The van bumped its way along the road, leaving a cloud of dust in its wake. The early-morning sun painted the mountaintops in colour. Then it appeared. A vast, empty plain of dazzling white. We had arrived at the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia: the world’s largest Salt Flat. The van continued onto the salt and suddenly we were skimming across this surreal terrain. Recently melted snow had left a sheen of water which reflected the sky. It was like a dreamscape.
We stopped by a section of grids, marked out in squares. each square held a perfect prism of salt, which was reflected, iceberg-like, on the watery surface. Our guide explained that this was a salt processing plant – the prism shape was to dry the salt, which the workers would then transport and prepare for sale.
We piled back into the van and drove for over an hour across the endless white until we arrived at the edge of Incahuasi Island, alongside numerous other vans. We’d barely blinked awake when the guide conjured up a table and a delicious spread for lunch. We ate and chatted, wondering if the salt in the cellar had come straight from the patch of ground we were standing on. Once fed and watered, we were free to hike to the top of the island and enjoy the views. it didn’t take long to get to the first viewpoint. The island was covered in cacti, which were silhouetted by the strong sunlight, their spikes appearing as fluffy halos. The pure, boundless white of the salt met the brillant blue of the sky.
But it was only when I reached the very top of the island that everything finally formed a coherent picture. Long ago, the Salar was part of a great lake and from the island’s summit, this is stunningly clear. The salt reaches up to the island’s bays and extends out in all directions. It was easy to forget the other tourists scrambling around me and I felt marooned on top of this island, surrounded by an endless sea of salt. It was like a desert-island image which had been chromatically changed.
It was a moment of awe followed by a rush of euphoria and, in the company of new-found Argentinean friends, I ran around like a child. We snapped photos of each other and investigated little caverns and paths which criss-crossed the island.
Eventually, we had to return to the van. As we sped away across the disorienting landscape of ‘ground-level’, I was determined not to give in to my drowsiness and take in every last second But after half an hour of white, my eyelids had more power than my strength of will and I surrendered to sleep, dreaming hazy, salt-filled dreams.