Wednesday (Miercoles) 2nd June, 2010
Day 446

Uyuni, Bolivia
Uyuni, Bolivia
Miles: 45,320
S 20.46526°
W 66.32533°

Today we ventured onto the famous Uyuni Salar or salt lake. Out goal was to make it to the center of the salar and an island called Isla Inca Huasi. In preparation for this adventure across the apparently roadless salar I had determined a series of GPS coordinates for points along our proposed route - courtesy of Google Earth again

Our day commenced with a 20 km drive North to the town of Colchani, it would be an understatement to say that this road was extremely rough. After checking in with the police post in Colchani we turned West through one of the streets of this very poor looking town, passing clear evidence of salt collection. This street eventually led us onto a a gravel road bed that traveled across the mud flats that surrounded the salar proper. Along the way we saw many humble buildings made from blocks of rock salt as well as a new hotel being built of the same material.

Driving onto the salar proper was a bit of an unnerving experience, not only did we have to contend with a very wet area initially (with the accompanying vision of a sinking Tiger) but once on the salt we realized that it is indeed largely roadless and even where there are tire tracks visible, one does not know where they lead. So from the start we had to rely on driving a compass bearing to one of our predetermined GPS points.

One of our first stops - about 5 miles onto the salt - was a famous Salt Hotel. Built entirely of rock salt (even the furniture) this establishment no longer operates as a hotel but is a souvenir shop and museum. Nina fell in love with this place and bought a few small llamas carved from rock salt.

From the hotel we headed 282° for nearly 50 miles across the salt to Isla Inca Huasi. I have never piloted a boat in the open ocean but now I have some idea of what it must be like. Watch the GPS and make sure we are heading towards the next GPS waypoint.

As we approached the island we picked up more tire tracks until they made a modest black mark on the salt that could almost be called a track.

The island supports a series of buildings associated with tourism - toilets, restaurant, museum, info center. A rough trail leads through a quite thick stand of Cardons (big cactus) to the summit of the island from where there were expansive views across the salt. This island has many examples of old coral formations testifying to its original submarine formation. From some of the signs we learned that the Cardon can live as long as 1200 years.

We lunched at the island and then drove somewhat slowly back across the salt using our GPS to ensure we did not stray too far from our outbound course. As on the outward journey we saw many tour company vehicles, mostly Toyota Land Cruisers, as little black spots in the distance.

This was a really memorable day. I hope the photos capture some of the magic.

Back at Colchani we picked up a couple of hitchhikers - two local women dressed in traditional gear, who asked us for a ride back to Uyuni. What could we say.