November 23, 2011
November 23, 2011
The Salt Flats of Bolivia
Not since the Pampas of Argentina have we traveled for any distance on flat terrain. Those first few days out of Buenos Aires were a blessing in disguise; mentally tiring, but the perfect warm-up for the hills ahead. Those days without hills have become a distant memory as every day since has been a day of roller-coaster ups and downs. What a treat it is to enter the Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world, where the sensation of riding over a completely flat landscape only adds to the otherworldly magic of the place.
At 80km the ride was a short one, and given that the entire ride was over absolutely flat terrain one could be fooled into assuming that everyone arrived in camp early in the day. But for a completely flat ride it felt surprisingly, well, not flat. From a distance the land looked even and homogenous, but as we approached a more complex truth was revealed. Every year the salt becomes saturated during the rainy season; as it dries it forms large hexagonal crystals. These hexagonal crystals form an endless puzzle with a little ridge hedging each piece. As the cyclists rolled along, their wheels on the ridges sounded like a drum- thump thump, thump thump; little speed-bumps with every spin of the wheels.
Many riders observed, in amazement, large holes in the salt, deep and glacial blue and large enough to swallow a bike wheel. But as the local adage states “you don´t have to know where the holes are. Just where they´re not.´´ At times it felt as if the salt wasn´t salt at all, but miles of crunchy snow. As Svend put it, the salt felt like “Spring ice in Canada: hard in the middle, and slushy at the edge.“
But it wasn´t the crystals or the holes or the slush that slowed the riders progress; it was the opportunity to take unique photos that took up so much time. As the salt flats were one of the most anticipated days on the journey, it was great to see that everyone took the time to soak up the magic of the place, and capture it with bizarre and hilarious photos.
Our camp that evening was in Coquesa, a small town of stone buildings, sitting on a fringe of green grazed by alpacas. Overhead sat a rugged brown volcano, and beyond us an endless sea of salt. It was a place of fairy-tale beauty, and the perfect place to end a day of surreal sights.