After a long beautiful drive through the desert, we arrived in the small town of Uyuni, late afternoon. We were unsurprisingly disappointed: Uyuni is a poor town that survives solely on tourism and salt production. It is swept by strong winds throughout the year, making it very dusty and polluted with rubbish. There is no vegetation and water is scarce.
We were taken straight to the ‘train graveyard’, one of the few ‘attractions’ Uyuni has to offer. The trains were a shell of their former life: used for transporting nickel a few decades ago, across the border to Chile. The steam boiler tubes had been stripped out and the train bodies were corroded and tagged with graffiti. It made for a few fun hours of exploration and funny photos!
We visited the famous Uyuni Salar (salt lake) for the first time that evening, taking in the colourful sunset before the clouds blew in and obscured the view.
Unfortunately due to heavy rain in the past few days, we could not access the Salt Hotel inside the Salar. We slept in an equally charming salt hotel in Colchani, a small town at the edge of the Salar. We shared our final meal (lasagna and a bottle of red wine from Tarija) in good humour with our driver, Cesar, and another group of tourists from the south of France.
The next morning was dedicated to the visit of the Salar. Unfortunately we were extremely unlucky with the weather, it having been clear the days just before and after! The amazing photos on internet of crisp white salt and clear blue sky creating surreal reflections and optical illusions, would not be for us. We got up early to watch the sunrise, then had breakfast at the old Salt Hotel, checked out the salt monument built for this year’s edition of the Dakar, and the international flags area, before heading out to a dry patch in the Salar.
We did however spend many fun hours using our imagination, and any accessories we could find, to take optical illusion photos, some already done by many before us, and others created by us, but which didn’t always work as well!
In the afternoon, we did the artisinal market in Colchani, said our goodbyes, and were dropped off in Uyuni.
This is when we discovered that transport to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile would not be as simple as initially expected: passenger transport by train had been discontinued decades ago, the one daily bus had already left, and there was no way we were spending another night in this dump. We eventually found a Jeep transport, leaving imminently, for which we had to extend our budget quite a bit! Despite our tiredness, the journey was extremely enjoyable as we spent it chatting with 2 interesting and bubbly Chilean girls, vacationing in the area for a week. Our self-proclaimed entertaining driver, Wilson, couldn’t get a word in! We spent our very last Bolivianos at customs, not having any money left for the toilet, or to pay the fine for having overstayed our Visa by 3 days, which we had to talk our way out of!
Bye bye amazing, surprising and endearing Bolivia and onwards to Chile!