I'm thinking about bitterness in the ways most people don't choose to think about it. Most folks regard bitterness as something negative, something ugly, something to be avoided--not something to be sought out and not anything you would pay to see or experience. But I'm sitting here thinking about the positive qualities of bitterness, about its beauty, its usefulness and even necessity of existence, its naturalness. I'm not trying to be perverse by turning the idea of bitterness on its head like this. I'm speaking of what I know, what I've seen and experienced for myself.
In the landlocked South American country of Bolivia--a country that often gets overlooked in favor of its more tourist-popular neighbors such as Peru, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina, a country that many people end up in simply for the purpose of passing through--there's a giant, blinding white expanse on the Altiplano, so large that astronaut Neil Armstrong was able to see it from space. Armstrong assumed the great white field to be a glacier. But the great white field is not ice--it's salt. The Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world.
|Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia|
|Close-up and texture of salt flat|
Salar de Uyuni sits at an elevation of nearly 12,000 feet on the Altiplano. Once upon a time the salt flat was a vast lake, or more of an inland sea. Over many centuries the lake dried up in the high Andean altitude and formed the salt desert we see today. But underneath the salt, ranging from several inches to several feet below, a remnant of the ancient salt lake lies in the form of a brine lake of about 7 to 70 feet deep. The underlying brine lake is rich in salt (of course) as well as magnesium and lithium.The Salar de Uyuni is in fact home to the world's largest lithium deposits, containing over half of earth's lithium reserves. Salt is also harvested from the flats, and blocks of salt are cut out of parts of the desert and sold or even used to build salt hotels for the tourists who flock to the desert throughout the year.
|Salt blocks on the salt flats|
|Tunupa Volcano, before approaching Salar de Uyuni|
|Tunupa Volcano, Salar de Uyuni side|
|Cacti on Isla Incahuasi|
|View of salt flat from Isla Incahuasi|
|Viscacha on Isla Incahuasi|
Indeed, a word of advice for those visiting the Salar de Uyuni: bring lots of water, bring a warm sleeping bag, and bring props.
But along with this kind of fun is an experience that people are usually told to avoid. Too much salt is bad for your health. Bitterness is bad for your health. Don't become bitter, don't ingest to much bitterness, look for the sweetness in life wherever you can. To come to the Salar de Uyuni, even for a few hours, is to surround yourself in nothing but salt and bitterness and thumb your nose at all the warnings against them. Standing on the salt flat, swallowed up by a vast, blinding white landscape, tourists are struck by not just how inhospitable and surreal this great bitter desert is, but also how beautiful. The Salar de Uyuni is after all a natural place, not a blight upon the earth--just as I suppose tears are a natural part of life, as much as smiles and laughter.
|The vast Salar de Uyuni swallows up visitors.|
|Dancing out on the fields of the bitterest place on earth.|