La Gira Andina 2012 travel blog

Waiting to leave Potosi

One of the beautiful buildings in Potosi

One of the old engines

All aboard

Cars and wildlife

Two cars the same dust colour

The train cemetery in Uyuni


On the Saly flats

All lined up


The interior of the all salt hotel

The morning plan was for a guided walking tour of Potosi, including the mint - where the locally mined silver was processed to the first coins in South America. Instead, we rose to find that there was a municipal strike, which would close some of the roads with protests and the local police were insistant that they escort us out of town straight away. Luckily we had walked around the old centre the evening before and had just enough time to run down there for a quick photo in daylight. Potosi is the highest significant sized town in South America and our hotel was above 4000 m, so running Bach up the hill took a surprising amount of puff.

Once out of town and escorted to the 'peaje' we sent the police escort back for a few stragglers - once we had given him some money to buy petrol for his car!

We were then rewarded by some fabulous driving along a newly built road, with virtually no other traffic and splendid, constantly changing vistas. The colours were bright and were seen at their best in the unbroken sunshine. Small villages of Bolivians - all wearing their traditional hats, were nestled in the valleys or on the hillsides. We drove through broad valleys with large herds of llama and some alpaca. Our highest pass of many was at 4368m - but we are becoming blasé about such achievements now.

At Pulacayo, a silver mining town of 50,000 people in the late 19th century, we stopped for a visit to the train museum and climbed on the old engines, trying to decide which one was used in a shoot out scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

However the importance of trains in Bolivia during the silver mining period became evident at the Uyuni train graveyard. Two parallel tracks were stacked nose to tail with rusting engines. The access was via a particularly dusty dirt road and we and the cars arrived filthy. However our spirits were raised by a brilliant swing and seesaw made out of old railway engine bits.

Then another highlight of the day - after a 30km drive up a washboard dirt road, shaking us about, we arrived at our hotel, made entirely of salt and overlooking the salt flats. We refuelled the cars from jerry cans as the only petrol station in town had run out. Then with a local guide, headed for the salt flats, where they go to make land speed record attempts. We enjoyed a good burn up followed by a drink and break to watch the sunset at the old salt hotel, now disused. Back to the hotel with our headlights on, we wound down over dinner. It is hard to sleep well at this altitude, but on this occasion mostly because we were still buzzing from another stunning day.

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