La Paz to Uyuni via Oruro

Making our way to Oruro:

With the intention of esc aping La Paz before it sucked us in, we checked out and managed to catch a bus to Oruro by 11am. There are so many buses it seems, that it was a very easy process. Before we knew it we were driving in the outskirts of La Paz, appreciating a fantastic view of the entire city as the bus crawled up and out. With what appeared to be rush hour, many colectivos (public mini vans) clogged up the roads and it took about an hour to get on the road to our next destination. Watching locals go about their daily business for that hour, and watching them catch the appropriate colectivos was real entertainment.

Unfortunately, the bus company we were using had a different idea of¨entertainment for our 4hour journey. We had managed to sit under the speakers for the tv and radio, so we had to endure very loud traditional music, along with the sound of a really violent film that the driver decided to play. Arrrgh! I was a bit shocked with the film choice, it was only 11:30am, and there were plenty of little kids on the bus, who all seemed captivated by the constant shooting and death scenes. I personally was much more captivated with the view outside the window and tried my hardest to block out the god awful noise.

Just outside of La Paz we drove through a notorious area called El Alto. It is a rapidly expanding area which is very unsafe. There had been stories of tourists having been taken to this area and robbed at gunpoint. The view of the this area, was different to what I  had imagined however. It was a vast expanse of nothingness. Only a few brickwalls around designated land, really basic accommodation, and by the look of it, to sewage system, and probably hardly any water. It was a dry barren landscape with nothing on the horizon other than hills of dry unworkable land.

Oruro:

The road to Oruro was paved all the way and pretty much straight.  It should have been one of the easier journeys, but with the endurance of loud films and really bad plinky plonky repetitive Bolivian music, 4hrs felt like 10hrs when we landed in Oruro. First impressions of the town weren´t good as the outskirts we drove through was a slum area with bad water management (flooded areas of what looked like ruins, but was actaully housing), however the town itself turned out to be a much nicer place. Oruro used to be a gold mining town, and was still a major  through-route. The reason we had come here was to catch a train tp Uyuni, that major starting place for  tours for Salar Uyuni.

After finding some basic accommodation, it felt like we were in a prison camp, we spent the rest of the day looking around the town. It sounds like a crap hotel, and it was, with no running water to flush the toilet. However, Al and I both felt a pang of excitement. It was that feeling of  how we had felt in India. I think it is that fact that when we are put out of our comfort zone it really gives us that challenge to endure, survive and manage with the basics, without the comforts of the western world. It was nice to finally feel a slight challenge, after a month in Peru, where it felt that they tourists were catered for and life was made to easy, comparativley to the standard of living for local people.

With our accommodation sorted, train tickets bought we wondered towards the market area nearby. The markets Bolivia were beginning to be a major attraction for us. Similar to La Paz, everything and anything can be found. All of the zones of the market contained to different areas. Juices stands all together, chicken and chips together, sunglasses, hats, clothes, meats, veg, fruit; all in the designated areas. It became apparent during our explore around town, that this organised way of containing services  to certain areas extended to the services and functions of each area of town. There were whole roads full of solicitors, funeral and wedding organisers, administrative shops, cafes, fast food restaurants and furniture  shops. We contemplated why  the roads weren´t named after the predominant service they provided, rather than yet another Calle Boliviar, for example. They were almost at the ultimate organised town!

We sourced out a restaurant written in our tour book that was meant to have a really good almuerzo (lunch menu). We were told that it cost 17 Bolivianos (GBP1.7). This seemed like a great deal, so intended to come the following day before catching out train to Uyuni.

That evening, we shared a ready made bottle of cubre libre in our prison cell, put the world to right and had a surprisingly comfortable sleep. The following day we picked up snacks for our impending train journey, and headed to the restaurant for almuerzo. It was by far one of the nicest lunches in South America so far. With a salad appetizer, delicious soup, really tender pork with 3 different types of potatoes and french toast for desert. It was definitely what we needed before catching the 7hr train journey. However, as we were eating it, it became more and more difficult to believe that it was going to cost us B17 each. Sure enough the bill came, and it was actually B25 each, plus a B1 inbuilt tip. Well, it was a bit weird we had got this so wrong, but at the end of the day, it was the value of a fiver for the two of us. So on this occasion we swallowed the extra cost and rolled out with very full tummies!

The train from Oruro to Uyuni:

The station was full of gringos milling around waiting for the train. All with their mochilla (backpacks) and provisions. The over prepared trekker types with far too much high tech equipment and clothing. We had to laugh…we were sat there in our Indian clothing having not showers for a day or 2. Our only ´provisions´being a massive bag of food and snacks. How very us, we had thought. Always having food as a priority!

Our train tickets were the cheapest you could buy for this particular service, and we were the only backpackers   on our compartment of the train. That said, the seats were like luxury compared to trains in India, and England for that matter! Soft, reclinable seats and movies with English subtitles were played throughout the journey. I was surprised that I was finally able to watch The Curious Tale of Benjamin Button!

The views outside the train window, especially within the first 2hrs of the journey, were incredible. We zoomed past a massive lake called Lake Poopo. It was home to a huge population of wild Andean Flamingos. It was the first time Al and I had seen these wild birds, and looking out of the window really was captivating. After the lake, the landscape returned to barren and  empty with mountains of the horizon. Captivating in its own right, but after a couple of hours of it, I was glad to have a good film to watch and pass the time. Sunset across this landscape was fantastic which Al enjoyed photographing.

Uyuni:

We rocked up at Uyuni station at 10:30pm. Along with a crowd of  gringos, we found our mochillas and ventured towards some budget accommodation. Directly outside the station we stumbled into a cheap place  with the most comfy bed we had experienced in  a long time. On our way to the hotel, we were  bombarded with people trying to sell us tours to the Salar.  The tours for tomorrow that only needed a couple of people left to make the jeep complete. For this reason, we soon learnt the cheapest price possible  and what was included. Unsure of whether we wanted to rush the decision and rush our time in Uyuni itself. So, we decided to sleep on it and get up in time to get a last minute deal for that morning, if we felt it was right.

After a good sleep we sprung out of bed to see what deals we could get on a last minute tour departing at 10:30 am. Again, we were mobbed with sales ladies trying to complete their jeep for that day. We soon learnt that each tour was much of a muchness and that there really wasn´t much difference it what was being offered on the surface. We tried to learn what the difference may be in the details but this was pretty difficult. Eventually, after laving one lady on the street from one company and following another lady from another company to her office. Al and I decided to go for it and leave that morning. So we ran back to our hotel to repack, checkout and buy a 6 pack of water to last us 3 days. At 10:15am we ran back to her office expecting to load ouut stuff into the jeep, only to find that she had booked more people in our places as she didn´t think we had confirmed our decision to go with her. In retrospect perhaps we hadn´t been clear enough. So in a mad panic, with only 15 minutes before tours were due to leave for the tours that day, we ran around town to find another jeep to go with. All of the sales ladies that we had previously been mobbed with had vanished from the streets. It soon became apparent that we were too late and that the jeeps had been filled! We resigned ourselves to staying another night in Uyuni and arranging a tour to start the following day. We bumbed into the original lady we had been talking to, so we signed up for the next day tour at the cheapest price (we now knew this after being haggled to all morning), 500 BL, GPB50. Mustn´t grumble, all food included, driver, jeep and two nights accommodation.

A day in Uyuni:
A few doors down from the tour agency we found a place to stay. 25BL each instead of 30BL, we were happy to stay there, but were told we needed to wait until 12 midday to check in. So, after a chaotic start to the day I was feeling dazed and needed to unwind. After finding a cheaper place to stay for the night we headed out for a coffee and saltena. The saltena was the best we had tasted so far in Bolivia, but I think this had something to do with it being fresh out of the oven. We spent the late morning early afternoon wondering around the small dusty town of Uyuni. Many people on our travels had warned us not to stay in Uyuni if we could help it, saying that it was an awful place to get stuck. Of course, we don´t care for this kind of negative advice and saw it as a challenge to make sure we did not have the same experience.
Later that day we strolled back to the hotelk to check in properly, to find different people on reception, who were not keen to give us the same rate that we had previously agreed. With our broken Spanish, we did persuade them that we should be paying the cheaper rate. At first disgruntled, later into our stay the old man got ove it and was very sweet and let us use the kitchen to make soup, for which he made the effort to find us some spoons that were hidden away.

After a good sleep we sprung out of bed to see what deals we could get on a last minute tour departing at 10:30 am. Again, we were mobbed with sales ladies trying to complete their jeep for that day. We soon learnt that each tour was much of a muchness and that there really wasn´t much difference it what was being offered on the surface. We tried to learn what the difference may be in the details but this was pretty difficult. Eventually, after laving one lady on the street from one company and following another lady from another company to her office. Al and I decided to go for it and leave that morning. So we ran back to our hotel to repack, checkout and buy a 6 pack of water to last us 3 days. At 10:15am we ran back to her office expecting to load ouut stuff into the jeep, only to find that she had booked more people in our places as she didn´t think we had confirmed our decision to go with her. In retrospect perhaps we hadn´t been clear enough. So in a mad panic, with only 15 minutes before tours were due to leave for the tours that day, we ran around town to find another jeep to go with. All of the sales ladies that we had previously been mobbed with had vanished from the streets. It soon became apparent that we were too late and that the jeeps had been filled! We resigned ourselves to staying another night in Uyuni and arranging a tour to start the following day. We bumbed into the original lady we had been talking to, so we signed up for the next day tour at the cheapest price (we now knew this after being haggled to all morning), 500 BL, GPB50. Mustn´t grumble, all food included, driver, jeep and two nights accommodation.

A day in Uyuni:
A few doors down from the tour agency we found a place to stay. 25BL each instead of 30BL, we were happy to stay there, but were told we needed to wait until 12 midday to check in. So, after a chaotic start to the day I was feeling dazed and needed to unwind. After finding a cheaper place to stay for the night we headed out for a coffee and saltena. The saltena was the best we had tasted so far in Bolivia, but I think this had something to do with it being fresh out of the oven. We spent the late morning early afternoon wondering around the small dusty town of Uyuni. Many people on our travels had warned us not to stay in Uyuni if we could help it, saying that it was an awful place to get stuck. Of course, we don´t care for this kind of negative advice and saw it as a challenge to make sure we did not have the same experience.
Later that day we strolled back to the hotel to check in properly, to find different people on reception, who were not keen to give us the same rate that we had previously agreed. With our broken Spanish, we did persuade them that we should be paying the cheaper rate. At first the old man seemed disgruntled, but later into our stay the old man got over it and was very sweet and let us use the kitchen to make soup, for which he made the effort to find us some spoons that were hidden away.

That afternoon we took advantage of out time in Uyuni by booking a bus out of Uyuni to Sucre, so that as soon as we arrived back from our 3 day tour we could jump on a bus and gert to our next destination. It has to be said that there isn´t a whole lot to ´do´ in this pueblo, gateway to Salar Uyuni and transit town. So we enjoyed the late afternoon in he sun with a couple of cervezas on the little plaza on Uyuni. Oh, and took some unflattering photos!

We nipped back to our hotel for a couple of hours to make the soup I mentioned earlier. It was quite an epic soup. We finally used a packet noodles we have been carrying around with us from India, garlic from Peru (difficult to find in Bolivia), and fresh veggies from the local market. After resting, we were still a little hungry and felt like one more beer on the lovely plaza, so we headed back out.

The one beer ended up into an unexpected evening. It was Saturday so locals and workers in the area were out more so than other days in the week. We got highjacked by 2 Columbians and 1 Bolivian who were buying coca cola and drinking their own bottles of Red Label. Very merry and very friendly towards us. We enjoyed an evening talking to them in spanish (or at least I tried to, Al was much better than me!) The bar manager joined us intermittently and enjoyed the occasional whisky offered to him from the Columbians, who were steadily getting plastered. The Bolivian man, on the other hand was really sound. He, and the bar manager really appreciated that Al was smoking Boivian ciggarettes and making an effort to do things the Bolivian way, as well as supporting their country during our stay. They told us that if it wasn´t for tourists, Uyuni would not exist. Which we found interesting as the majority of the people we had interacted with throughout the day had not been particularly friendly or happy to see us. The evening ended after them buying us several beers. They would have continued, but we pulled ourselves away as there was no way we were going to allow a hangover in the jeep to the salt flats, something Al and I had wanted to see for a very long time. The Bolivia man gave Al a hug and said, ´Thank you, for apprectiating´. We gather he meant for appreciating him, his country and his culture. Al was touched. We exchanged details and went on our way, via a burger stand to bed.

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