Bolivian Altiplano Part 1 - Tholar to Oruro
Salar de Uyuni: Pushing on

October 2-5, 2017

After arriving in Oruru we did some research on how to get to Uyuni which is the launching ground for the salt flats.

Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat at 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 sq mi). It is at an elevation of 3,656 meters (11,995 ft) above sea level.

The Salar was formed as a result of transformations between several prehistoric lakes. It is covered by a few meters of salt crust, which has an extraordinary flatness with the average elevation variations within one meter over the entire area of the Salar. The crust serves as a source of salt and covers a pool of brine, which is exceptionally rich in lithium. It contains 50 to 70% of the world’s known lithium reserves. The Salar is virtually devoid of any wildlife or vegetation.

So I’ve done considerable research to figure out why the salt forms hexagon shapes. There’s a lot of information online about it and we even asked our friend Charles who is a geologist. He said it best … because science. All of the information online if very technical and scientific so I’ll just leave it at that for you.

Salar de Uyuni was the shooting location for a major battle scene in Disney’s 2017 movie Star Wars: The Last Jedi representing the planet Crait.

What happened…

Andrew writes: We decided to forego more of the same scenery and instead opted to try the Bolivian railroad. It was about 7 hours to get from Oruro to the tourist hub of Uyuni. The scenery was pleasant, as we passed a few lagunas with huge flocks of flamingoes in them. I wonder what the flamingoes eat?? I can’t imagine there being any shrimp in them, heck I can’t imagine there being any sort of life in this desolate wasteland.

When we reached Uyuni, our buddy Canuck Chuck was there to greet us at the station. He took us out for 5Bs ($1) hamburgers and showed us to a nice hotel near the train station. He has been having quite the adventure, having ridden a lot of offroad routes between La Paz and Uyuni. Hearing about how hard everything was, and how one day he broke down and cried because of the conditions and loneliness made me grateful that I have Amanda with me and that we took the train instead of cycling.

The plan from here was to cycle across the popular salt flat, “Salar de Uyuni”. We set off one morning with the wind blowing straight in our face and enjoyed 20km of highway before making a turn and setting off across the salt plain with a convoy of pickup trucks hot on our heels. Talk about another world! The salar is incredible. You don’t see very much in any direction except white, salty hexagons, and the odd pick-up truck full of tourists. Far, far off in the distance sometimes you can make out a mountain, or volcano. Amanda let me draft behind her in the wind, and then we setup camp in the middle of nowhere to enjoy our night on the salar under the full moon. It was really nice.

Amanda writes: We arrived in Oruru and went online to do some route planning. We had a couple of options to the next bigger town and really launching pad for a popular cyclist destination; the salt flats. We had kept in touch with Charles from Canada since seeing him back in Peru and it turns out he was in Uyuni. We did some research on what the next section looked like and balanced it with many options which included maybe seeing Charles again and riding with him. At the end of the day we decided to take a train through the next section which seemed to be boring that way allowing us to hook up with Charles again. Due to some slower planning on our part we missed the train the day we arrived and ended up having to spend an extra day in Oruro to wait for the next train out. We didn’t mind hanging around in this town as there were endless parades with beautiful costumes, not all bad.

The train ride was really pretty as it went past a few lakes that had thousands of flamingoes; it was really pretty. Aside from that the landscape was quite flat. Off in the distance sometimes you could see volcanoes but not too much else going on. We arrived in Uyuni and spent a day planning what was next and hung out with Charles. We tried to get some Chilean pesos at the bank and exchange stores but there was very little to be had. We got as much as we could but weren’t armed with very much and would learn in a few days what a pain in the ass that was going to be.

We headed out to the salt flats and I was super excited as I tend to get when we embark on something that I’ve been looking forward to. And the flats lived up to their hype. Endless flat land as far as the eyes could see. At first there was quite a bit of tourist traffic to the few picture spots, like the Bolivia sign and the flags. Once we were past that there was almost nobody. Later in the afternoon there was some local bus traffic way off in the distance but that stopped too just near sunset. And then it was just us.

And I mean only us. It is the quietest place on Earth I have ever been. We specifically planned our time here without wind so it was easier to ride, and the lack of breeze made for an amazing surrounding. No birds, no bugs, no breeze, no vehicles, no humming power lines … just nothing. After visiting Ecuador the picture I have in my mind when I meditate is the Andes and grand mountains. After our visit here I might have another picture in my mind. The peaceful endless flat land. We stopped to camp and took our obligatory naked cycling pictures and then bundled up to sleep. And yes it’s a silly thing that most cycling tourists do. I don’t know why but we did it. It was cold!

As we set up camp and made dinner we enjoyed a picturesque sunset and then Andrew suddenly says “holy shit!”. I turn around and there is the biggest moon I’ve ever seen rising on the opposite horizon of the sunset; it was a full moon! Absolutely incredible. If we had of done our research and known it was coming we could have played with some fun photography but instead we just stood there and enjoyed the grand entrance of the moon to the skies. And then quickly realized that while it was beautiful we weren’t going to get any sleep unless we put our eye covers on. The moon is bright!

The aerial view of our rides:

Today’s Photographs

Bolivian Altiplano Part 1 - Tholar to Oruro
Salar de Uyuni: Pushing on