After Unyuni, getting onto the salt flats was magical, mystical, religious, and whatever else you want to call it. It was one of the most joyous riding experiences of my life and something that I knew instantly would be a highlight of my entire trip.
It was a bit early in the year, so there was still a decent amount of water on the salar, especially around the edges. So, instead of hard-packed salt, our first experience with the salar was a slushy salt base covered with up to a foot of water. Needless to say, it was a little intimidating when we first started to ride on it. But the experience and sights quickly pushed those thoughts to the background.
Once we crossed the moat and the salt hardened up, we thought we were out of it. No luck- salt miners would take thin layers of salt off, creating treacherous patches of wet riding until we had left the mining area behind. While large trucks were used to haul the salt, and small bulldozers were used to pile and load it, people with simple pickaxes did the actual mining in a scene that hadn’t changed in centuries.
Once they way was clear, it was time to ride!
On the dry patches, the bike seemed to beg me to open it up completely (don’t worry mum- I kept it under 200/kph); while wet patches, with their holes through the salt, had us feeling like we were riding on thin ice. But always, there was the mesmerizing salar.
So, after the amazing joy of riding on a seemingly unlimited expanse mixed with the occasional terror of realising that it wasn’t quite so unlimited after all, we got to the ‘center’ of the salar- Isla del Pescado. Well, it’s not even close to the center, but it’s the only place with any facilities and considering the complete lack of landmarks, it’s also the best place to confirm your bearings and ask for news about the conditions around the other parts of the salar.
There we had a nice break- partly because we actually found some decent food at a decent price, but mostly because we unashamedly wallowed in our own superiority to the tourists on the 4×4 tours. They were inside a truck being driven by a guide, locked away from the freedom that was the most intoxicating pleasure of the salar. Yes, as us 5 guys watched the young female backpackers pose for their salar shots we felt nothing but pity. Really.
Legitimately enjoyable interlude or not, we had to get back on the flats to find a place to camp. I know, it sounds silly- it’s one huge expanse of hard salt, how is one place different from another? As it turns out- massively. Since it’s perfectly flat with no vegetation, sound and light- everything carries even better than on water. There are also tracks that locals use to drive around without getting lost. And finally, there is the salt itself- finding a place with enough large patches of good salt to sleep on (as opposed to ride on) takes a bit of work.
After some searching, well, okay- riding around randomly giggling like mad men at the wonder of it all- we found a site for the night and settled in.
Little did we know what we had settled in for. After a year in Africa I thought I knew sunsets and night skies, but- check it out.
Then night came, and HP2 showed us what someone who knows how to take a photo can do.
Then the sunrise gave us a quickie, just to make sure we didn’t forget…
Before I go I’ll leave you with a self-portrait from another rider, KLR-Aussie, who had the misfortune of finding out what happens when the salt fights back…