Day 6 – Railroads and Salar de Uyuni

Day 6… Rations are low…we haven’t connected to WiFi in days…tensions are running high. Just kidding! Today was a great day! We started off by going to a train graveyard, then we went to a salt processing center followed by the salt flats (including a hike on the Isla Incahuasi), and finished up with a visit to the Hotel Sal Playa Blanca and the hot springs.


The train graveyard in Uyuni was quite interesting! Surprisingly, it was a big tourists attraction even though it was just some abandoned train tracks with trains that had been there for about 15 years, left over from a route that used to actively run mining minerals across Bolivia. It was a lot of fun climbing on the trains because it was like one huge jungle gym. We took great group selfies of us on the train (shout out to my mom for the selfie stick)!

After that, our trip took us to Colchani, about a 30 minute drive North of Uyuni, where our tour guide showed us how the salt from the salt flats is processed and bagged for consumption. The salt is actually not very healthy for consumption, so they add iodine to increase it’s nutritional value. One kilogram of iodine is enough to make 10,000 kilograms of salt! There was a marketplace setup with locals dressed in their traditional dress selling gifts related to Salar do Uyuni.

Visiting the salt flats was my favorite part of today! The salt flats are 12,000 square kilometers, the largest in the world! When the salt flats are wet, they create a mirroring effect. Right now, there is a drought so there was not much water, but there was one section where there was a large puddle and we were able to see the mirror effect. It was extremely bright because the white salt reflected the sun’s rays; it’s a similar effect to when there is a lot of snow on the ground and the sun is out in the winter time.

Our next adventure of the day included a hike on Incahuasi, which is an island in the middle of the salt flat, about an hour drive North or Colchani. None of us know how long the hike actually was in miles because we couldn’t read the signs, but to me it felt like I was on the stair master for a solid 30 minutes. With the high altitude, we were all struggling a little bit with the physical exertion required during this hike. However, the view from the top was amazing and was well worth not being able to breath and sweating bullets from the hot sun! The island just pops up in the middle of the salt flats, so we had an incredible 360 degree view of the salt flats at the top!

The Hotel Sal Playa Blanca is an old hotel which has been restored to be a museum. Out front, there are flags hung by visitors of countries from around the world. Unfortunately there was no America flag and none of us had an American flag to hang, but it was really interesting to see all of the countries where people came from to see this spot!

The last part of our day was a visit to the natural springs. Supposedly, the natural springs have restorative healing powers and many people come there to bathe. I don’t think any of us were more adventurous than submerging one hand, but it was really cool to see all of the bubbles coming through! It was like natural agua congas (or carbonated water)!
All in all, we had a great day! We enjoyed being able to see the natural beauty in Uyuni and compare the landscape here to Santa Cruz!

Thanks for reading! Tune in tomorrow for updates on our field project!

Sarah Maurer

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

 

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