Bus to Oruro and Train to Uyuni

Most tourists come to Bolivia just to visit the famous salt flats, how could we not go?

To get to the Salar de Uyuni from La Paz was easy, but not smooth. We caught a taxi from our hotel to the bus terminal. Dozen of companies have regular departures to Oruro, we chose one and waited 40 mins until it was time to go to the gate. Our vendor met us there with an apologetic look on her face. Basically, she didn’t sell enough seats, their bus wasn’t going. She gave us a choice of a dodgy bus immediately or a “good” bus in 30 mins, from two different companies. Given what the good bus was like, the dodgy bus must have been missing wheels or something.

We stood next to the bus where usually The driver takes your bags and puts them in the hold. Instead, he was jumping on huge bags of coca leaves, trying to squeeze them into the small door. More and more farmers arrived, with their coca crops packed tightly into bags. We watched the entire cargo hold of the bus get crammed with coca, until the door had to be leaned on to close it. The remaining bags were crammed wherever they would fit, including behind the driver’s seat and the aisle. On top of this, the farmers were chewing coca, which made the entire bus stink.

Livestock

Livestock

The front windscreen, where our allocated seats were, had a huge crack in it. The crack looked strangely similar to a head hitting the glass; there were no seat belts. When we left the terminal, there were maybe five other people on board. We therefore allocated ourselves new seats further back and put our bags on the chairs across the row.

What we weren’t told about this new bus was it wasn’t direct. Rather than head south to Oruro, it climbed the hills and picked up passengers in El Alto, the ‘young city’ surrounding La Paz. Pretty soon, the bus was overflowing with people and we had to fill our little leg room with our backpacks. It stopped at various small towns along the way to set people down and pick up more passengers than available seats.

We also had some dickhead behind us stand up, reach over Michael’s head and shut our window, more than once. The bus was humid from all of the people and all windows but ours were shut. It was not cold outside. When a spruker with a microphone stood in the aisle selling magic cure-all Chinese medicine, I had enough. No air, no room to move and now deafening bullshit right in my ear… yeah, I hyperventilated.

Ejectutivo class

Ejectutivo class

The next day we caught the train from Oruro to Uyuni. Now this is a tourist service, the contrast couldn’t be greater. The train left on time, there were fans in carriage, a TV and food.

Quinoa struggling in the salty earth

Quinoa struggling in the salty earth

And the view! At one point the tracks went straight across a shallow lagoon. Hundreds of pink flamingos took to flight to avoid the train.

Flamingos take a long time to get airborne

Flamingos take a long time to get airborne

It may not have been the fastest way to get to Uyuni, as there’s a plane, but we got there.

Sunset over the plain

Sunset over the plain

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