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January 20, 2004

Now Entering Dali World

DAY 88: Surrealist master Salvador Dali once visited the Bolivian deserts and salt flats, which inspired him in many of his paintings. Before my trip to South America, I had seen pictures of the surreal landscape that he and thousands of other tourists had visited, and the salt flats became one of the reasons -- if not the reason -- for me to visit Bolivia in the first place. However, I didn't know until my own visit that it wasn't just the visual landscape that had a surreal element to it.

I WOKE UP IN OUR UYUNI HOSTEL feeling a little sick in the stomach but was feeling better after a shower. Lara went running around trying to get a Bolivian exit stamp in her passport while I ordered us breakfast at an outdoor cafe. I was joined by Axel and Simion -- secretly known to Lara as "Mr. Brighton" since that was where he claimed he was from in the UK. Gilbert stopped on it, followed by Sam and Zoe, the two British girls I had met the breakfast the day before. We filled up on food before heading out into the desert.

Soon we were all in 4x4's -- Simion and Axel in one group's, Gilbert in another's, and Zoe, Sam, Lara and I in another's with three Swiss Germans, Pascal, Suzanne and Ester. We all piled in a big red Toyota Land Cruiser with the licence plate "423 DIC" -- Sam just laughed at the "DIC" part and I knew right away that at least another person was at the same maturity level as me and Lara.

The caravan of jeeps drove out of Uyuni and into the desert one by one, but for some reason our driver Primo stopped in the middle of the the desert to gather leaves and branches. He told us that it was to protect the engine from the salt -- it was hard to believe him since no other jeep was doing the same thing. Primo stacked leaves and branches in front of the grill and under the hood, which we all thought was a strange beginning to what would be a surreal day.

All the SUVs stopped in the small town of Colchani, where a local woman gave us a brief demonstration on how salt from the salt flats is processed into a consumable form. From there we were off into the actual salt flat, the Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest with an area of 12,000 sq. km. The landscape suddenly became very bright with intense whites and blues. Big sections of the salt flat had a layer of water over it, creating a perfect reflection of the clouds in the sky. The horizon disappeared, creating a surreal landscape where clouds existed on earth. And as if entering the visual surrealist world wasn't enough, suddenly we heard the DAHNT, DAHNT DAHNT DAHNT, DAHNT DAHNT DAHNT, DAHNT DAHNT DAAOOWNNNN... of Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger."

"Now this is salt flat music!" I said as we sped into the whiteness.


PRIMO DROVE US ACROSS THE REFLECTIVE SALT FLAT with his tape of 80s music until we arrived at the Salt Hotel, a hotel entirely built out of salt in the middle of nowhere. The walls, the chairs, the beds -- everything was made out of compressed and molded salt from the flats. We posed for a couple of photos (other picture above) before moving on back through the whiteness with our 80s mix tape, which included some songs from the 80s that I wasn't familiar with. One of them was Laid Back's cheerful "Sunshine Reggae," which ultimately became one of my favortes -- as well as everyone else's. The 80's party continued outside the car when we stopped in the middle of nowhere for some photos -- it turned into a salt flat disco when Culture Club's "Karma Chameleon" came on.

INCAHUASI, also known as the Isla de los Pescadores, is an "island" in the middle of the salt flat -- and the designated lunch place for SUVs on tour. The mound of rock stood in the middle of the whiteness with desert cacti sprouting up from the ground. We climbed to the top of the mound for some panoramics, watching the SUVs speed in as if gliding on an ice field. Around us the scenery continued to be a land turned upside down.

After a surprisingly good meal of steak and mashed potatoes cooked out of the back of our jeep, we continued on through the vast salt world. Each jeep kept its distance from the others, so there was always a feeling of emptiness as we cruised along. Trying to capitalize on the emptiness of the landscape, we tried to think of stupid poses we could perform together. Lara suggested doing a hieroglyphic "Walk Like An Egyptian" pose, so we had Primo stop again in the middle of nowhere to take the picture. I'm pretty sure he thought we were snorting in some of the salt or something.

GRADUALLY THE REFLECTIVITY AND WHITENESS OF THE SALAR DE UYUNI got wetter and browner as we exited the salt flat and re-entered the dusty desert. But the surrealism of the day didn't cease; outside in the middle of nowhere, we encountered some random guy selling sleeping bags.

Lara and I had fun chatting with Zoe and Sam, dancing and singing along to yet another playing of The Village People's "Y.M.C.A." -- Lara finally realized she had been doing the "C" wrong all her her life, never reversing it for the audience. The Swissies in the back bench joined in on aerobic dance as well; I mean, how could you not do the Y.M.C.A.?

After about the fifth time Baltimora's "Tarzan Boy" came on, we arrived in San Juan, a small town next to a field of llamas, and our home for the night. We shot some photos of the sunset -- and llamas having a three-way -- before settling down in what we called "the party dorm." We tried to get all seven of us in the room of six beds. Primo suggested that if we were so desperate to do so, that two girls should share a bed -- the girls weren't too keen on the idea.

"Yeah, I'm sure he'd like to see two girls in a bed," Lara said. Despite the fact that perhaps I shared Primo's enthusiasm, Pascal and Suzanne volunteered to take a double room in the other shelter.

"DO YOU HAVE ANY SALT AROUND HERE?" was the joke of the night as the three groups had dinner together in the big dining room. Needless to say, the joke got pretty tired after a while. No matter, our little group was occupied laughing about something else: the really short Peruvian guy with his very tall Swiss girlfriend -- we couldn't stop snickering when Lara secretly referred to them as Gulliver and Mr. Lilliput.

After a nightcap with Simion (aka Mr. Brighton) while watching the stars come out on a clear and cold night, I went back into the "party dorm" where the "party" involved journal writing. We all reminded each other what we had seen and done that first day in Dali World -- the girls made fun of the notebook I bought in Cusco, a simple graph-lined notebook with the advert for baby cream on the cover. I didn't realize it until Lara mentioned it, but the ecstatic-looking baby on the front made me look like I was some sort of pedophile.

One by one we passed out in our beds and off to dreamland, but I was sure no weird dream could have outdone the surrealism that we had seen awake in the real world that day.

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Posted by Erik on January 20, 2004 03:12 PM
TrackBack | Category: Bolivia

Okay, so who's putting the llama three-way for their wallpaper?

Posted by: Erik on January 20, 2004 03:13 PM

FIRST - from mom....u calling home tonite dood?

Posted by: markyt on January 20, 2004 03:15 PM

I never knew that existed! It really does look so surreal.

Posted by: Sara on January 20, 2004 03:21 PM

sick ass photos dood....

although the 3-way llamas is tempting....i'll pick one one of the other ones!

visa all processed and to be picked up tomorrow!!! see you soon....

Posted by: markyt on January 20, 2004 03:22 PM

ahhh I see, ... Hey great pics ! The llamas must've been licking the salt .... hmmm maybe you should get the girls to ....j/k

Posted by: sim on January 20, 2004 03:29 PM

and I meant the salt flats... but I suppose it applies to the llama three-way too!

Posted by: Sara on January 20, 2004 03:31 PM

those pictures are amazing!

Posted by: melisa on January 20, 2004 04:26 PM

wow. great fotos! who would've thunk it that there's a place where you can get salt for free! Did you taste it? i heard its better than fresh water.

Posted by: LovePenny on January 20, 2004 04:46 PM

Amazing photos! (wallpaper set) I especially like the "Walk Like an Egyptian" one and the one at the salt hotel, its so creepy.

Posted by: Dtella on January 20, 2004 05:11 PM

oh my god!!! those pictures are amazing. i am so jealous of you right now. i love surrealism, and i love the work of dali. i hate you. =P

Posted by: alice on January 20, 2004 05:40 PM

I can't decide....

Will it be the astonishingly dreamlike photo of the cloud reflection, or the llama 3 way?

Let's have a poll... Vote:

A) National Geographic worthy photo of the clouds on the ground.

B) llama 3 way.

Posted by: Td0t on January 20, 2004 10:29 PM

wow! The salt flats are amazing!! I've just added a stop on my RTW!

Posted by: Liz on January 21, 2004 08:43 AM

Erik - I'm getting through all the blogs I've missed - GREAT PICS!!

Posted by: Yvette on January 21, 2004 04:03 PM

I went with A. Couldn't resist the pic with you standing in the clouds. Too awesome!

Posted by: Christy on January 24, 2004 04:38 PM

even more amazing than the salt flats are the way you captured them.. i'm so jealous!!!


Posted by: cristina on February 1, 2004 04:25 PM

CRISTINA: Like most professional photographers, what you see on the blog had been filtered down to the best of hundreds of shots... but thanks!

Posted by: Erik on February 1, 2004 09:14 PM

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