Ever since I was little, I’ve craved adventure. I wanted to pack a bag and hike through fields, climb big rocks, get lost in nature. The most I was able to do at the time, however, was explore my backyard. As Michelle and I packed our things for the 5-day excursion through Salar de Uyuni, I had the feeling that my hunger for adventure was about to be satisfied. I was right.
The bus ride from La Paz to Uyuni was predicted to be about 14 hours. After boarding the bus and leaving around 7:30pm, Michelle and I settled down for the long ride only to be awakened at 5:30am. The bus had broken down in the middle of nowhere, or as Michelle dryly called it, “donde el diablo perdió su poncho” (where the devil lost his poncho). The location was so remote, with its flat, scrubby plains and dried up gorges, that hardly anyone had a cell phone signal. We waited 4 hours while the engine was fiddled with and passengers eventually hailed the randomly passing minibuses for a ride to civilization.
Finally, we made the same decision and took a small bus to a town about 2 hours away. From there, we took another bus to Uyuni. The whole trip took a total of 22 hours instead of 14, and we would have to start our 3-day tour the next day. It was an unexpected twist in our journey, but we took it in stride.
After spending a night in a hotel in the small town of Uyuni, we woke up bright and early to have breakfast and head over to the “El Desierto” tourist agency. We met our driver and the 4 other people going on the tour. There was an old French couple (each about 65 years old) and a young Spanish couple (in their 30s), all of whom were very friendly and eager to see the sights. We loaded our bags into the SUV and drove to destination #1: the train cemetery.
We had about 15 minutes to climb and photograph the rusted old trains. After that, we ran back to the car and drove to the most anticipated location of all: THE SALT DESERT, also known as “Salar de Uyuni”! Michelle had told me about this incredible place when she was staying at my house over the summer. It is miles and miles of flat, white, salty ground. As you go further out, it is covered in about 2-3 inches of rainwater, which transforms the landscape into a vast reflective mirror that seems to fuse land and sky. As we drove through the cracked white desert, I could feel my heartbeat quicken. The horizon began to shimmer and appear silver-lined. We were almost there. Finally, we arrived, and I could hardly believe what I was seeing.
Walking out toward that non-existent horizon was the most surreal experience I have ever had. I was in awe of the beauty around me and reveled in it. I felt truly privileged to be there. By the end of our time in the Salar, my camera was in desperate need of a charge.
The rest of the trip was filled with brief stops at stunning lakes filled with flamingos, incredible rocky structures in the desert, breath-taking mountains and volcanoes, smoky geysers, and many more sights that will be imprinted in my memory forever. At one point, as the sun was setting and making the mountains look like pink-toned peaks from a fairy tale, I closed my eyes and sighed. Turning to Michelle, I said, ” Cuando estamos aquí, yo siento más cerca de Dios.” (In English, “When we’re here, I feel closer to God.”) She laughed in agreement and responded, “Aca nosotros estamos cerca de Dios!” (Here we ARE closer to God!) I laughed with her–the altitude we were at was literally closer to the heavens than anywhere else I had been.
Now that I am back in the U.S. I feel happy to be home, but also so honored to have been able to see Michelle’s home. Her family treated me like I was a blood relative. The beauty of her country will stay with me always. It was 2 weeks of absolute wonder that I will cherish as long as I live.