Day 89: White Desert, Lost Necklace, and a Broken Camera..

Salt.. Salt.. nothing but blindingly white salt!

Waiting for 2:50am train to Tupiza, our last Bolivian stop. There have been many moments like these where we find ourselves stuck in awkward hours… can’t wait to rest in a decent place – the last time we felt really comfortable and clean was in Cusco, almost 2 weeks ago. Backpacking Bolivia can be tough…

Who shrunk my wife?? …I just wanted say good job!!!
The salt flats are so large, perspective of distances are warped.

Uyuni’s salt flats were the #1 highlight on my list of to-see in South Am, and is pretty much the real reason we came to Bolivia. Perhaps it was the anticipation and high expectations that left me feeling a little disappointed, but in retrospect, all the things that happened during the last 3 days of our Uyuni tour have been phenomenal.

Alpacas(?) grazing before the Andes

We cruised through blindingly white salt flats where horizons seem to stretch to infinity; ascended above the freezing altitude of 4,700m in the Bolivian Andes where landscapes are wild beyond imagination; managed to crash my camera lens and now have no wide angle to shoot with; met a great bunch of guys on our tour (Chris, Rich, Benno and Theo) who helped find my lost talisman (a protection charm I wore around my neck) in the middle of the salt desert; realized we got ripped off by the tour agent and successfully argued back our overpaid amount…

Our tour mates – Benno & Theo in the back, Chris & Rich in front

The tour itself wasn’t the easiest of tours. Accommodation and meals were very basic (no showers, non flushing toilets, subzero temperatures, no heating, and rice with ketchup), but the sights were stunning. By day, relentless mountains and volcanoes watched as our 4×4 blazed a trail through the dry barren landscape; by night the sky morphed into a sparkling canvas with the Milky Way clearly visible above our heads.

Snow capped peaks of the Bolivan Andes

I will never forget how Lucio, our driver, left the 6 of us to watch the sun set over the salt desert as he departed to prepare dinner at the salt hostel; how the sun sank beneath the horizon, slowly blushing the sky away to a deep blue hue; how quickly the temperatures dropped from hot to bitterly cold yet no sign of Lucio returning; how horrifying the thought of being stuck in an endless white desert without any means to ride out the chilling night; how he finally showed up an hour late just as everything fell into complete darkness…

Twilight burning streaks above the horizon at sunrise

This wasn’t the only mishap on the first day of our tour. I literally felt my heart sink into a deep abyss when my tripod toppled over sending my camera into rock solid surface; later feeling even worse when I realized the talisman mom had given me several years ago for protection had fallen off my necklace…

Seeing the #1 highlight in South Am didn’t end up being the best day of my life.

But… crazy things were about to happen!

That night as we ate and flipped through our pictures, I noticed this as I zoomed in:

Silly jumpshot where I dropped my talisman

There on the perfectly white surface lay the fallen piece of my necklace!

KF was determined we could find it. I thought it was impossible, like looking for a needle in a haystack the size of Hong Kong. What logic ran behind KF’s mind is a myth, but I guess women sometimes think in mysterious ways.

We spent the next morning trying to locate where Lucio had dropped us off for the sunset views, where we took silly pictures. It was impossible to locate the exact point given the vast expanse of the salt desert, but the impossible was about to happen. After about 20 minutes of a spread out search, KF found traces of coca leaves and crisps that had been left behind by the boys. We had our location locked down and started searching from there.

It didn’t take long to lose faith though. The talisman is the size of a bullet, and even having identified the immediate area it fell, we were still searching for a needle in a haystack.

Another 20 minutes. I gave up. I felt horrible for holding the group up despite everybody being keen to help. “Vamos!” I called out to everyone, “let’s go…”

Just as we were about to get back on the 4WD, Rich shouted out excitedly:

“Hang on.. we didn’t take that jumping picture here! It was at the salt blocks! I was the one who took the picture for you!”

I checked the times of the jumpshot and its preceding picture, one of KF in a silly pose at the salt blocks. Shit, he was right, there was only a 2 minute time gap! Why hadn’t we thought of that? We’d been wasting our time in the wrong spot.

Yoga at the salt blocks

The salt blocks was about 10 mins away. I still wasn’t convinced we’d be able to find it but KF wasn’t the only one now who was determined. All the other guys were too.

“Let’s do it” I heard the guys say in the seats behind.

We picked up so many hints and it felt so close… Right, we should give it a last shot. Everybody was pumped up as our jeep pulled over by the salt blocks. We leaped out immediately and started looking around.

It all happened so fast, under 30 seconds, and there it was – my talisman – just as it appeared in the picture. We were euphoric! It was like playing a live game of cluedo, and we trumped it. None of us could believe we had accomplished the impossible!

It was amazing… and looking back, it still is!

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  1. Leslie says:

    Love this!! One of the best things about travelling is meeting awesome people! I'm so glad you guys found it and at such a memorable location. Things are bound to happen, it just depends on how you handle it! :)

  2. Kenrick says:

    Jeeeeeeeeezus freakin' chriiist… excuse the profanity. But scenes and events like these bring tears… just look at that sunset, and imagining being there!!!!!!! gawd dammit.. makes me feel like a losseeeer sitting in an office in an urban jungle!!!

  3. Cindy says:

    I'm lost for words and I wasn't even there! Love ur pics!

  4. Mui Mui says:

    Kafei your pose is super funny! And wong glenn your pictures are really beautiful… I love the sunset picture very much!

  5. Ray says:

    What a great story!

  6. Charlie says:

    Incredible!!! This has got to be one of your most memorable events of your Bolivian trip! Awesome!

  7. Rafzana says:

    Amazing story! Glad you have found your talisman again!
    Love the pictures!

  8. Bernice says:

    Awesome story!! Your talisman was waiting for you right there… Amazing what determination can do~ Yay!!

  9. ace says:

    this story is about chance and luck! WOW, i am blown away. you guys could be part of the tv show mantracker as well. AND might i add, you are so observant for noticing that in your picture. i feel like you will always be protected no matter what (esp what happened.. but the talisman is also sentimental). you hv the most wonderful, sincere, sweet hearted wife, and met some INCREDIBLE travellers. GOD BLESS!

  10. theo says:

    nice story hein!! i m glad to have done this trip of the talisman with you!!
    see you in china!!

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