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 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 cigarettes 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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