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essays | places | Bolivia

Uyuni / Traversing the Zig-Zag Road between Pain and Pleasure

why well-being is underrated


   Tears of joy are a scarce elixir. I have seen and shed no more than a few of these precious drops in my life. But here they were, pearls of liquid gratitude rolling down my cheeks to toast a moment so mundane that it would have evaporated into oblivion’s ether on any other day. A moment earlier I had been too miserable to think of betterment, of feeling well ever again, let alone of rejoicing at life. Goddamn valley, you made for one sweet sweet high.

It all started with gentle baseline content and unnoticed well-being on day one of our three-day trip into the white – Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat. A car packed with good people, driving straight into the right place and time – heaven by the looks of it, but certainly unforgiving if someone were to strand in this burning, salty vastness. That’s why we, five friends and a stranger, had opted for a tour despite our general tour(ism) aversion. It was one of these few places where DIY is no longer a marker for indie-travel, but a sign of recklessness, like walking into the Amazon without local knowledge. This here was the polar opposite of a green, dense labyrinth filled with animals, but just as perilous without knowing your way around. Given that the Salar is bigger than Lebanon and almost void of visual anchors for orientation, crossing it by yourself with spotty GPS and meager cell phone reception is for gamblers.

"... like a surrealist dreamscape it seemingly existed detached from all the rest of space and time, somewhere somewhen.”




Our driver navigated the even white all around us most instinctively, like a bird that just knew and flew. With a fierce sun high above, the Salar was a shining emptiness filled with enough salt to cover the fact that it was once a gigantic prehistoric lake. Miraculously, it was the utter monotony, the one-colored flatness that made for the lost lake’s spectacular beauty, and like a surrealist dreamscape it seemingly existed detached from all the rest of space and time, somewhere somewhen.


We would stop for the occasional photo op, like all turistas before and after us. But, to the obligatory perspective shots this white stage is famous for (think tiny person in giant’s palm) we said: “Not us, too cool.”

Adhering to our tight tourist schedule, we took a lunch break at Isla Incahuasi, a cacti-covered outcrop and former island in the heart of the salt pan, where the panoramas were wide and the 360°-horizon unencumbered.