Day 12 – The Legend of the Tunupa Volcano

The salt flats of Bolivia once were a great inland sea. As the earth rose and he sea dried it became a great salt flat many feet deep. Once known as the Salar of Tunupa and now called the Salar of Uyuni (due to an error made by the conquering Spanish), this region can be seen from the moon, holds the world’s largest supply of lithium plus many other minerals, and houses many rare and carefully adapted life forms. Most of Bolivia’s quinoa production is cultivated on the cold, dry salty soils around the salt flats. But there is another story to the salt flats and this I will share now.

Long ago, the volcanoes of the altiplano walked and moved to meet and hold long conversations together. In this desert region, at 12,000 feet above sea level, there was only one female volcano: Tunupa. All other surrounding volcanoes loved her.


Colchani, Bolivia

Tunupa became pregnant and bore a small volcano whose father was unknown. All of the volcanoes that had courted her wanted to be the baby’s father. All night they fought. Finally they took the baby volcano away from his mother and hid him in Colchani .

The gods were furious and to punish the volcanoes they took away their right to move, talk and meet.
Tunupa had nursed her child, the baby volcano, and loved him very much. Now she could not find him. Volcano Tunupa, like the others, was pinned to the earth and silent in her grief. She did not know that in Colchani, a small volcano that looked much like her, now laments alone on the outskirts of town.


Salar of Uyuni

Tunupa cried and cried. Her tears and her mother’s milk ran over the arid land that ever since has been white and salty. Thus was born the great white Ténéré; the Salar de Uyuni.

Tomorrow I will be traveling with my family through the night, across the altiplano, on a cold, bumpy bus, for 7 hours to arrive at dawn at the salt flats… and the land of quinoa.