Please Pass the Salt

10 09 2008

Posted by: Laura

Travel dates: 6.17.08-6.21.08

Bolivia is not renouned for its cuisine. In fact you are lucky if you leave Bolivia without getting sick.  In different conversations, multiple people told us not to eat any fruits, vegetables, or meat in Bolivia.  These restrictions leave you with a diet of bread and Snicker’s Bars. Not the healthiest options to say the least.

When we arrived in Uyuni we were thrilled to find a pizza restaurant, MinuteMan Pizza, owned by two Amherst grads, one of whom is a native Bolivian. Their pizza and pancakes were fabulous, so we ate every breakfast and dinner there everyday during our stay. A Sicilian we met later commented that MinuteMan was the best pizza she had eaten outside of Sicily.

The reason we stopped in the small, dusy town of Uyuni, in the first place, was because of its location at the edge of Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat. In prehistoric times, the Salar was a huge salt water lake. The lake dried up (NOT because of global warming) and left a vast expanse of whiteness stretching to the horizon. The edges of the salt flat can be 12 inches thick, while the middle is 10 meters deep of solid packed salt.  You need a 4×4 vehicle and a GPS system to see the flats on your own. We don’t have either of these things, so we decided to take a two day tour.   We had heard horror stories of Uyuni tour companies: cars breaking down, running out of gas (in the middle of nowhere), putting 8 people in a car with 6 seats, and/or providing unedible food.  We tried to find a recommendation for a good company, but none of the ones in our guidebook were still operating.  We spent an afternoon looking for a legitimate company.  We picked a medium priced tour and packed a lot of snacks.

The next morning, we (and only two other people) left for the Salar.  At our first stop, we saw clusters of miniature salt hills, part of the process of mining the salt. We stood on one to get a picture. So the next time you salt your french fries, you can think about the possibility that I stood on your salt.

We drove an hour onto the flat following the tire marks of other cars. The Salar de Uyuni is a unique geological formation unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Driving across salt is an odd experience because you have to keep reminding yourself it’s not snow. However, the nights are cold enough to make you think it could snow outside.  We stopped at a hotel made entirely of salt.  The hotel no longer accepts guests to spend the night.  It was recently condemned because it is structurally unsound (since, that’s right, it is made entirely of salt).  However, as long as you buy something in their store, they allow you to walk around and take pictures of the salt chairs and salt tables.  After leaving the hotel, we had lunch on the “island,” a cactus filled mound of earth with picnic tables and a bathroom.  Part of the popularity of the salt flats is that the white vastness allows you to play with the field of depth. I have now shrunk Chris. Our friend, Bob, asked if this cut down on travel expenses since I can now fit Chris in my pocket. Sadly, no.

After a day of driving around, we spent the night at a hostel on the edge of the flat. Many other tours stayed there as well and we met a great Turkish couple, Damla and Karem. We immediately became friends and later met up with them in Buenos Aires.

The following day, we visited a few sites around the flat including two burial sites at the base of a multi colored mountain.  After lunch we drove back to Uyuni.  Our tour could have been done all in one day.  But I didn’t mind the lack of organization since our car didn’t break down, and the food was good.  We had a last dinner at, yes, MinuteMan Pizza before leaving Uyuni.

Click here to see the pics of Uyuni Salt Flats at our Flickr site***

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