New Years 2016
The new year was just around the corner, we – the trio of two Toyota Land Cruisers and one XP Camper – planned to celebrate the coming of the new year on the biggest salt flat in the world : The Salar de Uyuni. In Oruro we needed to fill our fuel tanks, not always easy in Bolivia because not every gas station is allowed to sell to foreigners. Some do, but the price is usually more than double. We went to four gas stations and got sent away, Günter was getting frustrated, the fifth one finally agreed to a cash deal and gave us all the diesel we needed. During that time we lost our friends in city traffic and took off on our own – thinking they would catch up.
We entered the salar from the north, near volcano Tunupa. The drive there was interesting, Aymara villages and quinoa fields, sadly, due to El Nino, they had not received enough rain and the fields looked parched.
Salar de Uyuni is the worlds largest salt flat, spanning 4086 square miles (10,582 sq. km) in south-western Bolivia. Unlike traditional deserts, which have sand in abundance, the Salar de Uyuni features vast expanses of glistening white salt. The landscape is entirely flat, bar a few small ‘islands’ which only accentuates its surreal beauty. Underneath the cemented 2 to 7 m of salt are large reservoirs of lithium-rich brine. In fact, approximately 70% of the world’s lithium reserves are found in Salar de Uyuni and thus it’s not surprising that there’s an entire industry devoted to its extraction.
The salt crust is hard so we flew through this white expanse and headed for Pescador island (not Pescado Island where all the tour groups go), a fitting name for fishermen from Alaska. It feels weird to navigate on a lake and looking for an “anchorage” while driving your truck. After some searching we “anchored” off a point, trying to stay out of the wind. Our friends never showed up, the next day Günter climbed the highest peak on the island and looked all around. Just white and more white and no vehicles anywhere. The next island had a better cove and a cave to hike up to, still no sign of our friends with the two Land Cruisers. After spending the second night at Huanacuni island we decided to move on, leave the salt flats and camp at the train grave yard near Uyuni, they would surely come there. Yes, they had been one day behind us all the time and we finally met up again at the train tracks.