Uyuni is a dusty and dirty town, as we drove through it we were really happy with our decision to not start the tour from here. Our first stop was to the Train Cemetery on the outskirts of town, a graveyard of old rusty locomotive trains. Once upon a time Uyuni was a hub for transporting goods and mining materials across the altiplano to the Pacific Ocean through Chile. Eventually the mining reached its obvious demise and all of the dis-used trains were left here to decay. It made for some cool photos of dead trains in the desert. There was also playground equipment made out of old train parts.
Other than the train Cemetery we had come to Uyuni for three reasons; petrol, money, and immigration stamps, at the end of the stopover we had only money. Mission totally unsuccessful! We were slightly disappointed with the organisation of this part of the tour rather than doing all this first Dennis and Oscar took us to the Train Cemetery, so by the time we had made it back into town the Immigration office was closed, and the queue for petrol was enormous. Petrol is hard to come by in these parts, and particularly on the Salt Flat tour. All of the 4x4’s carry two big tanks on the roof in order for the ‘jeep’ to make it back to Tupiza on day four, so we needed to ensure we had all of our tanks full. Because of this the petrol in this town runs out by the end of the day. With one petrol station already empty, and over 50 cars and trucks already in line, our chances of making it to the pump were looking grim. Despite this we proceeded to sit in the Petrol queue for what felt like forever. We joked “wouldn’t it be funny if we get to the pump and it runs out on us”. Unlucky for us this is exactly what happened. The car infront of us had taken the last drop of petrol, as we pulled up to the pump excited that we had made it, the station employee turns around says “sorry, none left”. So we left Uyuni with a limited supply of petrol and no immigration stamps, hoping that along the way we might come across somebody with petrol for sale, and that the Bolivian border would be open to give us our exit stamp. Fingers crossed!
The layer of salt is a few metres deep and is mined by a local Co-operative company, working on similar terms as the miners in Potosi. With such an abundance of salt to be mined it is interesting that none of the Salt from here is exported, every speck of it is used solely in Bolivia. We visited a salt mine where two miners were slowly digging out piles of the stuff, of course the conditions are far better than Potosi, but working in such a bright, hot landscape doing physical labour must be tough.
The Salt Flat tour was an unforgettable experiences, we were so lucky to have such wonderful company; our new friends Laura and Phil, an awesome driver Dennis, and fun, knowledgeable guide Oscar – and super chef. And, of course the scenery was magical, unlike anywhere else in this world; Bolivia is a truly diverse and incredible country. We were so sad to be leaving her so soon.
Next stop the driest desert in the world, enter San Pedro de Atacama, Chile…