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Wednesday 24 Mar 2010
Uyuni, Bolivia

Stuck in a dusty old town

Took the overnight bus from La Paz to Uyuni last night. What a mistake! I thought that Bolivia´s "bad road" rep extended only to the La Paz-Coroico stretch (aka "The World´s Most Dangerous Road" that I biked down a few days before), but alas from 10pm until 7am this morning the continuous clattering of teeth caused by the non-stop corrugated road ensured that I can safely generalise that Bolivia has the worst roads in South America! ... Bogota, Colombia still has the worst drivers of all, although La Paz is a close second.

To make matters worse, again I had the misfortune to select a seat with the worst possible co-passenger (so far all buses have seats in pairs, unlike CIAL in Peru which had a line of single seats... an abosolute necessity if yer going to have any sort of decent night´s sleep). A local woman donning the ubiquitous bowler-hat, and of course a baby in tow tied to her back, boarded and headed directly to the window seat beside me. It must be a fashion necessity for Peruvian and Bolivian indigenous woman to have a 1 year old kid in tow, as they ALL seem to have one! Of all the rotten luck, not only was I sitting next to the toilet at the back of the bus so I got a nice smell all night, but the back-row seat didn´t recline fully so the person in front of me was literally squishing my legs when they laid their seat back fully. Now I had a huge bundle of large woman and child to contend with. I was deliriously happy!

As it happened, her husband also boarded, but his seat was allocated to a different aisle seat further on up. The obvious solution presented itself and we swapped seats. This proved to be "kind of" workable as I was able to lay my long legs out into the aisle and got some sort of sleep, but I had to contend with people standing on my feet all night. For THIS company, it seems the FRONT row seats were the best option (in my earlier experience the front row was the worst!). I give up, there doesn´t seem to be any constant in selecting a "best seat" on South American buses. Just pot luck.

With all the vibrating and people moving around the bus all night, my bags somehow ended up translocating half way up the carriage, which I was nary too pleased with. A large muddy footprint on the section that has my 1,000 euro SLR lens is not always the best sign.... and I was covered in a layer of dust as the laterite got in through the air vents and polluted the air in the bus all night. Absolute nightmare. I'm surprised I got any sleep at all.

I later found out that it´s possible to get a day-train from La Paz to Uyuni. Takes longer, but at least it´s a far more enjoyable venture! Note for future trips...

I´m in Uyuni as part of my trek southwards into Chile and then Argentina. The famous attraction here are the large bright-white salt flats where millions upon millions of backpackers take "clever" perspective photographs: pretending to walk into huge tubs of Pringles or holding up a huge hand trying to crush them *groan*. To be honest, doing a search for Salar de Uyuni on Google Images tends to primarily return the aforementioned photos so, assuming that's all there was to the place, I wasn´t going to spend more than a day (while relenting in partaking of the dodgy photos I might add!). Yet, over the past 2-3 weeks as I've discussed my intention to visit Uyuni with several people, practically all of them said that there´s so much more to the place than just the salt flats. One girl even tagged the Salar de Uyuni as the "BEST" thing she had seen on her entire South American trip. Now THAT´S quite a statement!

So my interest is piqued. I´ve decided I´m going to give the place the full 3 days which is the standard itinerary, and then on the last day I´ll cross the border into Chile to visit the Atacama Desert (which apparently has the best stargazing in the world.. I can´t wait!)

The bus arrived this morning at about 7am and I could in theory have gone straight away on a 3 day tour (normally they leave around 10 or 11am), but judging by the way I ate the face off several touts when they approached me as soon as I stepped off, I´ve decided I´m going to have a complete "do nothing" rest day in the dusty town of Uyuni to regain some sort of composure and alertness, particularly if I'm called upon to take superior quality persepective shots on the first day of the tour Yell

As for Uyuni. It's easily the most boring place I've been to on this entire trip. Grid streets, all covered in dust, all 1 story buildings. Apart from the ubiquitous Internet cafes - which won't let me use my laptop for some bizarre reason - and tour agencies, there is absolutely NOTHING of note in this town.

One exception is a brief parade which took place directly below my hotel window this morning; a fiesta celebrating awareness of gonoreah (!?) replete with marching army band belting out some Mariachi tunes and hundreds of school kids. Bizarre. Latin Americans will have use any excuse to have a parade! Yesterday it was the Anti-Chile march. Bolivia has the oddest celebrations!

So next 3 days will be trekking the salt flats, and then onto Chile. Hopefully can update the blog around then...

...later...

Managed to book a 3 day tour including trip to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile for 550 Bs. That's around 150 Bs off the standard price so I'm a happy camper. Early to bed and then off to see what this Salar de Uyuni malarky is all about!

1 Comment for this Travel blog entry

Paddy Says:

25 March 2010

Looking forward to see your pictures and hear from the Salar de Uyuni, and the Atacama desert as well ! Enjoy :)

South America Twenty Ten

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Photo Album

  • Salar de...

    Uyuni

    Bolivia

    Salar de Uyuni contemplation
  • Train Cemetary

    Uyuni

    Bolivia

    Train Cemetary
  • Train Cemetary

    Uyuni

    Bolivia

    Train Cemetary
  • Train Cemetary

    Uyuni

    Bolivia

    Train Cemetary