Armchair Adventures: Bolivia’s Great Salt Flats – It’s a Salty, Salty World

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Tourist in the Uyuni salt flats enjoying a splendid landscape

by Evelyn Kelly, Ph.D.

Of our 86 countries and travels, the salt flats in Bolivia were definitely one of the most memorable. Tourist flyers on Bolivia tout the steepest streets of LaPaz, the witches’ market, and the Great Salt Flats. My daughter Natalie and I did not know what to expect from any of these, especially a salt desert.

Our guide Jeannete and the driver Jose (who spoke no English) met us in Potosi to take us through the Great Salt Flats. After driving about 5 hours, we had our first glimpse of a salt desert. Spectacular! The desert had been a lake that dried up and left huge hexagonal plates of salt as far as the eye could see.

As our small SUV crunched along on the salt with no roads or no signs, we glimpsed the meaning of infinity. All perspective was turned upside down. Clouds above reflected on the ground; we were floating among the clouds. People a few feet away seemed like they were miles in the distance. Their reflections on salt were mirror images on the ground.

The salt building Tayka del Desierto is billed as the world’s most remote hotel. As we traversed the salt floors to our room, we ran our hands along walls of salt blocks. Solar energy creates a heating system based on radiation that circulates hot water and emits heat. We were told to use the shower before 4:00 PM, when it shuts off automatically.

As we were trying to sleep under piles of blankets I said to Natalie, “Wow, this bed is hard.” Turns out we were sleeping on a one-inch cotton mattress placed on a salt slab!

After an early breakfast on a salt table, we were on the road again. Natalie said, “I had a terrible dream last night. We were stuck on the salt flats and left to die.” We had traveled about an hour, and the car started smoking. Was Natalie’s dream coming true? Jeannete assured us that Jose was a master mechanic. After a few hours, he did manage to fix the car enough to hobble into town and the plane that would take us home.

Bolivia was unexpected and wonderful – amazing. You learn to take things in stride. It is, after all, a salty, salty world.

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