Tag Archives: uyuni
June 27, 2012

PV021: Salar de Uyuni (part 2)

This video, of course, continues where our first Salar de Uyuni video left off.

With everything I’ve got on my to-do list while we’re living in Australia, I haven’t had as much time as I’d like for editing more travel videos. The biggest hurdle has been recording new voice-overs.  Oksana is usually off working for 40+ hours a week, so there’s not much time for us to collaborate on the next big show-and-tell.  I realized, however, that I had a set of voice-overs still on my hard drive — the ones we recorded last year during our Bolivian salt flat tour.  ‘Bout time I followed up with the second part of that fantastic tour…!

It wasn’t until I started editing that I realized how little footage I shot during day two and day three of that tour.  Lots of great photos, very little video.  I suspect it was because we didn’t have a reliable power source until the tour was over and I was worried about draining my batteries.  Made the edit a little harder to pull off, but thankfully, I was able to supplement it with extra photos (as well as some of Wendy and Dusty’s videos.)  I trust the beauty of the landscape still comes through.

Show Notes:


April 8, 2011

Thoughts on Bolivia

I’m glad we approached Bolivia after traveling through Ecuador and Peru first.  I think it lessened the inevitable culture shock.  On the other hand, when we arrived in Chile (a post for another day), it felt almost like we were returning to the United States, the quality of living (and prices!) were so much higher.  Below are the things that occurred to me as we traveled through Bolivia.

Coca Leaves

What’s the first thing you think about when someone mentioned Bolivia.  It’s “cocaine,” isn’t it?  The whole time I was there, I didn’t see or hear anything about the white powder.  Not that I was running in those circles or anything, but no one even offered it to me.  I found it surprising, considering that it happened more than once in Peru.

What Bolivia does have, though, is coca leaves.  You can buy them by the bag-full at any outdoor market and, if you ask for the activator (a sticky, bitter substance made of ash, sap, bananas and/or who knows what else), you can get “high” with them in a perfectly legal, even morally acceptable way.

Oksana and I tried them a couple times and the effects, for me, were on par with drinking a venti-sized cup of coffee from Starbucks (assuming, of course, your coffee tastes like freshly-cut grass and completely numbs your cheek and tongue!)  Oksana really liked chewing coca leaves while hiking – they allowed her to completely ignore any pain she was feeling on the long, steep hike up Colca Canyon.

(In Potosí, it was almost comical the way the miners kept stuffing the leaves into their mouths.  Plucking each stem, they’d add them one at a time, over the course of hours, until their cheeks were bulging like a greedy hamster!)

After seeing the widespread use of coca leaves in both Peru and Bolivia, I’d guess it’s about as addictive as marijuana and about as socially acceptable as smoking cigarettes.  I wonder if that’s why the two countries have relatively few smokers…


March 23, 2011

PV014: Salar de Uyuni

The Salar de Uyuni is the most amazing natural wonder I have ever seen in my life.  During our two trips through the world’s largest salt flats, Oksana and I got so many good photos and videos that editing them into a single podcast episode was more challenging than editing the ones where I don’t have enough footage.  I worried that I wouldn’t do this amazing landscape justice.

This video is almost fifteen minutes long and that’s even after I decided to eliminate day two and three of our tour (I may make that into a shorter episode later.)  I had the great fortune to be able to interview not just Oksana and myself, but also our guide and every one of the new friends we met on these tour.  This isn’t just “Arlo and Oksana’s Experience on the Salar,” it’s “Arlo and Oksana’s (Alaska), Rémy and Aurélie’s (France), Wendy and Dusty’s (Ohio), Soledad and Joaquin’s (Buenos Aires), and Oscar’s (La Paz) Experience on the Salar!”

Not everyone is as comfortable as we are in front of a camera — and we’re far from comfortable talking into a lens, ourselves! — so I want to thank everyone who contributed to this video, especially Soledad and Joaquin who struggled with an unfamiliar language on camera.  For what it’s worth, I think that having a 2-to-1 ratio for English-as-a-second (or third!) -language to native English speakers in this video is pretty cool!

Fifteen minutes may be asking too much of some internet viewers.  If you find yourself bored by the setup, might I suggest you jump to the 9 minute, 45 second mark?  Spoiler warning: It’s awesome!

Finally, there are more stories and photos of our Uyuni trips on:

Rémy and Aurélie’s travel blog: NEWZ FROM THE WORLD
Wendy and Dusty’s travel blog: roamthepla.net



February 26, 2011

Tormenta de Uyuni

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What a difference three weeks can make!

After getting sick on our first visit to the world’s largest salt flat, Oksana and I retreated to La Paz and rested up.  We knew we were coming back to the Salar de Uyuni on our way down to Chile, but we worried that the trip wouldn’t be the same without our friends, Dusty and Wendy, along (not to mention that we couldn’t afford a “private” tour without them…)

So, when we arrived at Red Planet Expeditions again, we had plenty of questions for the guides.  The most important of which: How can we see the Salar at night?

The short answer: “You can’t.”  At least not without staying at a $100/night salt hotel.  When pressed, one of the guides admitted there were other options. We could pay $150 for a private, one-day tour which would let us stay out on the flats until about 10pm.  That seemed steep to us, considering the 3-day tour to Chile would still cost us $130.  Another option, he said, would be to try to convince a group to change the normal itinerary on their 3-day/2-night tour to stay out on the flats until just after sunset.  In that case, everyone would have to spend the night in Uyuni again, because there would be no time to drive south after dark.

Most of the tourists with reservations wouldn’t arrive until the next morning, so we resolved to return to the office early to meet them and pitch our idea before committing our own money.

The next morning, nothing went as planned!  The buses from Sucre and La Paz were late (due to the unpredictable road conditions during the rainy season.)  At first, this seemed like a great thing:  The later we got underway, the more likely it seemed we’d be able to convince our guide to stay on the salt flats until dark.  But as time went on and no word from the buses materialized, plans changed.  Oscar, a Red Planet guide, decided to simply merge the people who were waiting, even though not all of us had paid for the same tour.  “Don’t worry,” he told me. “I’ll just tell the others that we’re staying until sunset and they won’t even know that’s not normal!”

Indeed, after hearing that the normal tour only allocated a couple mid-day hours on the flats, the two couples from Argentina and France recognized the opportunity for what it was.  Sunset and star photos on the world’s largest salt flats?  And we don’t miss anything else on the tour?  How did we get so lucky?

Ever since I’d first heard about this tour in Quito, I’d been looking forward to getting some nighttime, starlight photos on the salt flats.  Supposedly, when the stars are reflected in the water below, it looks like you’re floating in space!  The weather on our second tour was cooperating, too.  On our first trip, it rained off and on the whole day, but this time, the sky was blue overhead and the only clouds were on the horizon.  Another difference: the water level on the flats was much higher on our second go-around.  We were excited that the mirrored surface was even better, even though that meant there were very few places where we could attempt the funny perspective shots…

As the sun began to set, a storm developed on the western horizon.  Big black sheets of rain began to fall, far in the distance, and the few people remaining on the flats began to cluster together and start taking photos.  As the storm approached, the lightning grew more intense.  Some of us were actually able to take handheld lightning photos if we were quick enough.

But as the night began to fall, the real show began!  With the darkness, I was able to lengthen my exposures.  I set my camera to shoot in bursts, bracketing all three shots to be slightly darker than normal.  The storm was raging by the end (though we never did get rained on!) and practically every photo captured at least one, big lightning bolt.

Everyone in our group has amazing photos from that evening, but this one is my favorite.

By 7:30pm, the air was whipping around us and I suspect the wind chill was below zero.  I was still in shorts and up to my ankles in icy salt water, shivering uncontrollably.  The storm had literally horseshoed around us and lightning was coming down on all three sides, but I continued to take photos right up until Oscar arrived with our Land Cruiser.  “I’m so sorry, man,” he shouted over the wind, “but I don’t think you’re going to get your starlight photos tonight.”

“Are you kidding me?  After a show like that?  I couldn’t care less!”

Canon 5D Mark II
Date: 7:20pm, 23 February 2011
Focal Length: 24mm
Shutter: 8 seconds, -1.7 step bias
Aperture: F/11
ISO: 500
Photoshop: Slight crop to level horizon, auto color, minor saturation increase, cloned out a couple dozen “hot” pixels (chip temperature errors), plus cleaned up the ghosting of one person’s silhouette (because they moved during 8 sec exposure.)

February 4, 2011

Salar de Uyuni

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The Salar de Uyuni has to be one of the most surreal places I have ever been.  Situated high in the Andes, it’s the world’s largest salt flat.  In over 12,000 square kilometers, the elevation varies by less than one meter and the tricks that plays on perspective almost have to be seen to be believed.

We’d raced through Peru to get to the Salar de Uyuni by early February because we’d heard that the best time to visit it was in the rainy season, during a new moon.  This time of year, during the day, water covers the salt flat and reflects the sky, and on a moonless night, the reflection of the stars – supposedly – creates a universe both above and below your feet.

We had also been planning to meet our friends, Dusty and Wendy from Roamthepla.net, at Uyuni since we’d hung out with them in Lima.

Everything was going well the night before.  After much debate, we’d booked a 3-day/ 2-night private tour with the Red Planet tour agency.  We were happy to pay a little extra for the two unused seats in our Land Rover (and pay a little bit less for a Spanish-only guide.)  Come the morning of our visit to the Salar, however, things started going downhill.

Both Oksana and I woke up sick.  If it had been only us, we’d probably have cancelled our tour, but we wanted to hang out with Dusty and Wendy, so we decided to soldier on.

And boy are we glad we did!  We drove onto the Salar in the Land Rover at about 5 miles an hour, pushing 10 inches of water out away from us in every direction. Our guide, Roy, stopped at the first dry island so we could take pictures, but one of the many passing showers caught up to us before we really got started.  We piled back into the SUV and he drove us to the Salt Hotel, farther out on the flats.

From the hotel, you could barely see the horizon in any direction.  Miles and miles of salt was covered by just a few inches of water which created floating mirages out of the mountains in the distance.  Aim your camera towards wet ground and your subjects appeared to be walking on the sky.  Point it at one of the few dry spots and the lack of perspective lent itself to hundreds of humorous opportunities to play with scale (for instance, a person standing 25 meters behind another might appear to be perched on their shoulder.)

Unfortunately, it felt like Oksana and I spent half our time on the flats doubled over with stomach cramps and while I took a few good photos, I wasn’t feeling especially creative with the camera.  We decided over lunch that we would cut our tour short and just go back to the hotel and sleep.  Our biggest regret: Bailing on our friends.

(Three days later, we’re feeling much better.  We’re about to catch a train back north into Bolivia, but I expect we’ll return in a couple weeks, because the agency we used has an easy option for border transfers into Chile and that seems like a fine place to go next!  Maybe next time we’ll find a way to get those night shots!)

Canon 5D Mark II
Date: 1:51pm, 02 February 2011
Focal Length: 105mm
Shutter: 1/1600 second, -.7 step bias
Aperture: F/8
ISO: 100
Photoshop: Slight crop to level horizon, auto color, minor saturation increase, desaturated SUV after auto color tinted it green.

Because I was well aware of how our sudden sickness was affecting the mood of our Salar de Uyuni tour, I asked Wendy and Dusty to help us stage a photo so we could all remember how our day together felt: