Forget About Space Travel – We Have Bolivia Right Here on Earth

Salar de Uyuni Bolivia

Forget About Space Travel – We Have Bolivia Right Here on Earth

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.

Salar de Uyuni close-up

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.

Namib Desert

Worms and Other Wild Things in the Namib

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?

I Went!

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?

Namibie 2017

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.

Namib desert

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.