Thursday, June 10, 2010

We woke up around 6:30, and while it was light outside, the sun was not "up." La Paz has got to be the world's worst city for sunrises and sunsets. Again, to say it is in a bowl is an understatement. Our bags still reeked of gasoline, and we hoped we could air them out on our drive to Uyuni. We got picked up by our driver Raul just before 8. The drive out of La Paz (and then out of El Alto) was pretty uneventful. Interestingly, the sights on the road between El Alto and Oruro looked quite a bit like Camp Pendleton (i.e, what California looks like without population). The only noticeable difference was the abundance of crosses signifying car accidents - in all honesty, there was one at least every kilometer or two. We made sure to buckle up.

Past Oruro, the ground started to turn more red, with far less vegetation. We could see Lago Popoo (another remnant of the large inland sea that eventually formed Salar de Uyuni) off to the right, and there were several reflections and mirages off of the lake. We stopped in Challapata, and Justin nearly scalped himself exiting a bathroom doorway. His head was bleeding, but fortunately not too bad, and no stitches were necessary.

We had lunch in Huari, and lost our paved road shortly after that. Right at the end of the paved road, we stopped at a large petrol station, and there were tons of buses (apparently coming back from the Salar) stopped to wash all the salt and dirt off of the bottom of the vehicles, to avoid corrosion. We were in the middle of the desert, there was nothing but the gas station and a bunch of buses, but blaring on the outdoor speakers was the song from "Ghost," which was wonderfully out of place. It was one of those moments that you remember forever, if only because of how random it was. Caught up in the moment, we only had the good sense to record the last couple seconds.

Despite no pavement, we could still could drive at a pretty good pace, a bit like the last part of the drive into Torres del Paine. On the unpaved road, we saw lots of llamas and vicunas. The further we went along, there started to be more mesas, more red soil, and it looked a bit like Arizona (which we ironically haven't visited). Our first view of Salar de Uyuni was a peekaboo, but our second one about 10 minutes later got a "wow."

We got to our hotel around 4pm, well before sunset. Hotel Luna Salada is constructed nearly entirely of salt, including the interior walls and the floor. Many of the hotels in the area are also constructed of salt, because its abundant and therefore cheap. It also helps that it doesn't rain much; when that happens, the salt needs to be "repaired" - we have no idea how they fix it. We took some photos of the hotel and of the Salar, then said "now what" and waited for sunset.

The Salar is unlike anything we've ever seen, and likely unlike anything 99.9% of people have seen, but once you've seen it, there's not a whole lot more to do. It's a huge expanse of white salt, with mountains in the background. You can stare at it for hours, but likely not for days.

The sunset was nice, but our cameras could not focus on anything. For one, the cameras probably were not designed to take pictures of huge white expanses. Two, the sheer amount of light, plus the reflection off of the Salar, probably messes with the light meters. Three, because the Salar is so big, nothing is within miles of you, meaning that the camera has to set its range to infinity. We froze our hands taking pictures and video - the temperature dropped precipitously as soon as the sun was gone.

We went into the dining room area to warm up, and there were 4 Swiss (German Swiss, not the Frenchys) doing the same. We talked for a long while - they were going north, we were going south, so we exchanged travel ideas and highlights. We ordered a round of chuflays, ate dinner, and then went to sleep early. We were warned to bring warm clothes for sleeping in Uyuni, but our beds had something like a triple comforter and our room had a heater, so we were good.