There is no need for long-exposure photography techniques here — that vast ocean is actually made of solidified salt. Amid this rocky outcrop in the center of the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, I was surrounded by huge cacti. It was the only reprieve from the salt desert surrounding me. The electromagnetism from the salt crust instantly wiped every battery I had in my bag (five of them!), and rendered my main Canon 5d MkIV camera useless. But things were about to get worse. This dramatic scene developed quickly — a salt storm ripped its way toward me across the salt flats. The tiny black dot in the distance was a tiny jeep trying to avoid being obliterated by the eye of storm. Mum was right: Salt is definitely bad for you.
This scene could be the surface of the moon or another planet altogether. This is the Vallee de la Luna (or Moon Valley) in the Atacama desert in Chile. It’s the driest desert on Earth, experiencing temperatures over 40 degrees celsius, and it enjoys less than a millimeter of rainfall each year. It seems there is a better chance of finding organic life on the moon than here. This place is heart stopping in more ways than one.
This boiling wasteland is over 5000 meters above sea level, making it hard to breathe, and even more difficult to walk. The mud and volcanic gases erupted under my feet, the sun beat through the scorched sky. The air was so thin that the steam floated continuously, creating a scene that literally took my breath away. Nothing can live here and its desolation had both an emotional and physical impact on me. I felt like I was in a space probe, exploring a distant planet. Bolivia really is out of this world.
Birnbeck Island in Somerset, England, is a bridge to the past, able to transport you to another world in a way no Harry Potter book could. This 149-year-old pier leads right to an abandoned fairground island is only barely standing. Remnants of the old attractions remain on the island: a roller skating rink, a bioscope theatre (an early cinema), a water chute ride, and an early flying machine. In the 20s and 30s, it was a top attraction that drew hundreds of thousands of people each month. In 1941, it began a tougher life: it was closed to the public and turned into HMS Birnbeck — a secret facility for weapons testing. Then the island was seriously damaged by a British bomber plane, which dropped a dummy mine and destroyed much of the structure. It was patched up but ripped apart again by severe storms, and finally abandoned for good in 1994. It’s a fascinating old place, but trapped in an in-between world — too expensive to restore, too special to remove. Mother Nature is finally taking care of the last clean up, 149 years of history being erased before our very eyes.
Ribs Of A Relic
The SS Nornen sunk here over 130 years ago, and I experienced firsthand how easy it is to get overtaken by these tides. This area is beautiful, but deadly, as those who sailed here centuries ago discovered firsthand. Just before the shipwreck disappeared under the murky water, I captured the shot I had tried so hard to get. I only had a window of about five minutes to take this three-minute exposure, only one chance when the conditions were exactly right. Phew.
Not much to look at here, you might say — and you’d almost be right. But there is a story. This is Patagonia, Chile, and this particular tree has been ravaged by fire. In fact, nearly 1000 square kilometers of Patagonia were ruined in a blaze started by a trekker whose campfire grew out of control. The devastation destroyed the habitat as far as the eye could see in every direction. Hundreds of thousands of these trees were turned silver by the raging wildfire, and the area will take more than 100 years to regenerate. Huge protections were put in place to stop it from happening again, including massive fines for burning fires in unspecified places. But then it happened again two years ago: during a military training exercise, a soldier tipped over another campfire. The fires wreaked a final black and silver tear across the plains and mountains. An area that would have been a vibrant green and covered in red and white foliage with crystal blue glacial water, is now gone. It’s almost as if Medusa had turned all living things to petrified stone. A sad tale, but the tale of this lonely old tree nonetheless.
Brought to Light
This leviathan is only revealed at certain moments throughout the day, most of the time keeping its cloak of sea firmly on. But this is not the remains of a giant creature of the deep; it’s the shipwreck of a Norwegian vessel that met disaster here on Berrow Beach in 1897. It has had its bones picked by water and time, resembling the rib cage of something far more menacing. All the lines in the sand and the sky direct you to one point: the monster’s skeleton.