As a bucket list goal, I embarked on a 2-month backpacking trip through South America. Learning how to travel without a plan. Take everything day by day and figure out the path as it comes. Part of my trip that I felt the most anxious for happened to be set upon the most beautiful landscape in the world. A place where not much talked about unless it’s in the travel community. The Salt Flat region of Bolivia.
In the western-like town of Uyuni, I arrived before sunrise only to be rushed into small homes that had makeshift cafes, serving dozens of half-asleep travelers. Being I was alone I was worried I wouldn’t find a seat in one of the cars that can take you into the salted region. A young girl approached me with the same fears so we set on taking this 5-day adventure together. We found the best rate for the trip and sat on the dusty road waiting for our ride, trying to anticipate what to expect in an area where we had no connection to our loved one or control of our choices in food. Along with us were two girls from France and a couple from Scotland. Here we are, six strangers and one driver no older than 20 leading us away from civilization and cell service. One final text to the family saying “I love you” and we drove away.
After much research, I thought I was spending five days surrounded by salt but in fact, it was a mere hour. A painful hour as no one tells you how harsh the sun and the salt is. So much so that crystals were forming on my eyelashes.
Learning each other’s names and helping take each other’s photos on the flats had us quickly acquainted but we all stayed next to the person we knew the most. For me, a girl I met 10 minutes before the departure.
We spent days crammed in a 4Runner with the emblem “Yayota” on that back, that left a fear of being stuck in the middle of nowhere without help in a knock off Toyota. Our young driver navigating rocks, holes, and quicksand. We listened to regional Bolivian music. Pan flutes playing at every turn we took. For the brief moments out of the car we stretched and enjoyed the moments away from each other.
By day four, what I didn’t expect is I needed the closeness I got from being crammed in this car to learn about these people. In some ways, I knew more about them after the trip than the friends I had back home. Learning the adventures others were on, what they did back home, and how they lived their life. Often translating for the driver to tell us his life as well and how he came to guiding trailers through his homeland. Spending those five days together opened my eyes to how we’re all living different lives at home, but in that Yotota we were the same people. All there to enjoy the beauty of Bolivia with the pan flutes singing in the background no matter how irritating they became. There to explore another part of the world and educate ourselves on more than just where we came from.
Interview: In pursuit of truly slow life at The Kip in Sri Lanka
Cabiner: A cabin in the woods in The Netherlands
Estancia El Bordo de las Lanzas