Finding perspective at the Salar de Uyuni

Considering you actually survive getting into Bolivia, you don’t visit the country without a stop at the Salar de Uyuni. Because, well, you just don’t.

The Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat — 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 sq miles) — and contains 70 percent of the world’s lithium resources. The flat, dry surface is also home to pink flamingos and calibrators for Earth observation satellites. Surrounding the salt flat are beautiful mountain ranges, rock gardens and lagoons that you can see in a three-day tour of the area.

As with everything else in Bolivia, horror stories about this tour are endless: drunk jeep drivers, flat tires and no spares, no translator. You get what you pay for in Bolivia, and the Uyuni tour is not a time to pinch pennies. Pay a little extra and go with Red Planet Expedition, and hopefully, you’ll have as good a time as I did.

 

A snapshot of the Salar de Uyuni: Plain yet somehow still vibrant, hexagons stamp the pure white salt all the way to the cyan sky. Only solitude is in the distance as just blue, just white stretch on to the beautiful forevers. Open and barren, the Salar de Uyuni exposes everything while hiding from the rest of the world. In an instant, the vast nothingness can be transformed into something — more than something: a spectacular phenomenon, a mirror to the sky. A perfect rainfall paints purple mountain tops and puffy clouds across the salt flat’s blank canvas.

Salar de Uyuni

Salar de Uyuni

Me!

Me!

Our group for the three-day Uyuni tour couldn’t have been a more eclectic, interesting crowd with incredible experiences to share. A couple from Switzerland, another from England and a third pair from England’s channel islands, along with a girl from Turkey and a group of friends from Canada really completed our trip.

We swapped travel warrior stories, talks of future trips and insider details from our home lands over the hourslong Jeep rides on the bumpy terrain of the Bolivian desert. Somewhere between peeing behind the 4 x 4s parked in the open, barren wasteland, changing countless flat tires and navigating a night with no running water — we became friends. I would have never survived it without their company and am so grateful they made this tour an unforgettable one.

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Some of the gang waiting for lunch.

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Nora and I.

The Salar de Uyuni is a place to find perspective.

per-spec-tive: “the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance”

I thought about this a lot while exploring the vast open space of the salt flats, a place where things can appear much different than they actually are. I admittedly struggle with keeping perspective at times, and I often unnecessarily fret about stuff that really doesn’t matter in the big scheme of life. Standing out there — in the middle of beautiful, vivid nothingness — I thought about where I am at in my life and tried to gain “perspective.”

I’ve been feeling “lost” lately, as I spend my days wandering instead of settling into the conventional post-college life society has prescribed us. It can be difficult living abroad with that in mind, feeling as though you’re just delaying reality. As I watch my friends back home get married and start careers, I have no interest in either. I simply don’t know what I want to do.

Thinking about this and trying to view it all with “relative importance,” I reminded myself I don’t have to have it all figured out right now: I am 23. I am standing in the middle of the world’s largest salt flat. And I am happy.

So what’s my perspective? Sure, I am a little lost. But — I am traveling the world. I am meeting amazing people from all different cultures. I am learning. I am really, really living. And all of this will help me find my way … eventually. Until then — in perspective — being “lost” is OK with me.

Here’s some more perspective from the Salar de Uyuni:

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Me and my passport

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Me balancing my infamous yoga tree on Nora’s index finger.

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Nora meditating in the palm of my hand.

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Ah! Dinosaurs are alive and well on the Salar de Uyuni…and they’re trying to eat our entire group!

Gaining perspective doesn’t come without reflection.

I decided to stay “lost” for awhile longer, after thinking about all I’ve experienced in the past two months. As my trip becomes closer to the end of an adventure than to the start of one, I’ve made myself a promise to keep moving, to never overstay my welcome in one corner of the world, and to write another chapter of this story rather than closing the book.

The Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest mirror, literally. With a few inches of rain, the salt flat is transformed into 4,086 square miles of reflection. It takes a bit of luck to witness, considering if it rains too little — the reflection won’t show, and too much — the area will be flooded and innavigable.

To our delight, part of the salt flats had the perfect amount of water leftover from a day-old rain shower. Small puddles on the far, less-traveled end of the salar provided our glimpse of this spectacular phenomenon.

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The salt flat is the world’s largest mirror when wet. We were lucky enough to catch a glimpse.

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Hexagons on the hexagon-filled salar!

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Look at our reflection. It spells “Uyuni.”

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Me times three.

It seems the more I discover the world, the more I discover myself. Traveling is a beautiful thing!

—JDF