Bolivia was proving to be even more primal and tumultuous as time passed, and it was this raw nature which added to the overall surreal beauty. The next stop was Uyuni, Bolivia. I met up with Vivek & Nirmal in Sucre and we sped out before the protests started again.
Unfortunately, we ran into trouble as we found ourselves on a bus which stalled going uphill on the dirt roads. With all the men off the bus, we were pushing the bus up & down the dirt road, trying to avoid giant puddles, getting soaked in rain, and finally after a few attempts the bus revved into full throttle and we were back on the winding dirt roads.
The next day, we booked a three day tour on a 4WD through the other-worldly terrain in the southwest. The small city of Uyuni is the major launching point for the Salar de Uyuni tour and where a fleet of 4WD vehicles take tourists on the adventure. Our vehicle included the guide, Nirmal from England, Vivek, Ally from Australia, Chelsey from Kansas, and Marie from France. As soon as we strapped our gear to the top of the 4WD, we took on the open yet invisible road.
Our first stop was at an abandoned railway track that originally lead to Chile.
We soon started out to the Salar. Looking at the location through Google Maps shows a large lake (white in satellite mode). It was actually a deep water lake thousands of years ago, but now throughout most of the year, it’s an arid field of salt. Luckily, I made it to the Salar during what I think is the most interesting time – just after the wet season when the entire region becomes an endless reflecting pool.
After getting out, we walked around either barefoot or in flip flops through the salt field. While walking away from the small crowd and gazing out in the blinding distance, my sense of reality was thrown off slightly as the mountains in the distance looked like a mirage of floating islands.
The flats themselves were the most blindingly white I’ve ever witnessed and except for my own steps, there was complete silence. The serene combination made me wish I could stay longer to self-reflect. I imagine the blank silence could provide a fresh slate for the mind and help clear the clutter from a normal lifestyle.
After some more time, we left the salt flats and were on our way to a hostel which would be the launching point for visiting the lagunas the next day.
After settling into the hostel a few of us went outside to catch the sunset. The vibrant clouds reminded me of a quote by Tagore: “Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.” Although it’s a reference to adversity, I was far from that state at the time.
The next morning we continued the journey south and saw impossible rock formations and unnatural lagunas (see panoramas below).
Maybe the most surreal location was Laguna Colorado, a salty crimson sea filled with flamingos. I would have never guessed they lived at 4200 meters. After Laguna Colorado, we arrived to the next hostel and relaxed and played card games for the rest of the day.
The next morning we woke up a the early hour of 4am to see the geysers at over 4800 meters. As the vapor was rising, twilight was just creeping over the horizon while stars were flickering above. We then descended a few hundred meters to catch sunrise. In the frigid cold air, most of us got into our shorts and eagerly jumped into a hot spring. The stones were lined with slime-like algae, but it didn’t matter because there was nothing more sublime than sitting in a blanket of hot water and watching the sun rise over the steaming crater.
After drying up and eating some breakfast, we caught a transfer which sadly brought a few of us into Chile. Bolivia (spelled above) may have been the biggest surprise in my trip. As poor and as “rough” as a notion the country has, I didn’t want to leave the warm people and the beautiful land they prided. My time there was certainly short of a typical vacation. It involved work, adaptation, and sleepless nights on the rough roads. But, all of that in a sense just enriched my attachment to the struggling yet gorgeous nation.