The otherworldly Solar de Uyuni

Returning from Huayna Potosi energized and enthusiastic for more adventure, I booked an overnight bus for that night and a tour of Bolivia’s famous Solar de Uyuni for the following day.

Arriving in the small desert-town of Uyuni at 6 am, I waited in a local coffee shop until my tour agency’s office opened a few hours later. A couple dozen other tourists joined me there, and together we loaded our gear on and boarded four Toyota Land Cruisers, which would be our4x4 transport through the Bolivian Altiplano (high desert) for the next 3 days.

Our first stop was the old railyard, where we romped around and climbed the abandoned train cars for the better part of an hour. Lots of people posed for pictures in front, inside, and on top of the cars.

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If you look closely, you can see my head popping up through a hole in the car below.

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“This is the life,” reads the graffiti on the train.

Next stop, the salt flats: the main attraction of the tour. The huge plane of salt, formed from what was part of the ocean millions of years ago, stretches dozens of miles across.

Some areas had large mounds of salt piled up.

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The salt flats are famous for the optical-illusion photography that they’re conductive to. Guide books, travel blogs, and tour agencies related to Bolivia are covered in these green-screen like images of people manipulating the viewer’s sense of depth perception in the vastly homogeneous landscape.

My Australian mate Peter and I enjoyed playing with these shots for a good hour…

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… after he escaped this giant WWF-like Barbi chasing him.

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A few weeks later, when Stephen and Alex would visit the same place, they took full advantage of the opportunity too.

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In the middle of the salt ocean is an island covered in cacti, which we hiked around and took in the views of the surrounding area from a bit of elevation.

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We finished day one by visiting a community that lives in the middle of the solar, in houses built of salt and coral left over from the location’s formerly submerged geography.

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While the walls are made of bricks of salt, they are built on top of stacks of coral, which prevent against the crumbling of the structures when it rains.

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Day 2 was spent driving through the seemingly endless desert next to the solar.

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The desert went on…

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…and on…

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..and on.

It was scattered with rocks, mountains, volcanoes, and lakes that seemed fit for entirely different planet than our own.

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We stopped for lunch next some alien rocks, which only added to the Salvador Dali-like surreal-ness of the landscape.

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Rock tree, a famous symbol of this desert and its rock formations, was definitely a spectacle to behold.

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In the middle of the afternoon, I found myself atop a hill admiring the vastness of the landscape, and thought to open my Chogyam Thungpa Pocketbook to read a little Buddhism.

When I flipped to a random page and read the page, it gave me goose-bumps to realize how appropriate the passage was.

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Not long after, on top of a big rock, I realized that I was the tiny dot on top of the shadow I was sitting on.

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Day 2 was capped off with a visit to Lago Colorado, a multi-colored lake with red water caused by algae.

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The lake is also unique in that thousands of flamingos live there, grazing the shallow waters with their stick-like legs and feeding off the small creatures that give them their pink color.

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We spent the night at a very basic hostel in the middle of the dessert, next to the nicest, least-stinky hot springs I’d ever been in. There was so little light out there that the stars showed up in twice the attendance as usual, brighter than ever, accompanied by the outline of the milky way.

Day 3 began with a visit to another epic lake, this one in front of a large dormant volcano with a peak over 18,000 ft above sea level.

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The rest of the day was spent sleeping through the drive back through far less scenic parts of the desert, completing the loop to our starting place in the town of Uyuni.

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