We got to Uyuni at midnight, and the temperature was -15ºC. Apparently that is the coldest city of Bolivia. Waking up the next day, we had the brilliant idea of hand washing some clothes – outside. The guesthouse owner took us to the rooftop, where we could do our laundry using a bowl and tap water. Sunny skies, but my hands were freezing so badly that it hurt. I mean, who does laundry outside on freezing temperatures? We had no idea of what we were doing. We weren’t that smart on our early 20s.
We got a city tour to take us to the Salar, probably because that was the only way to do it. The Uyuni Salt Flats is the main attraction on the south of Bolivia, perhaps one of the most famous in South America (although I haven’t heard of it before getting there). And it was beautiful: a vast desolated area that truly resembled a desert, although composed of salt instead of sand. The total vicinity has over 12000km, and the bright white hurts your eyes if you don’t have sunglasses, but otherwise it makes you want to run free, destination nowhere.
I might have seen a lake mirage, or perhaps it was a real one? The salar is flat, with several two to five feet tall salt mountains that people climb just-because. After exploring and tasting the salt (yes, I did dip my finger in one of the piles and lick it), taking pics and unsuccessfully trying to do snow angels, we drove off to see one of the real water lakes in the area. That was just ok, I was too cold for staying out so got back to the car waiting for the others and their photo shoots.
Back to Uyuni, we went shopping, then pizza and beers. Slept a bit, suffered to wake up to catch the 3:30AM train to Atacama. To make matters worse, the train had no heating system whatsoever. We got into our sleeping bags and tried resting in that refrigerator.
The fridge-train was horrible, but ended up being hilarious, now that I think about it. The bathroom looked normal, but upon sitting down the user would notice that it was just a hole. Everything disposed there, i.e. all our poops and pees, were heading straight to the train tracks. At Bolivia and Chile border, there was some kind of confusion as a new conductor should take over the Chilean side, but the guy wasn’t there or there was no one scheduled to do the trip. Solving that issue took around 4 hours, if I remember well. And all those that needed to use the bathroom during that time… well, you can imagine (or better not!).
We met the other few foreigners that were on the train and named ourselves the “Comunidad del Tren:” us 6 plus two cyclists that were actually crossing South America on their bikes. And we thought we were crazy!
After we finally got a conductor, the drama at customs: should or shouldn’t we declare our food? I mean, thanks God we had some salami and some raisins for that trip. I think the cyclists had the salami, and maybe we had some bread, so we managed to make sandwiches. At the border, we decided that the premise was to Save The Salami – funny episode, of making the decision to hide the food and pray to god that customs agents weren’t going to search the train. It all worked out and salami was spared!
The trip, that was supposed to last 7 hours, ended up lasting 16. We had to spend the night in Cálama, a big city in Chile, but the only recollection I have from there is a big food market where I ate a delicious fish.
Next: The Atacama Desert.