

The fourth and final day consisted mainly of a visit to the windiest place I’ve ever been, apart from Brighton on James Toner’s stag do. Actually, this may have been worse. Laguna Verde, or Green Lake; the highlight. You’ll see why…

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Simply stunning. So remote.  An incredible part of our planet. Not just for landscapes, but wildlife too.

If you are going to South America, make sure this is part of your trip. It is just remarkable.

Next post: Wining and Biking around Mendoza, Argentina and the Marlborough region of New Zealand!

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