You should take Trish Boylan’s strange adventures in Bolivia with a pinch of salt…
Bolivia is a strange country. Difficult to describe as beautiful, but equally difficult to dislike. Pretty sure it’s safest to say strange.
The journey into Bolivia that saw me crossing the border from Argentina on a bus was my first taster of the country and its oddities. While we sat six feet up in the comfort of our huge, yellow tour bus we saw hundreds of people in crazy clothes with huge sacks of random stuff on their backs running through the border. Old ladies and children alike, who didn’t even seem to notice the huge weight they were carrying, sped through like a giant line of ants toting great big leaves.
Our travels through Bolivia found us in Uyuni which was our jumping off point to visit the Bolivian Salt Flats or Salar de Uyuni a couple of hours away, a serious contender for the strangest place on earth. We drove in a truck across the huge salt flats. The scene in front of us was incredible. As far as the eye could see the landscape was shiny wet and blindingly white.
Salty water splashed up the side of the truck as we skidded through the flats and we all waved our hands out of the windows to feel the dry spray. We soon discovered the salt flats were not quite the desert we first thought and for the first stop along our travels we visited the salt refining factory.
Our guide Marco took us in to the place where some of the dug out salt was processed to be sold. The factory was literally one room, containing one machine! We all took turns in capturing the wheel of industry on film, much to the guide’s amusement. Marco told us how the salt was up to 14 metres deep in some places and how it had been dug up by locals for years to be sold as table salt. He held up an enormous bag of salt that was sold in Bolivia for the equivalent of 70 Australian cents.
He also told us a popular Bolivian legend to explain how the flats got there. There were two mountains that fell in love, married and had a child. However the husband was so jealous of his wife, who was the most beautiful mountain in the world, he couldn’t accept that she would not be unfaithful so he stole the child. His wife’s tears for the lost infant mixed with her wasted breast milk and ran onto the land and over the years dried into the salt lakes.
There are many legends surrounding the salt flats and the culture of the earth and wildlife throughout Bolivia but this is the one that Marco faithfully stuck by.
We soon left the factory to visit a hotel in the flats that turned out to be made entirely of salt – floor to ceiling, including tables, chairs and beds! Certainly quaint, but I’m glad we didn’t stay there!
Legends aside the most amazing part of the trip though was the salt flats themselves where words just cannot describe the absolutely, huge landscapes of wet, white ground. It was really difficult not to start believing it was ice, as it glinted in the sunshine, but the heat was a constant reminder we were in the desert! The flats created utterly breathtaking scenes that went on for miles and miles.
We spent the day creating strange pictures in the salt, and daring each other to lick it for the camera, with some of the group even building a little salt-man.
After our day at the salt flats we got back into our truck to set off for our accommodation, which was in Salar de Uyuni itself. We travelled over dirt roads, in-between rocks and cactuses, the only wildlife being llamas and alpacas grazing along hillsides. Soon my group arrived at the first place with little daylight to spare, only to find it locked. The same thing happened at the second place and then the third.
By the time we set off from the third place we were driving in the dark in a huge storm with deafening thunder and lightning. We were pretty frightened by the appearance of gorges in the road, but the fact our truck driver laughed all the way and tried to sing along to our songs made it a lot easier to cope with!