El Cielo

lrm_export_20170303_131603Meaning: sky/heaven
Carlos, our Bolivian guide for the past two days through the incredible landscape of the Eduardo Avaroa national park wakes us in our beds at 4.30am. We have spent the night in a salt hotel, where everything from the beds to the tables and chairs are made of salt. Its still dark but we can hear the rain outside falling in heavy sheets off the sides of the roof. Carlos shakes his head when we ask if we are still going to see the sunrise. He has made an executive decision. The salt hotel stands on the edge of the largest salt flat in the world: the Salar de Uyuni and this morning we are supposed to be crossing from one side to the other. But the storm is worrying even him. We will wait until it gets light, he says. Two more hours of sleep and dawn has broken, so we pile into the trusty jeep and hope for the best. The rain is still bucketing down as we follow the other jeeps along a narrow path flanked on both sides by water where only a few days before it was dry. Suddenly the jeeps in front of us stop. The path has come to an end. In front stretches the flats like a newly formed ocean. Stoic Carlos who adores his car stuffs some thick plant he cut earlier into the front of the engine so that the salt water can’t enter. We all get out and look at each other under hooded raincoats and wonder how the hell we are going to cross this, already a foot deep in water. One by one each of the cars leave the path and form a convoy across the salar, driving into a great nothingness. Its impossible to see where the stormy sky ends and the watery flats begin. There is no horizon to remind us which way is up and which is down. And then, when we think we’ve had the worst luck with the weather and have settled for blasting one of Carlos’ favourite tunes, ‘I will always love you’ by Whitney Houston through the speakers, the sky opens. A patch of blue that looked like a mirage before grows and expands into a huge gap between the clouds. Rays of light shine through illuminating the salt flats and the water with blue and fluffy whites. The sky stretches out and leaks into all the corners of our vision, joining up to its reflection below until we don’t know whether we are standing in the sky or the ground. Whatever you’ve imagined heaven to look like, the Salar de Uyuni comes very close.

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