Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Salar de Uyuni

The Bolivian Salt Flats or Salar de Uyuni as they are know are a huge expanse of salt at 3600 metes above sea level. In this part of Bolivia, it's desert dry and what moisture that drains into this basen brings the salt, which builds to a depth of 120 metres. We had hired a guide to direct us accross the salt flats as there are no marked roads, only tracks leading in many directions.

We drove into the salar west of Uyuni, which we had arrived at the previous afternoon in the middle of a dust storm. The wind toyed with all the plastic rubbish lying around the town and the dust brought the visibiltiy down to 100 metres. By late afternnon the storm had blow itself out and we watched the sunset from the local train grave yard.

Most of the Salar is rock hard salt, but with some soft muddy patches around the edges. Getting on and off the Salar is the tricky bit and that's where our guide was invaluable. We drove onto the Salar where the local Bolivians are mining the salt flats for table salt. Our guide said they extract 10,000 tonnes per year. However what they take is replenished each year from the network of underground streams running under the salt flats.

We proceeded onto the salt flats proper where the horizon dropped away to pure white salt disappearing for 100km ahead of us. Racing accross the salt flats it was the smoothest ride we have had on the enitre trip. The salt is mostly dead flat, but with some sections having a hexigonal pattern. Also there are round sections where water has bubbled up from below.

We lunched on a cactus-filled island in the middle of the salt flats. With salt surrouning the island, it was like we were docking a ship where we arrived. From the crest of the island it looked like it was surrounded by the sea.

We headed north where a huge volcano marked the northern border of the salt flats. For an hour the volcano never seemed to approach as we raced over the salt. Finally we could see a thin ribbon of water glinting in the sunlight which marked the edge of the lake. The water was 100 meters wide, through which was a vague road which we needed to stay on to avoid the soft mud. We plowed through the salt water to beach the truck for the night at the base of the volcano.  
See the video for more insights.

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