Alarms should rarely be allowed to go off at 4:45 AM. This was one of those beautiful exceptions.
The horizon was unreachable, sitting leagues away across this hard, white, crystalline material that physically extended out from us in every direction as far as our tired eyes could see. The sun carefully, delicately eased its way over the horizon. Fierce beams of yellow, red, and burnt orange burst out in every direction, blinding stubborn eyes that simply refused to look away, despite the pain. There are sunrises, and there are sunrises. This one surpassed them all.
After what must have been an eon of sheer visual ecstasy, our Bolivian guides Alan and Jesus finally persuaded us to get back in the Land Cruisers. At speeds of 60 mph, we bombed across what used to be a giant salt lake, halting only to hike onto Inkawasi Island, the Island of the Cactus. Here thousands of cacti resided, some up to 1500 years old. Apparently they tend to grow a single millimeter a year – and many of these were two stories tall. The top of the island provided a 360º view of endless spans of white. Only the promise of breakfast could make us descend, and even that was a stretch.
After a feast, as per usual, we made our way to the flattest, emptiest section of the flats. Alan and Jesus cracked through the ice to the water below, and dug out crystalline salt cubes, their sides and angles crafted to perfection. We then spent the next hour and change taking perspective photos. We could be seen creating human stars, jumping over cars and into wine bottles, eating people off spoons, and even being chased by an enormous Rhino. And that, my friends, was just the tip of the salt-berg.
A final stop at the train cemetery and our 4-day tour came to an end. It was sad to say goodbye to our guides, our cooks, our land cruisers. But Team Mongrel stayed together for more epic adventures. Goodbyes are seriously overrated.