The salt flats of Bolivia were something we had been looking forward to the entire trip. They are the largest salt flats in the world (over 4000 square miles) at an elevation of almost 12,000 feet! The salt crust on this evaporated lake is a few meters thick, so you can drive on this crazy, flat, white “road” for hours and not see a soul. Talk about a feeling of infinity. It is a truly unique place, and one that we decided would be even more fun to experience with a group of our overland friends.
Enter the Swiss.
We had been traveling on and off with Simone and Michael since we first met them in the Yucutan, Mexico. They have a really badass Defender named Fritz, and we have a ton in common with them. We always have fun with them when we are together and end up eating very good food and generous amounts of wine.
We Met Karin and Marcus, who motor biked across Mongolia before they did the PanAm, in Cartagena, Colombia, for the first time when we all shipped the gap. We have pretty much been seeing them every few weeks since. They are both great.
We had all agreed to meet up in the dreary town of Uyuni on Monday to stock up on supplies before we entered the Salar for a few days of dry camping. The Swiss were coming from La Paz, but Sam and I were in Sajama, so we decided to take the “back entrance” to the Salar.
The problem with this back entrance route onto the Salar was we were in very rural, off the map Bolivia. The maps we had loaded in our GPS, our paper maps and my guide books did not have roads to where we wanted to go. We were not sure if there would be roads the entire way to the salt flats and if there was even a back entrance, so it was a leap of faith to move forward. If there were no roads, we risked driving hundreds of miles on rough roads and having to circle back. Sam wanted to turn around and take the highway, but I told him I thought we should try the back route, there were small towns on the map, I felt there had to be roads. I am always the trouble maker on this adventure (and am very persuasive) so off into the mapless roads of Bolivia we went.
There were many tiny dirt roads south of Sajama, and every time I saw a village, I would ask someone if there were roads ahead and if we could enter the salt flats from them,.The locals would point us in a direction and lucky enough, we always would find a road.
The roads were atrocious, I will not pretend it was fast driving, but it was really fun (for me at least). Sam hates not having clear directions in the GPS, his engineer brain likes structure. After a full day of driving we caught our first glimpse of the crazy white expanse of the Salar. It looked like a shimmering mirage. It was blinding white in the high altitude sun and looked unreal after almost eight hours of red clay dirt tracks and pink hued mountains. It looked incredible and we were very relieved to have found a way onto to Salar. The last 80 kilometers to Uyuni was across the entire length of the salt flats and after driving around 20 MPH we were suddenly flying across the perfectly flat salt at over 60 MPH! It was so fun and Sam was so excited to finally see this amazing site.
We all met up in the depressing town of Uyuni and headed out to the salt flats the following morning after stocking up on supplies. Once on the salt, we tried to find tracks to follow (some areas of the salt are not strong enough to hold a 5 ton vehicle) where we all drove around, took pictures, camped, drank copious amounts of rum and coke, watched glorious sunsets and basically had a really awesome time together. Here is a photo summary of our amazing time on the Salar:
While on the Salar one of the fun things to do is play with the perspective that an endless white expanse gives you and take funny pictures. During the days on the Salar, the sun bouncing off the salt was intense, but we had the awning of the XP out and made lots of ice cubes in our freezer to supply everyone with cold rum and coke.
We actually struggled with the pictures because Sam’s camera’s focal length was having trouble focusing on the small items in front of the lens in the foreground. But it was still fun playing around for a few days, cracking each other up with our silly photo ideas.
After three days driving around the Salar, Hero was literally covered with salt. Even our windows and sides were so salty that if you licked them (which I do not recommend unless you have a good bottle of tequila and a lime) was a huge XP salt lick. So after three days on the Salar we returned to Uyuni and spent over an hour having a guy pressure wash the truck. My only advice about the car wash is make sure is is agua dulce (fresh water), some of the car washes use water that is salty which is no good.