Karate kickin’ a Dragon in Bolivia – Salar de Uyuni

 Overcome the notion that you must be regular. It robs you of the chance to be extraordinary.

You know that feeling of dread you get before an exam you fear might go horribly wrong? Well that was pretty much how I felt as I stepped onto a 13 hour bus ride heading to Uyuni to explore the Salt flats in South West Bolivia. It had been over a month since I had to get on one of these grueling bus rides, yet the prospect of seeing the Train Graveyard, llamas, endangered vicuñas, remote villages and of course the world´s biggest salt flats was enough to pull me in, and before I knew it, after many hours of no sleep on bumpy dirty roads I had arrived in Uyuni (high in the Andean plane some 3,670 m above sea level) at 6am on the Independence day of Bolivia. The street was filled with locals dressed in costume waiting for the celebration parade to begin. I pulled out my ticket for my reservation and began searching for the tour company I was going to rendezvous with at 10:30am.

A little woman came beside me and took my hand, smiling at me with her dark, wrinkled face and deep blue eyes, saying, “Desayuno caliente, desayuno caliente” “Hot breakfast, Hot breakfast.”  She walked me to her little restaurant called Nonis with a sign that read “El sabor que nos distingue – The flavor that distinguishes us” and sat me down by the kerosene heater. Four Brazilians I recognized from my bus wandered in and sat at my table. We exchanged many laughs, stories and cultural differences while we enjoyed our omelets, toast, sausage, juice and coffee. We said our goodbyes and exchanged contact info.

I walked to Todo Tourismo to begin my day of explorations. We were delayed an hour due the fact that the driver forgot to get gas and the parade was preventing him to go to a gas station, but everything was fine once we got going.

On the way to the salt flats lies a place that looks as though old locomotives have rolled in to chug their last chug.   This gigantic train graveyard is full of the hollow husks and skeletal remains of long forsaken steam engines.  Uyuni was once an important transport junction, but plans to turn the town into an even greater railway were stopped early in their tracks. Construction on the network began in the late 19th Century but were abandoned before work was completed, leaving the train lines to fall into disrepair.
While wandering around I heard several voices shouting my name in the distance. A big smile came across my face when I saw my Brazilian buddies again. We walked in and out, up and down all of the locomotives taking pictures.  The rusted and disintegrating train carcasses are thought to date from early 20th Century; mainly imports from Britain, which controlled the development of Bolivia’s railway system.
Dust storms and the unforgiving sun eat away at the shells of these once proud mechanical masterpiece; but it mainly the salt winds that have had the most corrosive effect. This wasteland is the cemetery where Bolivia’s once proud locomotives have found their final resting place. After riding to the Graveyard with my two new Belgium friends that were taking a 3 day tour, I was moved into a new vehicle with 6 other travelers that were on the one day tour. Together we were the “around the world group” from France, China, Brazil, Argentina, Spain and USA. I hopped in and away we went.
No matter how fast we drove it felt and looked like we were not going anywhere. An immense, flat vastness of 1200 sq km of salty sea. The plains stretched on and on with beautiful blue mountains surrounding the edge of the Salar to add dramatic interest.  Finally we arrived at one of the Playa Blanca (a hotel completely made of salt…pretty amazing) to stop and take a few photos. Out front of the hotel sits a little memorial to the world where visitors can place the flag of their country. Sadly I did not see the US flag flying nor was I carrying one with me to place on the memorial, but it still made for a nice photo.
Luckily my group was feeling pretty adventurous and were willing to go along with all of my  cheesy photo ideas. (it’s a lot trickier than it looks.)  I pulled out my tiny toy dragon I had been traveling with for these exact photos. Laughing and joking we kept running around trying to get in proper position.
After playing around for 30 minutes or so, we hopped back into our all terrain vehicle to continue on to Isla Incahuasi aka Fish Island because of its shape. The rocky island is covered in cacti, a surreal sight amongst the vast white desert. Some of the cacti are up to 1200 years old! I walked around in awe of its strange beauty. Along my hike I encountered several llamas wandering about and were eager to strike a pose for the camera.
All in all it was a beautiful day in a strange land of salt with many friendly faces. I headed back to the bus station for another 13 hour ride back to La Paz and called it a day. If you ever get the chance to go take it! You won’t regret it 🙂

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mandy
    Aug 13, 2012 @ 21:32:35

    Awesome pictures!


  2. kristiwiley
    Aug 14, 2012 @ 15:07:04

    Awesome! I love the picture ideas. I must incorporate in to my own.


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