21/11/2017 Travel

Salar de Uyuni, an incredible adventure between land and sky

Fabulous landscapes in the largest continuous and high salt desert in the world in Bolivia


Photo: Susana Gorostidy/LANA


The 70s marked the beginning of adventure tourism in Uyuni. The locals began to notice the presence of people outside the environment, mostly Europeans, who entered a few kilometers into the salt flat, with no guidance other than their sense of location. In the dawn of the 90s, when Slucka arrived, there was a considerable increase in the flow of visitors, even though access to Uyuni was still difficult. The trip, by train, car or bus, from anywhere in Bolivia, demanded several hours. The roads were dirt and were in terrible condition.


But this reality changed from 2011, when routes of entry to the city and to the salt paved and the airport was inaugurated. Amaszonas was a pioneer in the flights to this destination, which became the emblematic tourist image of Bolivia. At present, the local airline offers several daily frequencies from La Paz.


With an area of ??10,582 km2, the salt flat is located 560 kilometers south of the capital of the country and 3,680 meters above sea level, in a region that is mostly steep, volcanic and desert, a scenario that could lead to suppose a territory with little life, without surprises. Nothing further from that idea. On the banks of the salar live indigenous communities (Quechua and Aymara), who work the raw material; and sometimes vicuñas and flamencos are seen in the salar.



Photo: Susana Gorostidy/LANA


After descending kilometers, the predominant white landscape is altered by spotting the majesty of the Tunupa volcano and two important elevations in the immense plain: the Inca Huasi islands (the best known) and Pescado (farthest and out of the tourist route). Both belong to a series of 32 islands within the salt flat, all mountain tops that surface on its surface.


On the surface of the islands a layer of earth has been concentrated that has given rise to an impressive ecosystem with varied vegetation, petrified algae (evidence of the existence of ancient lakes within the altiplano) and caverns. "The first time I arrived in Inca Huasi, I met Don Alfredo Lázaro, the first inhabitant of the island. He had lived there for several years, in a natural cave that he himself had conditioned, where he eventually received tourists, "he tells Viajes Slucka. "We ate quinoa and charque de llama, tasted the Bolivian singani (grape distillate) and made a night walk around the island, an occasion that showed me other caverns and told me fascinating stories of their people."



Photo: Susana Gorostidy/LANA

Arco Iris, the "hidden" waterfalls of Bolivia

The island Inca Huasi (House of the Inca, in Quechua) has a perimeter of almost two kilometers and a maximum height of 102 meters. At the top, which accesses through a path between giant cactus, there is a ceremonial center that serves as a lookout, from where you can see the immensity of the salt, its magic, which from the first moment enhanced the imagination of the adventurous Argentine cyclist.


Activated by the memory of a Marlboro advertising that showed a strange device driven by the wind at the time, Slucka began to dream of this practice -which at the time he knew that it was called carrovelismo-, and to work in the making of these carrovelos, to add them to the tourist offer of Uyuni. "I make them in a traditional way, recycling different materials discarded by people, several of them I pick up when I travel to Buenos Aires, like aluminum masts that are used for windsurfing or candles that I fix and modify with a sewing machine. I design them based on what I find, listening to my instinct, because I am totally self-taught. The first carrovelo was wooden and simple. But I was working and was evolving to acquire greater speed (90 km / h) and safety. The project is in the final stage. This year I hope to put it into practice. "


The salt is more, much more. It always holds surprises. Thus, different optical phenomena can be appreciated, such as, for example, inversion, which occurs due to the crystallinity of the salt layer, especially when it is flooded.


But to know in depth the salt you have to have several days. In the area surrounding it, near Uyuni, there are two other attractions, very different, that are part of a walk of a day, not very demanding in terms of the physical, which give the visitor a brief glimpse.


One of these attractions is the curious train cemetery, on the outskirts of the city of Uyuni, where they are deposited, in the open, old remains of locomotives of American or English origin XIX and XX, which in other times transported minerals that they were extracted from the nearby Pulacayo mine towards the Chilean port of Antofagasta.


The other is Colchani, a small town that serves as the main entrance to the salt. In it the tourist can appreciate and acquire crafts made of cactus wood, wool or salt. Many of its inhabitants are engaged in making iodized salt or blocks of salt. All walks are finished and crowned with the sunsets. Unique and amazing. Always different.


A festival of colors: one more spectacular than the other. At that time of day there is usually a phenomenon called white out, in which the horizon is blurred and the sky is barely distinguishable from the earth.


At that time it is very interesting to observe the reaction of those who visit the salt for the first time. His gestures and expressions denote amazement. As it is hard for them to understand that nature gives them those sunsets, which by themselves already pay for the trip to Uyuni.