I am slipping on rubber boots and stepping into the “big pool” with a depth of about 8cm. Standing between the never-ending sea of white, I have lost my bearings!
When the ripples of the pool stop and form a large “mirror”, the pool, the blue skies and white clouds meld together, producing a paradise where the heavens and Earth are connected. At this moment, I feel so close to the sky that I can reach out to touch it. How exhilarating!
However, my breathing accelerates; I have forgotten that I am now 3,656m above sea level where the oxygen content is only 60% – no wonder I am dizzy.
It is really hard to imagine that there is a natural salt flat with a total area of 10,582sq km on the Andes Mountains in South America, spanning 250km from east to west and 100km from north to south. Its area is 16 times of Singapore, full of high-quality rock salt. Welcome to Bolivia’s Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world.
When the four-wheel drive cruised for 90 minutes on the salt flat, and when the GPS gradually starts to lose track of your location, it really feels like being isolated from the world. In that quiet moment of peace, take time to reflect and find your true self.
The white ground and the blue sky seem to fuse into a seamless expanse. Is this the appearance of the legendary magical mirrored realm?
Our guide Marao said that the rainy season is from January to March, where 70% of the salt flat will accumulate 5cm-8cm of clear rain water, and that the role of this pool is crucial.
At this point, a gust of cold autumn wind hits my face. Under the bright sunshine, the salt particles in the water sparkle with diamond-like brilliance, shimmering dreamily. The salt minerals transform into a mirror with the help of the saltwater. It is just so beautiful.
It is not surprising that the mirror formed by the salt lake during the rainy season is a favourite experience for Japanese travellers. It is an alluring magic mirror that invokes a different feeling from witnessing the Northern Lights, yet with a similar impact. In fact, travellers care more about the sunset, which is the highlight of the lake. Hundreds of 4WD vehicles are all over the place, rushing to catch the setting sun.
Marao is like an experienced director of photography, composing all kinds of poses for group members. My favourite is the “evolution pose” in the sunset, which gives off a “circle of life” vibe.
It was at this point that a fellow traveller gleefully shouted, “Salt Lake, the mirror of the sky, purify my soul and release my spirit!”
At the centre of the salt flat, I stumbled upon a dilapidated building. It is said that after it was completed 25 years ago, it became the first hotel in the world to be built using 100% salt bricks. However, the hotel’s sewage system became an enormous challenge – an invisible killer if you will. As a result, the hotel was forced to shut by environmentalists.
In 2007, another new “Palace of Salt” was built on the shores of the salt flat, which is worth staying a night. This hotel a lot more environmentally-friendly, something we all need to think about to ensure the next generation enjoys as much natural beauty as we do now.
Although relatively poor, Bolivia’s move in making sure the right environmental measures are taken where the Salt Flat is concerned ought to be praised.
We spent a whole day in the desolate Uyuni. Fortunately, our vehicle comes with an environmentally-friendly tent and toilet. This is definitely a vital point which the Baikal winter ice lake operators in Siberia, Russia ought to emulate. In fact, all public facilities at the Uyuni Salt Flat are mobile in design, including the portable “restaurant” in the middle of the place.
The drivers here are civilised. They do not leave any garbage behind so that everything will be restored to its original state once everyone leaves. Because of their responsible and caring behaviour, visitors will cooperate too and act accordingly.The salt flat landscape does get boring after a while, though, as the same white scenery continues endlessly even after being in a car ride for almost two hours. However, an acquaintance once said that on a Swiss train journey, the first few kilometres of fields and cattle will prompt travellers to snap away furiously with sighs and gasps of admiration, but even the paradise-like view gradually becomes dry and dull. But to those outside the window, these everyday scenes are still lively and stimulating.
The scenery and objects have not changed, it is often our own mindset that has changed.
Even though the “mirror of the sky” seems to be the main protagonist of the Uyuni Salt Flat, travellers are still able to fully enjoy themselves there. The people who depend on the salt flats for their livelihood are civilised folk, happily protecting this vast piece of nature. Between the mirror of the sky and twinkling stars, they reflect a purer truth, goodness and beauty. That is the true hidden identity of the Uyuni Salt Flat.
The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.