Salt Flats of the Devil of the Death from Hell...

Trip Start Apr 29, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Monday, November 20, 2006

Chapter I - La Salar de la Diablo de la Martre de Infierno de Hielo

"It was made by Volcan Tunupa spraying milk everywhere to stop fighting ovr her..."
"Uh huh..."
"Because all of the other volcanoes claimed to be her Dad..."
"Uh... huh... Because the mother volcano got around a bit?"
"Coz the mum volcano was a bit of a 'ho-vol-ca-no'?"
"Don't women only produce milk if they're pregnant? Maybe it's different for volcanoes..."
"So maybe Volcan Tunupa got around a bit as well...?"

The Salar de Uyuni features an amazing, unique milk. Bolivian volcano milk. Common name? Salt. But not just a bit of it - some 12000 sq km of it - in some places 20 m deep - apparently the largest and highest salt flat - a vast, immense expanse of white; the reflections of intense, uninhibited sun creating a pure, overwhelming glow almost unbearable even to shaded eyes. Stretching to the horizon and beyond, the Salar is one of those places that you cannot help but be amazed by. As you stand in the middle, surrounded by nothingness, feeling your skin burn in the relentless light, your mind automatically, unconsciously starts thinking 2 things:
a) wow - fuck this is cool; and
b) let's take some stupid pictures.

The forever white of the Salar fucks with your sense of perspective. Fantastic if you want to take stupid photos. And who doesn't? Enormous knives, ridiculous tennis balls, too many people holding the sun, mini people where they shouldn't be, things that just aren't meant to happen. Stupid photos on the Salar? Briliant. How I managed to survive an assasination attempt with an enormous pocket knife is a story far too compicated and traumatic for me to retell now. Suffice for me to say that it may have involved an equally enormous Cheezel...

Standing grand, isolated, is an amazing cactus covered rock, floating alone in the middle of the sea of Bolivian Volcano milk. La Isla del Diablo it's called. Island of the Devil. Of the Death from Hell of Salt. I think that's what it's called anyway. And if it isn't, it should be. From the top, with the contrasts of the rich red rock, the green, menacing cactii and the exceptional white; small jeeps filled with tourists descending eupon the Devil's rock from all direction on abstract, windy roads on the Salar - it's a surreal vista. Beautiful, wondrous, not entirely of this world. Pehaps more of the world of the devil of the death from hell. Brilliant.

The Salar? Really quite amazing. And although we didn't get to see the sun rise over the Salar, or the spectacular reflection from the water covered flats in the winter, it was nonetheless brilliant. Salt flat it up I say...

Chapter II - On the Road Again...

"Vinny Grella's Mum's Jeepy Jeep Jeep Jeep is what it should be called..." Such a statement was completely lost on the Spanish, French, Danish and New Zealandish comprising our tour group. "Huh?"
The Land Cruiser bounced along the dusty roads of Bolivia's south west, close inspection revealing it to be a Toyosa model, rather than the better known Toyota. I try and decide what is more nauseating - the suspensionless bumps of the back seat of the Jeepy Jeep Jeep Jeep or the taste of the coca leaves that I'm chewing. I resolve in favour of the coca leaves, but masticate on as I start to feel my high-altitude headache wear away. Pablo of Madrid - of previous Morocco and Toledo fame - translates that our driver hasn't had sleep for the past 2 days. Great. A massive lump of coca leaves bulges out of his cheek. Coca leaves - keep him awake and alert. Do it... Toyosa is stifling - the immense plooms of dust hovering outside making it impossible to open the windows. But through the clouds of sand, every now and then, a volcano emerges, a vivid green or red lake, or desert and rock formations direct from Dali's surrealist period, and you momentarily forget about your inability to breathe, your 3 types of nausea, that you've had no sleep and that you driver it trying to kill you - it's all about the incredible landscape which continued to be of the kind that I like to describe as 'where the fuck am I' scenery. Brilliant...

Chapter III - Long Legged Beauties

Flamingoes are strange animals. Gorgeous of course, with their elegant long legs and vibrant, beautiful pinks and whites. But what the hell are they thinking? Are they out of their mind? What kind of animal chooses to inhabit such inhospitable, desolate, nutrition-barren lands? A stupid but hot one, it seems. So, in their thousands upon thousands, the flamingoes flock to the salt lakes of southern Bolivia, in search of the finest mrco-organisns the world has to offer. Never mind the scorching sun; the powder-fine dust spiralling constantly in the Andean breeze. The freezing nights and even more freezing, chilling winds? The burning, high concentration of salt in the water? Not a concern. It's all about the micro-organisms, apparently. Flamingoes - gorgeous, but what are they thinking? Although, I guess the same can be said for some girls... Controversial...

If I were a flamingo, do you know where I'd hang out? Thermal baths. THat's right. Hot, cleansing, tranquillo, soothing thermal baths. Had a long day standing on one leg, looking pink, searching for micro-organisms? Why not go down to the Aguas Termales Chalviri for a leisurely dip and a champagne (because I can't imagine flamingoes drinking beer) with some of the other birds. Just down the road - like a local. All of that salt from those lakes getting a bit deep into your feathers? Your beak not quite cleaning like it used to? Agua Calientes it up - do it. The hot thermal baths were, undoubtedly, one of the highlights of the tour of the Salar. But at 4.30am, -5 degrees plus wind chill, the buzzing Toyosa and the glow on the horizon of the soon-to-rise sun the only semblance of light, there was some hesitation in getting out of my 27 layers of clothes and exposing myself to certain death. It was, of course, in the end, brilliantly worthwhile. There's this moment of pure bliss - when you are freezing your fucking ass off - and you slip slowly into an amazing 35 degree mineral water bath, the landscape around you minutely morphing second by second as the sun creeps over-patiently over the horizon. Pure bliss. Living the dream...

There's nothing quite like the smell of fresh sulphur in the morning. Bursting through the earth's crust in a magnificent, ominous way, more suggestive of a plane crash than a natural phenomenon. You see, as with smoke and fire, the same seems to go for hot springs, geysers and fumulorous. So, as the sun lifts itself above the horizon, Jeepy Jeep Jeep Jeep turns a corner, revealing a raw part of the earth, boiling on the surface, a direct passage to the heart of the world - perhaps to hell? Fumurolous. Geysers. Geysers? Wicked. No one in the Jeep has played Space Quest 1. I try to explain the significance of putting a rock on a geyser. It is lost - both in experience and in translation. "Get rock." "Put rock on geyser."

"Get alpaca." "Put alpaca on geyser." Flamingoes are decent, but they're not alpacas. Many years ago, on a visit to the Royal Show, I developed a special fondness for alpacas. This fondness has since been nurtured by my close involvement with the Australian Alpaca Association. And now, I'm in Alpaca country. Strangely, I now surprisingly little about alpacas. However, this doesn't stop me from trying to justify why they're better than llamas.
Me: Well, alpacas are smaller, y'know and... um... the llama is... kinda well, fatter and its neck is not as long or straight... and, y'know, alpacas are just cooler... See that over that there - that's an alpaca.
Guide: That's a llama...
Me: Hmmm...

Having seen many an alpaca and llama in the last few das, it has only reinforced my view that alpacas are far superior to llamas. And that llama that I thought was an alpaca? Easily the finest llama ever produced. Alpacas? Wicked. "Get alpaca."

And so to the Top 5. A considerable amount of time as spent on the Salar taking stupid photos. First the idea. Then the setting up. Getting everyone to cooperate. Getting it just right. Decent fun. But just as humorous was watching other groups attempt to take stupid photos - hear their ideas, listen to them suggest things that you would never hear anywhere ese. Here are the top 5 things overheard from othr groups on the Salar de Uyuni:

5. So - Jen - you kick him in the head and - Lisa - you hit him with the shovel...
4. Haven't you ever ridden a dinosaur before?
3. Who wants to stand on Juanita's left breast?
2. I think it would be better it is looked like Matt was coming out of my ass...
1. Someone tell the monkey it has to hold the bells out wider...

Iguazu falls of the Devil of the Death... Do it...
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