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Journey from the Eyes of a Jeep

Kevin with his friend, the jeep
Speeding along at 70 miles per hour is merely a morning stretch for this athletic hunk of mobile steel we call the "jeep". Only a big girl standing six feet tall, with our luggage on her head, could possible carry the weight of her six passengers and her closest companion navigating at the wheel. Paved roads crossing Bolivia are a rare luxury she never relies on while charging across the rocky terrain with the force of 50 llamas. The red skin of her youth, now split into patterns resembling the cracked clay of a desert floor, is proof that she's endured nothing but hard labor even in her youth. The two-inch treads on her reinforced tires burn into a ground, white as snow, but here in the Salar de Uyuni, unlike the frozen ice of other lands, the Earth is covered with nothing but salt.

Map of the Salar de Uyuni in Boliva
All jeeps have heard the countless tales of how this land was once a huge salt lake called Lago Minchín over 20,000 years ago but have only known it to be a vast salt desert of 7,000 sq. miles within their own lifetime. When approaching the perimeter of the Salar, only a vague taste of the few centimeters of salt can be detected, sparking the curiosity of both jeeps and passengers alike. But as she ventures deeper into the Salar, she feels an anxious rush in passing over ground made up of pure salt at times over 20 feet deep. Larger vehicles nearby sweat all day long as they pile salt into large mounds and continuously work to extract the elements from the Salar for human consumption. With nothing but experience to guide her, the jeep knows exactly the path to take across this bleached expanse so as not to fall victim to the many water holes which occasionally capture unsuspecting rovers. Although the water contains valuable minerals and medicinal properties for humans, it is a deadly trap for jeeps, bikers, and pedestrians to fall into.

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Walkin' in a salty wonderland...
Many miles into the Salar stands the first rest stop, although intended for people, it's dually appreciated by their transport. In the middle of nowhere stands a hotel complex comprised of three buildings, all of which are made of salt. Only the wooden window frames and the straw roof stand out from the solid salt bricks of the hotel walls. Within these walls exists an entire world of salty home furnishings such as tables, chairs, sofas, and counters, all complete with decorative llamas. Outside is a small pool filled with water and a beautiful view of a new hotel building that is still under construction.

As the jeep presses on, she encounters the different textures of this rare desert. At times the ride is as smooth as any strip of asphalt, whereas other moments the path is spotted with small tufts of salt naturally spaced out along the way. Suddenly, her tires receive a shock as they plunge into a shallow depth of water. This is no stream or water hole, but the beginning of several more miles of salt flat covered by just a couple of inches of crystal clear water reflecting the light of the sun. Along one side of the field of whiteness lies the reflected image of the distant mountain chain while in all other directions there is nothing obstructing the straight line joining the endless white land and the blue sky. Water splashes up on her sides and leaves nothing but the stain of dry salt baking in the hot sun. Only the fleeting red flash of the jeep cuts through this harmonious landscape of white and blue, like the violent wake of a speeding wave-runner splitting the tranquility of an abandoned sea.

Cactus Island - You won't be able to find this at Disneyland!
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Viscacha 1, Kevin 0
Existing as a reminder that a greater land still surrounds this wonderland of white isolation, one single island of deceiving proportion appears in front of the jeep, and the only two objects on the plain appear to approach each other quickly. The Isla de Pescadores, with its volcanic rock reminiscent of a dark brown earth barely lingering in memory, is famous for its multitude of tall standing cactus plants which need to be carefully navigated as people leave their jeeps below and attempt the ascent to the heights of the island. From the top, everything is clear but there's still no end to the sea of whiteness. As the hungry people return to the jeep for refueling, a curious troop of noisy local animals crowd around her and search for a meal. They are the "viscachas" who resemble rabbits but are not nearly as shy. They run right up to the jeep and the food and jubilantly interact with the passengers as the jeep continues its quiet repose.

But the feeling of solid ground beneath her tires reminds her that it's time to leave in search once again of the dust and the dirt that she's all but forgotten. This blank surface devoid of any challenge for her is merely a diversion from reality, which only seems to be never-ending. She takes them from the island with the consolation that they'll eventually find solid ground to play on once again. And so from there she pushes on, following the interminable path of salt before her as she rides off towards the horizon.


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