Exploring Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia
If you’re ever lucky enough to explore the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, you’ll feel like you’re on another planet. It’s both absurdly otherworldly and exquisitely beautiful. It’s probably the brightest and strangest place I’ve encountered in my life and it’s also one of the most interesting environments to drive in. Did you know that the Bolivian salt flat not only looks like another planet, it’s also one of the few spaces on earth so vast that it is visible from space?
The Uyuni salt flat is the largest of its kind in the world. Imagine a thick slab of salt stretching across miles, covered by polygonal patterns jutting out of the ground. And if you think that makes for an interesting road trip, it gets better. For a few months of the year, a thin layer of rain on the salt flat causes a mirror effect. Yes, the surface of the earth becomes one ginormous mirror in every direction. Can you imagine what driving over this enormous expanse feels like? I could kind of imagine it but really wanted to experience it first-hand.
Off to a Rocky Start
Although I was tempted to rent a 4X4 and give Salar de Uyuni a go myself, I couldn’t find anybody adventurous (or crazy!?) enough to join me on this trip, so I decided to join an organized tour. This three-day tour turned out to be one of the bravest trips I’ve taken. The guide’s English was so broken I could hardly understand it. No hot showers, clean beds or ordinary bathrooms, and the high altitude makes everything so much more challenging – no matter how many cocoa leaves you chew, you still feel sick.
The Salt ‘hotel’ we were taken to on the first night was hardly a hotel. When the tour advert said rustic, I imagined a lack of the usual comforts like no air-conditioning and free shampoo samples – not 12 people crammed into a dorm-room under threadbare blankets. Not to mention that we were given rickety Jeeps to drive the following day, not my number one choice in 4X4 by far.
But Who Needs Comfort Anyway?
Thankfully, my annoyance was short-lived. Even after a night spent tossing and turning, my exhaustion went out of the window as soon as we started taking in the spectacular scenery. On the way to the salt flat, we stopped in an area where volcanic activity and erosion created a forest of rocks, including a 7m tall rock shaped like a tree aptly named ‘Tree Rock’. We saw alpacas and pink flamingos by the dozen, live volcanos, super-hot and super loud geysers and a series of stunning lakes, tinted in different colours by algae and minerals.
By the second day, I was even enjoying the Jeep. The highlight for me was to race across the mirror-like surface of the salt flat. Despite his broken English, our guide Juan made it very clear that it was okay to speed by nodding furiously saying, “fast, fast!” Whether this was wise or not, I have no idea. It was electrifying! On my final day, I joined the rest of the tour soaking up warmth and minerals in natural hot springs marveling at my crazy cool experience.
You Haven’t Lived Till You’ve Gone Dune Surfing
Have you ever been in a desert? Whether you have or haven’t, I want you to take a moment to imagine sitting on top of a colossal sand dune over 30 stories high. You’re in a sturdy car – but that doesn’t matter because its nose is facing about 37 degrees down the dune! What do you do? Do you get out? Or do you push down on the accelerator and GO?
And even though I thought my heart would bounce out of my chest, I took a Toyota Land Cruiser down that dune, and up and down another few dunes over the course of three days. I don’t think I’ve had this much adrenaline pumping through my veins since the first time I tore around a track in a Lamborghini. I also haven’t been this terrified, or had this much fun, in years. What made me choose to go on this outrageous adventure?
It All Started With Worms
A friend of mine was given authentic Mexican mescal as a gift. It’s kind of like tequila, you know the one with the worm in? We got chatting about eating the worm and he said that he once ate mopane worms in Namibia and that it was a stunning place. I remembered seeing a car trip through the Namib Desert advertised. Two months later, we’re on a plane heading for Africa!
What a Place
Armed with nothing but gears, gorilla-sized tires, some grit and a few jerrycans for extra fuel and water, I went on a heart-pumping, adrenaline-fueled African adventure. Our trip started in a convoy of 12 cars, mostly Toyotas, all fitted with radios so we can get some expert guidance on how to drive around safely in what felt like the world’s biggest sandpit.
Don’t Forget Your Deodorant!
Everybody had to let their tires down to 0.8 bar as our tour leader Willem gave us a thorough speech of dos and don’ts before taking off. The talk was good but nothing can prepare you for the slides and slips and ridiculous angles we got into on the dunes. One of the other guys on the tour took a sharp turn and hit a clump of vegetation which peeled his tire away from the rim. Willem fixed it with a lighter and a can of deodorant. How, I have no idea, I was too busy concentrating on doing the most technical driving I’ve ever done.
So Much Life (And Death) in One Place
Besides having an epic driving adventure, Namibia was well worth the visit. We were told it’s the oldest desert in the world, but the Namib is anything but boring or dead. Even with all the shipwrecks, ghost towns and fossil plants almost 2,000 years old (the Welwitschia Mirabilis), the Namib is teeming with life. We drove past majestic Oryx blending in beautifully with the sand, saw cute and curious lizards basking on the dunes and came across at least a thousand smelly Cape fur seals suspiciously eyeing a couple of jackals darting around them. We even got up close and personal with a playful herd of zebras.
And on the show stopping final night of the tour, before flying back early the next morning, I experienced eating mopane worms around a big bonfire. Thankfully, I had some amazing local beer to wash them down with! What a wild trip.
4,000 Kilometres, 8 States, 14 Days, Three Time Zones – A Million Smiles
Unless you saddle up a horse and wear a Stetson hat and spurs, you can’t get more American than driving Route 66 with a vintage American muscle car. When I first got a bee in my bonnet about driving Route 66, I was told that it no longer exists, except in songs and movies. After a bit of research, I discovered that it was officially decommissioned in the 1980s and no longer features on maps. But, as for the actual road, it’s still mostly there, and the patches where it’s unpaved and unpassable are easy to pass by.
In Fact, It’s a ‘Thing’
I also learned that Route 66 still holds a special place and it’s become quite a thing to do for fans of American culture and us petrol heads alike. I decided that it’s my kind of thing and signed up for a two-week car trip to experience some authentic American fun. I flew to Chicago, Illinois where the Route 66 trip begins and was met by the tour organizer who was, incidentally, wearing a giant Stetson hat! After a short drive to the hotel, I met some of the other guys and gals who were also on the tour. We toasted our trip with some ice-cold Budweiser beers and swapped car stories.
Ready, Set, Rev!
The next day each of us was introduced to the car we selected when we signed up for the tour. I was almost jealous of Dean who had a white 1968 Mercury Cougar GT-E and of Alex who cleverly chose a gorgeous yellow 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT. But hey, how much more muscle can you want if you have a 1967 Mustang fastback with a 390 V8 at your disposal? Especially if it’s in mean midnight black with an even meaner devil red interior. The rumble is unmatched by anything you can find today with all the modern mufflers and CAF requirements and I was super happy with my choice as I roared towards the start of the historic Route 66.
When the Ultimate Muscle Car Meets Kitschy Americana
Nothing can quite describe the feeling of absolute freedom you feel driving across America and stopping along the way for a selection of quirky and wonderful sights. Weirdly, it’s some of the more kitschy stops that make you truly feel like you’re in the ‘land of the free and home for the brave.’ Like some of the rusty truck stops in the middle of nowhere, the massive neon signs dotted along the way and odd things like two giant yellow and red arrows and massive Tiki head. Or, even more peculiar, Cadillac Ranch, a weird art installation of brightly painted Cadillacs half-buried in the sand which made Burt wonder if he’s having an acid flashback. All along the Interstate, we were playing cat and mouse, one vintage muscle car bolting past the other as it begins to get ready to catch up.
After two weeks of stunning scenery, jaw-dropping archaeological sites, interesting hotel and motel stops, even more interesting conversations, and of course the pure adrenaline from driving a ridiculously awesome car, we arrived at our final destination: Santa Monica, California. Known as the Mother Road, Route 66 certainly lived up to her reputation of generosity and kindness. Even though it was one of the longest car trips I’ve done and in one of the least luxurious cars, it was also the most laidback and friendliest. This is a car trip I definitely want twice on my bucket list!
A Spectacular Arctic Experience
My favorite kind of road trip is measured in thousands of miles and revs. It involves me in an exhilarating car and plays out in a super cool area. By ‘super cool’ I don’t usually mean it literally. But this time, the road trip I took was 100% icy! I went on an arctic driving adventure that took me from London to Iceland to Stockholm and all the way to the Swedish Laplands.
Six Days, Seven Stunning Cars To Choose From
What can be more exhilarating than driving a Ferrari? Driving it on ice! For just over a week I negotiated spectacular natural beauty in icy cold conditions, with a fun assortment of cars. The trip started with an ‘Italian Job’-style chase with classic Mini Coopers through the back streets of London followed by dinner in a restaurant so lavish it made me feel like James Bond. Yes, I did have a martini (or two!) The next day we flew out to the Icelandic Highlands where we spent two days taking a fleet of custom-made four-wheel-drive Toyotas across rough terrain with spectacular scenery that featured majestic waterfalls and glaciers. I loved driving the powerful modified Toyota Hilux allocated to me.
We stopped for lunch and a dip in the Geysir hot springs. The evening was spent marveling at how magnificent the Northern Lights are in real life, as we sipped on cups of Brennivín, Iceland’s unsweetened potato schnapps.
From Iceland, we flew to Sweden. The adventure there started with a fun jaunt through the Swedish Laplands on snowmobiles – who says you need four wheels to have fun!? But by the next day, I was ready for some more motoring action. After a relaxing evening that involved fine dining at a Michelin-star restaurant in Stockholm and sipping on sparkling wine in a hot tub, I was ready to take on the full-scale F1 circuit replicas in the ice and snow.
Two Days Of Intense Ice Driving
We were told we could choose our rides from a selection of sports and supercars that included a Ferrari 458, a Ford Focus RS, a Porsche 911 GT3 and a Subaru WRX STi. Each day we covered around 75 miles in seven driving sessions. This meant every driver could try every available car at least once. My first choice was the WRX. I was excited to try its iconic symmetrical all-wheel drive, especially on ice. Once I got used to how different the steering is to other cars and got the hang of it, I loved how it handled and was really happy about choosing it to do a technical circuit. I also enjoyed the Focus and made full use of its Drift Mode button for a riotous ride.
A True Bucket-List Experience
This experience was not my first exhilarating road trip, but it was definitely one of the best. I loved that it had a combination of off-road and track driving experiences and that I now feel comfortable driving in a full-on Arctic environment. This sure is one for the books!