In Bolivia, Werner Herzog, maker of movies, maker of Salt and Fire, was looking for ecstatic truth, which sounds painful. Who is to say that it isn’t to be found under Uturunku, the volcano that juts from the Altiplano’s flatness, its lava about to erupt, though it hasn’t for 271,000 years.
The last decades, it’s been stirring, like in so many of us who heat up after some large-scale magma intrusion into the hidden, as our calderas shift from collapses to form super-volcanoes. Secrets and their revelation are old news.
What is truth anyway, but the only daughter of time, one of Herzog’s characters says, and what does that even mean?
I’d like to think Herzog found ecstatic truth in the salt flats, eccentric Salar de Uyuni, other-planet with its crusts and islands, where he fell in love with salt and its people and sited his film. Plains formed from tears Tunupa shed when she grieved for Kusku, who ran away with Kusinou. They were gods before they were mountains.
The Aymara, sheathed in sheets or masks for protection from the warrior sun, harvest the salt. Beside the volcano, underneath the desert of salt—lithium pools, useful for batteries, grey gold, authentically primordial, marking time.