Total whiteout

14/11/2017 16:54

The most spectacular and iconic landmark in Bolivia is Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt field.

A sub-tropical country that lies 4,500m above sea level, Bolivia has relatively harsh weather conditions and rugged terrain. To make up for this, Bolivia is endowed with astonishing natural wonders. The country's most spectacular and iconic landmark is Salar de Uyuni, a salt field located at an average height of 3,656m above sea level in Daniel Campos Province in the southwest, near the Andes Mountains.


Spanning 10,582sqkm, Uyuni is the largest salt field in the world with a total salt volume of around five billion tons. Each year, the salt field yields an average of 25,000 tons. As well as being a fascinating tourist attraction, Uyuni contributes to the mining sector of Bolivia's economy, because its salt is rich in lithium, accounting for 43% of the total reserves worldwide. Around 60,000 visitors from around the world drop by Uyuni each year.




  I reached Uyuni on a night bus that left La Paz at 10pm. Most of the passengers were tourists from all over the world. Buses to Uyuni usually run at night to save time and reach town at 4 or 5am. In April, the temperature dropped to -7oC. Arriving in this cold and silent little town at dawn, I was unsettled by the dark and deserted streets. Luckily, I found a small tavern in which to rest and eat a snack. The small space crammed with guests sitting, laying around and eating... Despite being tired after having been woken before dawn, everyone was excited about the upcoming journey to the “Salar de Uyuni”.


  Visitors usually sign up for tours to Uyuni in La Paz.. There are different types of tours, lasting for two or three days, but most visitors take a day tour. A day schedule usually involves a visit to a train dump and stops at parts of Salar de Uyuni, surrounding villages and Incahuasi “Island”.


  My tour started at 11am when the bus had enough passengers to depart. The buses can accommodate five or six guests, or even up to eight in peak seasons. The bus flashed through the attractions listed on the schedule, but people seemed indifferent as they were focused on reaching the salt field as soon as possible. When my bus reached the start of the salt field, people were increasingly anxious to disembark and immerse themselves in this stunning white wonderland. The buses are supposed to park in determined lots, so the passengers were excited to finally disembark. Finally, their dream came true.


  Setting foot in Uyuni, you will fully grasp the definition of "total whiteout”. The sky could not be bluer and the earth is capped in dazzling white grains of salt. You will be stupefied by the whiteness of salt sedimentation formed over the course of history. Everything is white; even sculptures, restaurants, hotels, tables and chairs are carved from huge blocks of salt.


  Incahuasi “Island” was the last stop on my day tour. This so-called island is in fact a little hill rising out of the surrounding salt field. Cactuses abound all over this hill. Seen from the top of the hill, Uyuni stretches white to the horizon. It looked like a white ocean.


  Sunset at Uyuni was another wonder as the broiling sun gradually turned dark red, casting fading gleams on the unfinished  furrows of salt made by local farmers. Bright and dark shades mingled over the horizon, eventually fading from azure to dark grey. The landscape seemed to grow even more lonesome and mournful.


I left Uyuni feeling satisfied and amazed by the mysteries of nature. Why was this magic so totally different than my ordinary life? I realized my life would be more meaningful if I could explore more of the world. This experience fueled me to embrace new journeys beyond the horizon.
Giang Le

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