July 21, 2016: The Uyuni Salt Flats

I’ve seen many incredible things, all over the world and not so far from home.  Things that have left me at a loss for words, and things that have set me writing pages and pages.

Somehow, the Uyuni salt flats in southern Bolivia manages to encompass both.  What words can do this place justice?

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And yet, how can I not even try.  I can explain at least.  The flats are the largest such salt deposit in the world.  They are a hundred kilometers wide.  Or, to put in terms my fellow Americans will understand, I drove across them at about fifty miles an hour today for forty minutes, and I only managed to get about halfway across.

The salt flats are the remnants of an inland sea, created millions of years ago by the same forces that created the Andes.  I know I’m out here primarily to document and understand the humans in this part of the world – but sometimes we’ve got to sit back and really appreciate their tremendous natural surroundings.

This whole thing has absolutely worth the rough overnight bus ride from La Paz.  It was even worth the fact that I almost missed that bus through my own mental carelessness (translation, double check your conversions when the bus company gives you your departure in military time).  And yeah, it is even worth the fact that in my mad rush – a sprint up hill through the streets of La Paz, 3600 meters in altitude – I managed to drop my tablet in the street.

I’m typing to you through a shattered screen, but I honestly can’t remember the last time I felt so whole.

Just look at this!

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Uyuni itself is small but fascinating, a hardscrabble mining town attempting a makeover as one of Bolivia’s premier tourist destination.  This public art – all wrought metal and menace – tells most of the story.

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And the famous train cemetery on the edge of town completes the thought.  These are left over from the silver mining boom that ended decades ago, and now, next to the salt flats, they have become Uyuni’s primary attraction.  They aren’t wasted – they’re recycled.

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