Realistically, I don’t think I´ll ever have the opportunity to visit another planet in space, but I’m not sure I need to anymore. That’s because I´ve spent the last 4 days in some of the most alien environments our planet has to offer.
The city of Uyuni in south west Bolivia, is a fairly dull city, apart from the Extreme Fun Pub – from which we managed to get ejected – but it is the gateway to some spectacular natural wonders that need to be seen to be believed. Our group had swelled to 7, which made squeezing into a battered and bruised Toyota Landcruiser all the more difficult, but at least the driver didn’t seem drunk, which is a common occurrence in Bolivia. We soon set off to explore to infinity and beyond, the first stop being a hotel made completely of salt. This would’ve been pretty special in it´s self, were it not for the eerie, otherworldly landscape which we drove through to get there. Glistening white earth, as far as the eye can see. Royal blue sky, pressing down on the infinite horizon. Hazy mountains suspended between the two. The salt flats of Bolivia are truly breathtaking, formed when a prehistoric lake evaporated, leaving hundreds of miles of shining salt crystals, beautifully arranged into hexagonal shapes. The purity of the landscape results in a complete lack of perspective, which allows for the oddly arranged photos that we delighted in producing.
The sunset over the salt flats was one of the strangest and purest sights I´d ever seen, and it mostly made up for the below freezing temperatures we endured during our night in our corrugated iron shed.
Waking up at 4am is usually something that we´d avoid at all costs, but this time we were filled with anticipation. A moonlit ascent up to a snow capped volcano overlooking the serene salt flats awaited, and so, fueled by the disgusting-tasting coca leaves, we set off. Swept along by two shooting stars, followed by the pale light of dawn emerging from behind one of the volcano´s slopes, the word magical doesn’t even begin to describe our morning. The final push up the steep, red-stained slope was excruciating, but this was completely eclipsed by the exhilaration on reaching the rim of the volcano. Wow. A red-stoned slope, backed up by a jagged, snow-covered peak overlooking the bright white ocean of salt constituted one of the most incredible views any of us had ever seen.
The following day we reached the boundary of the crunchy white expanse and headed into the Alti Plano. Swathes of ruby-red rocks, punctuated by ice-white peaks were only the start of our colour-palette-inspired day. After unsuccessfully trying to catch a wild llama, we arrived at an impossibly turquoise lake, resplendent in its surroundings of dry desert and snow-capped mountains. This was soon forgotten about as we arrived at the next lake, which ranged from sunset orange, to blood red, finally turning a deep burgundy by the southern shore. Flecked by baby pink flamingoes, Laguna Colorada looked like someone had switched the colours on a television set, and was one of the most unnatural natural wonders I´d ever seen.
After spending another night at -20°C, we left early once again and watched the sun rise over yet another natural phenomenon, Sulphur -smelling geysers. Not content with showing us these, our driver pressed on to a very welcome sight, a steaming hot lake at 5000 meters. We all rejoiced in the natural warmth of the thermal springs, and unfortunately this turned out to be our final wonderful experience as we then headed back to the unspectacular and normal-looking Uyuni.