I met Theo in the town of Uyuni in southwest Bolivia. He was chewing coca leaves in a dark bar on an cold April evening and we began chatting as we shared a propane heater, and a beer or two. Things move slowly in Uyuni, and during the week, only a few backpackers and local miners frequent this place. Theo told me he had been conducting tours of the nearby salt flats, the Salar, for over 15 years. We made plans to meet the next day for him to show me around. “Just bring you and your camera” he said, disappearing into the night.
The town of Uyuni is home to 10,000 inhabitants and sits 12,000 feet above sea level. Formerly a railway junction for the once thriving silver mining industry, it was founded in 1890 as a trading post, and soon became a major railroad junction between the Bolivian mines to the east and the ports of Chile to the west. The Cerro Ricco mountain still has the largest silver deposits in the world, but when the mining industry collapsed in the 1940s, the trains were disbanded and places like Uyuni became ghost towns. But it had another resource: the largest salt flats in the world.