15 May 2010

Otherwordly Uyuni

The area now known as Uyuni used to be a large bay of the Atlantic Ocean; the same geologic shift that created the Andes saw to the split. This, however, left a collection of incredible terrain including unending salt flats, large rock formations, hot springs, geysers, multicolored lakes, and flamingos. The geologic shift didn't exactly cause the flamingos, but they were a neat part of our adventure in Uyuni.

We arrived at night, with minimal adventures because of Bolivian water issues. After collecting our group together--two Aussies, a British Couple, a Dutch Girl, and a Californian, we took off the following morning. Our SUV also held our driver and our cook. Adventures were fast and furious on this three day tour of the largest salt flats in the world, with plenty of road trip games in between.

The cool (but not super cool) adventures included a railroad graveyard, a (small) series of caves, three separate but similar rock outcroppings, and the multicolored lakes. The railroad graveyard is a throwback to when Uyuni and Bolivia saw times of great prosperity; they are now rusting piles of scrap metal inviting exploration and climbing. Algal blooms caused the various colored lakes; two in red, one in pink, and one in green. The caves and rocks saw some excellent scrambling and climbing; one of the caves, too, held pre-Incan tombs with creepy skulls.

One of the super cool adventures was had out on the salt flats, but requires a little explanation of what the salt flats are. As the salt flats rose, their water supply was cut off allowing the water to evaporate over time. The result is a perfectly flat, white, barren landscape in every direction, messing with our senses. It felt like flying in the SUV as we zipped along at 70mph. During a hike on an island in the middle, our depth perception was tested. And finally, at sunset over the flats, colors changed every-which-way. This terrain is the main draw of the salt flat tour, and for obvious reason.

Another high point came morning of the last day. We awoke at 5am to get to some hot springs for sunrise. Our SUV got there first and we broke the surface on the naturally piping hot water. Sunrise came and went, giving beautiful coloration to the sky. Breakfast was served, allowing time for our suits to freeze rather than dry in the early morning cold. It was a great way to loosen up before beng cramped in the SUV for the 8 hour return journey to Uyuni, and then the overnight bus journey to La Paz, where I am now.

Between all this, we realized how lucky we were to be with friends we had made before the tour. Time between stops was spent testing movie trivia, discussing life stories and future plans, and plenty of road trip games. During the nights, we drank, hackey-sacked, and played cards. You meet amazing people while traveling, and get to do amazing things with them.

Somethings Interesting

--The salt has an average depth of 15 meters, and covers an area of 10,582 km. They have recently discovered an entire network of valleys, ridges, and mountains in the Salar, with variations on the order of millimeters.

--That second morning, I sat in hotsprings above 5000 meters. That is higher than any point in the Continental States.

--We were all under 25 and made up a rather hodgepodge collection of professions (all of which are hopefull at this point); professional musician, educational reformer, tourism operator, nutritionist, teacher, and oceanographer.

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