Across the magnificent Salar de Uyuni
Uyuni Travel Blog› entry 10 of 25 › view all entries
After breakfast at our Salt Hotel we went on to visit two caves, Cueva del Diablo (Cave of the Devil) and Cueva de Galaxias. Cueva de Galaxias was a cave found by two guys who just happened to look through a small hole with a flashlight and saw amazing limestone formations. These enterprising guys widened the tunnel and opened it to the public. Our tour guide was a Bolivian girl who was the daughter of one of the discoverers. Cueva del Diablo was actually a cemetary full of Chulpas, pre-Incan graves but all of the mummies were moved when the Spanish invaded. After the visit we began our drive across the vast and beautiful Uyuni salt lake.
Salar de Uyuni is the world's largest salt flat at 10,582 km². It is located in the Potosí and Oruro departments in southwest Bolivia, near the crest of the Andes, 3,650 meters high. The major minerals found in the salar are halite and gypsum. Some 40,000 years ago, the area was part of Lake Minchin, a giant prehistoric lake. When the lake dried, it left behind two modern lakes, Poopó Lake and Uru Uru Lake, and two major salt deserts, Salar de Coipasa and the larger Uyuni. Uyuni is roughly 25 times the size of the Bonneville Salt Flats in the United States. Salar de Uyuni is estimated to contain 10 billion tons of salt, of which less than 25,000 tons is extracted annually. All miners working in the Salar belong to Colchani's cooperative. Every November, Salar de Uyuni is also the breeding grounds for three species of South American flamingos: the Chilean, James's and Andean flamingos. It is also a significant tourist destination; highlights include a salt hotel and several so-called islands. As it is so flat it serves as a major transport route across the Bolivian Altiplano.
Due to its large size, smooth surface, high surface reflectivity when covered with shallow water, and minimal elevation deviation, Salar de Uyuni makes an ideal target for the testing and calibration of remote sensing instruments on orbiting satellites used to study the Earth. In addition to providing an excellent target surface the skies above Salar de Uyuni are so clear, and the air so dry, that the surface works up to five times better for satellite calibration than using the surface of the ocean. In September of 2002 a team took detailed GPS elevation measurements of a portion of the salt flats. This GPS data was then compared to the data from several ICESat passes over the area were used to evaluate the accuracy and precision of ICESat's instruments.
After stopping on the Salar for some great photos we headed for Isla del Pescados for a visit and lunch. This little island, in the shape of a fish, is in the middle of the salar and is covered in giant cacti. Each cactus grows only 1cm per year which made some of the cacti on the island over 1000 years old! The Salar seemed to wash into the island in waves and it was easy to see that this had been an island surrounded by sea at one time. After lunch we headed for Colchani, 70 km away where the villagers create Salt Pyramids and visitors enjoy a look at the Hotel Cabana de Sal – Salt Hotel. At this Hotel we stopped for a snack and met a group of very nice Russians that were crossing Bolivia on bicycle they had brought from Russia!!!
We continued to Uyuni and made a quick visit to the Train Cemetery, where there are lots of old trains abandoned in the middle of the desert when the mining ended in Uyuni and they were no longer needed to transport minerals. We headed for the center of the city where our Tour guide bought our Bus tickets that would take us to La Paz, Bolivia. We had dinner at a local restaurant, boarded the Bus and were on our way on what was to be the worst transportation experience of our lives. We couldn’t have imagined that the road from Uyuni to La Paz would be so horrible. It was so horrible that everyone got sick to the stomach because the bus never stopped bouncing around. The bus was so packed than an American from Los Angeles that was the last person to enter had to sit on the floor of the bus... because there were no seats available!!! He told me that he had asked for an aisle seat, but never thought that they would get so literal. Our group chipped in and offered him our smelly lama blankets that the Bus had given us.
After around 2 hours of
travelling we were startled when Nelson began to laugh uncontrollably.