What happens when you take a Frenchman, a Swede, a Portuguese girl and a Canadian chick, sprinkle in a Brazilian couple with just a dash of Javier – the Bolivian driver – and send everyone out into the desert for three days?
As far as I know, there are two departure points for the salt flat tour. You can either leave from Uyuni, Bolivia – which is cheaper but means you’ll be doing the best part of the trip first – or you can leave from San Pedro, Chile. Because I’ve been more-or-less working my way north on this trip, I decided to do a three day one-way tour starting from San Pedro and ending in Uyuni.
First things first: to recruit the crew. As every good adventurer knows, a great team is key to a successful exploration into the wilderness. I needed some intrepid travelers along with me to make this trek worthwhile (and also because booking in groups often means you can get a discount).
First to the table was the Frenchman. He was planning to trek through Patagonia and had some gear with him that made him useful for our quest. His talents ranged from opening beer with a lighter to spitting great distances, skills he promised to impart upon our journey. As he demonstrated in some of the mountains encircling San Pedro, he could bike uphill far faster than me – strength and agility, check check. Plus, he was a great opportunity for me to practice my French. Second-in-command present and accounted for.
As Nico and I embarked upon our initial journey into the Valle de la Luna we met a Portuguese girl who was destined to become the next member of our gang. Almost constantly smiling, she came equipped with a fancy camera and could scurry up and down salt hills as fast as any man. Later on she proved her worth with conversational Spanish and had a knack for charming both children and llamas, a fair number of whom we met on our expedition. Most important, she loved my often obscure and fairly random taste in music and was first to initiate a spontaneous a capella sing-a-long of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody that brought the rest of the car to tears. Major present and accounted for.
Last up was our adventurous Swede. Gifted with organization, she was the one who actually trekked around San Pedro researching the best company to book with. Talkative and flamingo-loving, she would leap into photographs in a single bound and go along with my cheesy photo-ops even when she knew they were ridiculous. In the midst of our adventure, when all hope of a toilet seemed lost, the two of us located the perfect place up the side of a mountain. Plus, she loved giggling at Pixar films with me when the others were trying to sleep. Captain present and accounted for.
The Brazilians added in some awesome salt flat photography ideas and a few car dance parties while Javier managed to take us to all the great sights across an unmarked desert and, unlike some of the drivers hired for these tours, he was sober whenever he was behind the wheel. He also proved his resourcefulness when, upon spotting a dead rabbit by the side of the road, cheerfully stopped the car and (jokingly?) said it would be a great supplement to dinner that night. Crewmates and Navigator present and accounted for.
With such a fantastic team recruited, I hardly had to do anything on my salt flat adventure. We off-roaded through the Siloli desert, saw huge mountains and multi-coloured lagoons, flamingos, foxes and more llamas than I can count. We slept in a hostel made entirely of salt, walked through a field of cactai, skipped around active geysers, climbed the monument to Dakar, frolicked around a train cemetery and were completely Wi-Fi-less for three full days.
Despite all the beauty of the first two days, the truly breathtaking sight came on the third. Having blearily stumbled out of bed at 4 in the morning and barely made it to the dining area for some bread and coffee, the six of us piled into the car and were driven in the near darkness to a watery salt flat. There, just before the sun rose, the entire sky was reflected in the ground.
It was, without a doubt, the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, and a sight that I can’t imagine ever gets old. After that we went to the dry salt flats, a wide and flat expanse of salt as far as the eye can see. Here we had fun with perspective and realized how terrible all of us are at directing photography shoots.
Emotional goodbyes were said in Uyuni as I bid farewell to my crew – they were all heading back to Chile after our successful adventure. Luckily, we’ve made plans to rendezvous again. The location for the next quest: an autumn soiree in Morocco. Stay tuned…