QuickPeek: Cooking. Rest. Tourism.

We decided to head to the small town of Uyuni about 4 hrs by bus from Potosi. This was a tourist highway, but Uyuni was a small village, just in the periphery of the world’s largest Salt flats, Salar de Uyuni. It’s a sort of a popular place to go to and given I was so close and entrance to Bolivia cost me more than 130$, I figured might as well head out there. It felt silly to be jumping from one backpacker joint to another, but honestly with the cold weather and the lack of a personal transport meant that we did not have any other choice. However, though I had contacted the only couchsurfing host in Uyuni and he was happy to have us. At least, we will be able to avoid the backpacking crowd!

I had a bit of b’fast and headed to the bus station and picked up the noon bus to Uyuni. Once we left Potosi, we went thro a series of mountains up and down. It was great to see that the entire route was paved. The landscape was absolutely barren and it was hard to see how anyone could live there. I suppose there must be a lot of dependance on the city and probably they also grow some high altitude crops like Quinoa and potatoes. And of course there were tons of Llamas. I have heard Llama is a pretty common meat to eat in these parts. Still the stark and barren landscape made the places look absolutely inhospitable. Apart from the occasional villages, we spotted some really tiny settlements, sometimes just one house or two, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Seemed like they were either refugios or some place maintained by miners. It was incredible to imagine the lifestyle in these parts.

Once in Uyuni, we had to wait for our host who would show up at 7 pm after his day at work. We hopped into a horrendously expensive cafe for a bit of coffee, but figured that the tourism had come and fucked around with the local community. The people were super annoyed for no reason and that was not just the cafe. The markets which is usually super friendly gave me exorbitant prices and when I tries to negotiate, they pretty much asked me to fuck off. Ouch. Well done tourism, you have taken some of the politest people on the planet and made them bitter!! Well we had a couple of hours to kill and decided to hang out in the park. The chill hit the moment sun went down and it was penetrating the bone. I had to get on pretty much every piece of clothing and 3 set of gloves and slowly the chill still got in.

Our Host Camilo showed up on time and we were glad to hop onto his warm truck and head to his place. Camilo was a pretty nice chap and it was nice to spend the time chatting and hanging out. Later on we realised that the temperature was -10C and with the wind the ‘real feel’ was -30! Ouch, No wonder it was bone chilling. In the night Camilo had another Guest, Blanca, from Spain and we’d go exploring the neighbourhoods of Uyuni together.

The Next day, being sunday and an off day at work, Camilo wanted to take us around to some spots he enjoyed exploring here. We had a bit of b’fast and headed out with him into the hills. It was a pretty drive, and on a road we came down from Potosi. But with camilo taking us around, we could stop off and take some pictures. The sun was intense and was biting because of the altitude and at the same time, the wind was super chilly. We tried to explore some off roads and after not being able to spot trails, we headed up to a spot with a little hot spring. It was a beautiful place and we returned back home around 2pm or so. Given the lack of veggie options in town, I offered to make some food and cooked up a pretty decent meal for all of us.

In the evening Camilo took us to a spot which was tagged the “Rail Cemetery” because of all the rusted old wagons parked and rusting away. Camilo knew exactly when the tourists showed up at different places and pretty cleverly avoided the peak periods. At the moment we were at the rail scrap yard, there was pretty much no one around and it was lovely with sun going down and the mountains and skies taking on a brilliant hue. We met a couple of travellers that Blanca had met and Camilo invited them home and for a short tour into the Salar after dark. Camilo was working on a Solar power plant project and took us to take a look at the work. It was a 60 MW plant spread over 90 Hectares. Stunning!

Around 11pm or so, Camilo drove all of us to the Salar to get a glimpse of the high altitude night sky. The vista was incredible. It was about 25 km from town to the entrance and due to numerous trucks and tour buses entering at this point, it was really slushy and it looked precarious to enter the Salar. So we parked at the entrance and enjoyed an absolutely stunning view of the night skies at -15C (with a real feel of -35C). Brrr, freezing. These are times I wish I had a camera with some manual controls. may be I should carry a film camera at some point just in case there are opportunities for long exposure photography.

We decided to stay in Uyuni another day to relax and do some walk about when Camilo was off at work. I made some lunch and walked about town to get supplies for dinner. We also tried to find information on buses heading out to our next town called Oruro. I walked about checking every bus and also the train station about the earliest ride to Oruro. After the research we decided to take the 8:30 bus and headed to the ticket office. They calmly informed me that all morning buses were cancelled due to a bike race in town. Dang and they didn’t bother to tell me the first time around. So we decided to take the night train (twice weekly) which would bring us to Oruro at 9 AM.

I made a pumpkin soup for dinner and after chitchatting and bidding farewell to Camilo, we waited up for the 2 AM train.

Track Notes

Expenses: SG$ 31.00
Comments: Beautiful days in Uyuni with a really lovely host.