My lips are chapped and I’m balancing on the top of Coca-Cola bottle in the middle of Bolivia’s salt flats. Although that is what our pictures show, it wasn’t exactly the reality of the situation.
Bolivia’s salt flats (also known as the Salar de Uyuni or salt of Uyuni) are the world’s largest salt deposits and the vast, seemingly unending expanse of white salt is perfect for some interesting perspective photography. That’s how I found myself balancing on the top of a wine bottle.
We dove into Doritos bags, balanced on soda caps, swam out of chip canisters and generally tried to do anything imaginable that might produce a fun or interesting picture. It was chaos as we tried to position ourselves on the Salar without anyone else in our shot. Sure it looks completely empty in the photos, but just as I’m not actually on the coke bottle, we weren’t actually alone. In fact, the space felt a bit crowded with travelers from around the world trying to set up funny pictures.
Our group of six was incredibly creative with the junk food packaging, hiking boots, guidebooks and random assortment of junk from the tour van. Others on the Salar had small plastic children’s toys, like dinosaurs and G.I. Joe’s as props, the expanse was almost like being on the set of a professional photo shoot. Unfortunately getting the camera to focus on an object 10 inches away and 30 feet away can be a little tricky, especially when you’re trying to look through the viewfinder from your belly on a bed of salt.
I’ll never forget the Salar, and not just because of the fun and interesting pictures. I know this is where I’m supposed to rave about some amazing cultural experience, but I’m not, because there was no amazing cultural experience in the middle of a salt lake.
When I think of being on the Salar my lips immediately begin to feel chapped and my eyes feel dry. It’s a psychosomatic reaction to the memory, but that’s what I’ll never be able to forget- how dry everything felt. We spent three days on the Salar and in the end I’m surprise my skin wasn’t preserved.
Salt has been used for centuries to preserve and dry out meat so it shouldn’t have been any surprise that it dried us out as well. I felt like a salted ham hanging in the back of someone’s shed. It was awful, no matter how much chapstick and lotion we put on, it never seemed to help.
So much of our memories are the result not of what we see, but of what we feel. Bolivia of course has much more to offer than just the Salar and we spent time in the Amazon, rode the death road and even saw dinosaur prints, but my strongest memory will always be of the Salar. Balancing on a coca-cola top feeling like a salted ham!