Atlas' Latin America traveler Ali Murat Atay was in Bolivia this time on deserted territory with practically no settlements. In his journey across the south west of the country Ali Murat walked on the endless whiteness of Uyuni Salt Lake. He saw snow fall on the Siloli Desert at an altitude of 4,000m.
Salar de Uyuni... Uyuni Salt Lake. Uyuni is a lake covering almost 10,000 square kilometers. In spite of being called a lake there is no water on the majority of its surface. Where water exists on its gleaming white salt layer it is no more than 1-2 centimeters deep. It is almost impossible to contemplate the seemingly endless white beauty of the lake with the naked eye. This building situated on Uyuni Salt Lake is a cabin made of salt blocks. The table and chairs inside are also of salt. The lake, more reminiscent of a frozen lake, has another peculiarity which cannot he perceived in the photograph - the burning temperature of the air
Onda Lake in Bolivia where "you feel as though you are on another planet" is at an altitude of 4,000m in the south west of the country.
In the jeep journey through Bolivia, which took almost a week, the south west of the country was crossed from end to end. In this country almost twice the size of Turkey with a population of only 7 million, kilometers were driven and days spent without encountering a single human being. They passed through snowy deserts, salt lakes, villages and towns where llamas roamed through the streets. Most of the lakes dazzled with incredibly beautiful colors. Onda Lake decorated with flamingos had another surprise; the reflection of surrounding mountains.
Fish Island, surrounded by Uyuni's salty surface, is covered in cacti meters high.
Isla de Pescado consists of rocks and thickets rising suddenly almost at the center of the white expanse of Salar de Uyuni. Around Isla de Pescado there is no water; on all sides are rocks, salt, and cacti which can grow to 20m. The best way to appreciate the surreal appearance of Isla de Pescado is to view it from a distance after walking out over the salt of Uyuni.
Laguna Salada in the south west of Bolivia's Altiplano lies on the jeep journey from the small settlement called Uyuni to the Chilean border. On this route there are many lakes with flamingos like Laguna Salada. Altiplano meaning high plateau covers a large area of the country.
Laguna Salada (Salt Lake) is another of the series of flamingo lakes on the south west of the Altiplano of Bolivia.
Predominantly white... the whiteness is interrupted in places by a house of salt or mounds of salt taken from the salt pan
Uyuni Salt Lake covers an area of 10,000 square km with its whiteness. One of the sights of which makes you ask yourself if you are on another planet is Isla de Pescado with its giant cacti appearing suddenly in the empty expanse.
In areas where salt is mined Salt Lake loses its uniform, flat whiteness with piles of salt emerging.
Is it possible for there to be a desert at 4,000m? In Bolivia the answer to this question is yes. The jeep journey continues in Siloli Desert.
The sulfuric water spurting geysers are at 5,030m, the highest point of the jeep journey across Altiplano. This time the air was sulfurous and cold.
The region where our jeep tour took place was Altiplano in the south west where there are almost no settlements in spite of being in one of Bolivia's most developed and densely populated regions. San Pedro where llamas roam the streets was the last village before passing through the desert on the jeep journey
Alota village was the first settlement in a remote position at the end of a journey filled with deserts, lakes and flamingos.
Alota village surrounded by silence. Houses mostly made from earth, flat, empty streets as if drawn by a ruler, here and there children and most of all silence.
5 Feb '96-Uyuni
I have returned to Bolivia to explore the south west by jeep in a journey that will take me to the Chilean border. People have described the experience as like being on another planet with a landscape of pure white salt lakes, flat golden desert, lakes changing color every minute of the day and full of flamingoes in the middle of the desert and days without encountering a village or human being. In a country twice the size of Turkey with a population of only 7 million that is natural enough.
A desert at an altitude of 4,000m. close to snowy mountains. Sulfuric water gushing from geysers and a lake of salt.
Today we came from La Paz to Uyuni in a surprisingly comfortable train. The town is small and quiet, with not a soul in sight at night when the temperature drops. When alone in a small South American town I'm in the habit of heading for the cinema where there is usually a Rambo type film showing. Tomorrow our journey begins.
6 Feb '96-San Pedro village.
Today I'm in shock from the astonishing landscapes we are passing through. After following an earth road for a time we reached an endless plain of white: Salar de Uyuni (Salt Lake). The 10,000 square kilometer "lake" is covered in a layer of salt and where there is water it is no more than 2cm deep. Our Bolivian driver/guide who knew the region like the back of his hand drove straight onto Salar where there was no trace of a road. In the South American sun it was impossible to contemplate such whiteness with the naked eye.
We studied the pentagonal shapes on the surface and greeted the salt diggers whose eyes were covered with dark shades and noses and mouths with handkerchiefs. After about an hour on the lake a shape appeared on the empty horizon which gradually grew into a small house serving as a lodge.
The walls were made of salt blocks and even the table and chairs were of salt. The lodge was closed. We tasted it and moved on. In the middle of Salar is Isla de Pescado (Fish Island), an island without a trace of water. Instead there is salt, rocks and giant cacti with an "L" shaped arm on each side of the 20m trunk. Gazing at the island from the salt I was fixed to the spot wondering how such a remarkable natural formation could have evolved.
Views that give one the impression of being on another planet. Empty streets, now and then children and flamingos.
Leaving behind Isla de Pescado we became engulfed in white again. Heading south it took 2-3 hours to leave the salt. On the horizon mountains appeared, their peaks seeming to hover above the earth in the mirage effect created by salt.
In the evening we arrived in San Pedro village at 3,700m and spent the night in empty huts. There were no people; just llamas wandering through the village. I took a moonlit walk and the llamas studied me, ghostlike and motionless.
7 Feb '96 - Somewhere in Altiplano.
In the early morning we left San Pedro. The llamas had ceased to he ghostly apparitions and were grazing innocently. Even a few people had appeared. Our route lies along an indistinct track through sun scorched flat land with majestic, snow covered mountains rising on the horizon. After hours in such dry surroundings we were entranced at the sight of lakes full of flamingoes. Our first lake, Laguna Canapa, was deep blue, covered in flamingoes contentedly dipping for food. It was hard to tear ourselves away from its shores.
Then came Laguna Edionda, Laguna Chiarcota and Laguna Onda. As we changed lake the colors also changed from blue to silvery yellow and green. In Chiarcota and Onda, as well as flamingoes we watched the reflection of mountains in the water. In addition to the more common pink-white flamingo there was the rarer "James" variety with smaller build and black-white plumage. At night under the stars it struck me that we had traveled all day without seeing a single person, village or vehicle. How pleasant to be condemned to a week of solitude.
We are in our sleeping bags and the flamingoes are on one leg on the lake about to sleep.