The flight from La Paz was problem-free. I was surprised by security which was hardly anything. We had to walk ( it seemed like a mile to me) to get to the airplane and then go up the airplane stairs. My seat was the last one in the plane. A Japanese girl sat next to me. She showed me her cell phone photos of herself in Peru. My hotel had huge tour groups of Japanese. I heard they were really keen on the salt flats but would be disappointed because they were not covered in water. When I arrived, I retrieved my suitcase and met my guide, Paula. She was lively, enthusiastic and talkative. The first place she took me, even before we went to the hotel, was the railroad cemetery. This is an antique train cemetery located about 3 km from Uyuni. The train lines that went through this area were built by the British in the 1900s. The trains were used to carry minerals to the coastal ports. The Bolivian president at that time was encouraging a rail system but the train operations were continually sabotaged by the Indigenous people who thought it would disrupt their lives. The trains were mainly used by the mining companies but then the industry collapsed due to mineral depletion. The trains were abandoned and consequently, the train cemetery. Nothing has been done to preserve them and they are just sitting in the desert.
We then headed for town. Uyuni primarily serves as a gateway for tourists visiting the world’s largest salt flats. Each year the town receives approximately 60,000 people from around the globe. It lies at the edge of an extensive plain and is 3700 meters above sea level. We went to the hotel that I had chosen on/line as most of the better ones had already been booked. Paola ran in to check the hotel as it did not look great from the outside. She came back telling me that I was on the 4th floor – no elevator but the worst was that my room backed up to where an all night New Year was planned. So we ran around looking for another hotel. Not a lot of choices. I finally decided on one hostel with furniture from the 1900s or so it seemed. At first glance it looked all right but when I went in the bathroom I found hairs all over the floor and only one large towel. I went to find the owner to tell him. He got his employees to go and clean the bathroom. I didn’t take a good look at the the room but it looked ok and I had a back room so I wouldn’t hear the New Year’s noise. As we were going right away to the salt flats, I rushed out to meet Paola and the driver. I had discovered earlier that my shoe was falling apart and she suggested we take it to a shoe repair place. They found a shoe repair stand along the road and he fixed it and charged less than a dollar (4 Bolivianos).
On The Way To The Salt Flats – Salt Factory
Our first stop was at a salt factory where almost everything is done by hand. Here are the photos that show some of the process. The owner gave me a sample bag of salt. There were also many little handicraft shops and a place where they made salt animals. Paula and I had fun posing with some of the huge salt statues.
Paola said that the private salt business was slowly dying. People were just not using salt as much as they did in the past. The modernization of salt factories was slowly making their business obsolete.
After this stop we went on to the salt flats. People just drove their cars across in any fashion – no special roads. The flats were dry as no rain had fallen. When there is water on the flats – it is much harder to drive your car so at least the dry flats were a plus. People just drive all over them – no special roads.
The Uyuni Salt Flats
On our way back across the salt flats, we stopped. The driver and Paola dug down through the salt where it was wet and pulled out salt crystals. I brought them home as a remembrance. It was one of the best presents I got from Bolivia!
The Cactus Island
We then drove to one of the “islands”. The islands are leftover from when the salt flats was actually a lake. There are many “islands” but this is the only one that has been made into a tourist area.We had our lunch here. Paola bought some hard boiled eggs, tuna, pasta and salad. It was simple and tasty. Then we walked among the cacti and took some photos.