Salar de Uyuni. This amazing place has been a place I’ve been wanting to visit for years. For A, it is a place she has only heard about because I have told her and we have seen pictures. She is excited to see the salt flats, she talks about it a lot. But of course to her, the experience is a different one than mine.
She hasn’t had time to ponder about the salt flats for hours on end like I have. And she doesn’t have the same expectations.
Even so, the experience is incredible for both of us. Visiting this place has truly been an adventure. It’s breathtaking beauty and grandeur is almost indescribable and pictures don’t really do the place justice.
As with so many other wonderful places in the world, Salar de Uyuni is difficult to get to if you don’t go on a tour. I swallow my ideals once again and pay up. 1400 bolivianos for the two of us. It is actually a discounted price. And food is included, luckily.
The good thing about going on a tour is that we get to meet other travellers. This is almost always a lovely experience and this time is no exception.
We meet Valeria and Lucas, from Italy and Brazil. And we meet Brooks and Angelica, from the States.
The tour lasts for three days and we’re not the only ones going, lots of other travellers are headed the same way. We all bundle up in the same locations. We meet each other at eating times and when we’re accomodated for the night. Everything is shared, from restrooms to sleeping quarters and there is not much time to contemplate impressions or to catch your breath and just relax.
These things are hard for me I wont deny. It is as if my body is always tense around so many strangers. All the chit chat all the time, the having to small talk. It is draining me. I get tired. I get sad. And I get lonely.
For A it is a different ball game. She loves having strangers around. She talks to EVERYBODY. She speaks in English and Spanish (she is learning) alike and she doesn’t get exhausted the same way I do. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it isn’t exhausting in some way for her too. She just reacts to things differently than I do. With her ability to stay so amazingly present in the now her experience is a different one. She gets exhausted, she simply saves her exhaustion for later and sleeps it off when she has the opportunity to do so.
In these situations I have a really hard time keeping my focus and staying relaxed. When I don’t have enough time for myself to sit quietly and mull things over my brain slowly turns to a kind of muddy texture that wants to press the pause button. I need to be ALONE.
I love being out in nature. It is one of my main goals of going travelling. But somehow the nature experiences we have had so far have been cramped with other people looking for the same kinds of experiences. So the idea of nature, solitude, and time for meditation and mental relaxation is somewhat skewed; on tours you don’t get to spend all the time you want alone on a mountain side or breathing in the fresh air of a salt desert. You are a part of a group, ever moving on, ever in search of a pretty picture to put on facebook.
I wont lie; I’ve have been posting lots of pictures from our travels on facebook. It’s a way of keeping people back home updated. But I don’t like the idea travelling through countries only to be able to say you’ve been to all the “highlights” of said country. I don’t like tours actually, for exactly that reason. They are tours, a kind of tourist traps. But they’re SO hard to get around if you want to discover some of the wonders of the natural world.
These are the times when I think to myself that it would be nice to have a partner. Someone to share some of the hardships of travelling with. Someone to plan a trip out in nature with, alone, with no tour companies involved.
Anyway. Bolivia is mindblowingly beautiful. No doubt about it. The Sala de Uyuni is such a fascinating place it is hard to fathom. Salt, salt, and salt as far as the eye can see. And the mountains with all the colours, the flamingos, the colourful lagunes, the weird rock formations. Everything looks out of this world.
In one place, it feels like we’ve been dropped down on Mars. The red sand and rocks around us look eerily unearthly.
Our driver, Jose, is not a talkative guy. He turns up the Spanish rap music as we speed through the deserted landscapes, bumping up and down in the car as we go.
A and I sit in the back. We both look out the window, amazed at what we see. The nights are freezing cold and we bundle up together in the same bed to keep warm. It helps a little bit.
Our group is the quiet one. Valeria and Lucas are both artisans making their own jewelry and selling it to earn a little cash. Brooks and Angelica write their diaries and I try to write mine but am unable to concentrate because of all the noise around me. A has found a couple of Bolivian kids to play with. She offers them gifts from her little gift bag. Erasers, paper, candy, and stones she found by a lake in Peru.
Always making new friends, A laughs and makes suggestions for games they can play. They end up playing tag and red light, green light. Brooks and Angelica join the game. I talk to Valeria about children and learning. She likes the idea of unschooling. We talk about many things. Like rainbow gatherings, activism, how capitalism is ruining the world. About the poor people of Bolivia. About how to sell handicrafts.
The tour lasts 3 days. in the car back to Uyuni A and I are the only ones left from the group. Everybody else is crossing borders into Chile. We are joined by one of Jose’s friends. She smiles and waves at A. “Hola chiquita”, she says. The Spanish rap is replaced by Backstreet boys and we speed along the windswept roads with the tunes of “bacsktreet’s back” blasting from the speakers. I can’t help but smile. And at the same time I am overwhelmed with a strange kind of nostalgia. It quickly passes though. A likes the music.
When we reach Uyuni we hurry to buy a ticket for Potosi. Uyuni is not a town we want to spend another night in.
And with the breathtaking sights of Salar de Uyuni fresh in our minds we relax on the bus to Potosi. A falls alseep with her head in my lap while I contemplate how lucky we are to be having this experience together.
The beauty of the natural world is unfathomable.