19-May-2007 -- This may be one of the few confluences in the world located in a salt lake, which at this time was dry. McKenzie Funk, a freelance writer, Paolo Marchesi, a photographer from Italy who resides in Montana, and I just happened to be on our way to do a story for Outside Magazine on the highest confluence in the Western Hemisphere, 18S 69W, when we realized we were very close to this 'salt flat' confluence.
We all met in Tupiza in the South of Bolivia on the evening of 17 May, heading out by bus to the city of Uyuni on 18 May. It was in Uyuni that we arranged a jeep (with company?) to take us out early on 19 May to cross the giant salt lake, Salar de Uyuni.
For those who have never traveled across such a salt lake, I recommend it if just for the unique, surreal experience. Imagine a flat, unblemished horizon, as if you were at sea, but totally white. Some mountainous features in the distance seemed to easily succumb to mirages. They appeared to have giant voids under their sides as if they were impossible structures on alien worlds. Some of them appeared to have double sets of voids. Up close, the salt, which sparkled and glimmered, looked a little like solid but crusty snow that wasn't cold. A polygonal matrix of white wrinkles extended out over the entirety of the lake.
There was an established transport route across the lake although its white tracks were almost never visible. Jeeps and even large 18-wheel trucks would hum across at high speeds like Matchbox cars on white carpet.
One of our first stops was a hotel built entirely of salt, block by block: the rooms, beds, kitchen, and bathrooms. Other sights were bubbling springs and a salt mining operation in a place called Cochani. One pinnacle of our journey was a visit to Isla de Pescado or Fish Island, a lonely, rocky island of cactus in the middle of a white sea.
We visited the lake in the dry season, but we had heard that it can be quite spectacular in the rainy season. Often a thin layer of water coats the surface of the salt, reflecting the sky and causing the horizon to disappear. A drive by jeep with a few puffy clouds apparently gives the feeling that one is flying among the clouds.
After lunch on Fish Island we took out our GPS and Mac (McKenzie) explained to the driver in Spanish what we were doing. He simply drove us straight to the confluence, a place of no distinguishing quality.
We documented the confluence and did a lot of poses for Paolo's cameras. I left a Boliviano coin at the exact location of the point in the hopes that another confluence seeker would find it.
Then our jeep hummed into the horizon on our way to the highest confluence in the Western Hemisphere. See the 18S 69W story.