5th October 2015 by emmadurnford

5th October 2015

After no breakfast (hotel does not serve until 8am when we were leaving!) we drove south out of Potosi towards the Uyuni salt flats. The drive was about 3 hours or so punctuated by swerving around herds of llamas that seem to like crossing the road a lot and stopping to spot the vicunas which are a bit like llamas and alpacas but totally wild and very skittish. There are quite a few mines in the area some still active digging for silver and zinc. We stopped at a now disused mine - Pulacayo which is exactly as it was when the miners left many years ago. Trains wait on lines and next to the turntable, gently rusting away and the hills behind the trains are brightly coloured with different minerals exposed by the digging. One of the trains is supposedly the one that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid robbed. Although the film with Robert Redford and Paul Newman glamorised it somewhat, it was actually the miners salaries and silver that was stolen.

Onwards towards Uyuni and we got our first glimpse of the salt flats - massive, flat and creating optical illusions with the distance. Uyuni was a dusty town full of back packers waiting for trips out onto the salt pans. However, there is one particular reason I was really looking forward to coming here and that is the Loco-Graveyard. Many years ago Uyuni was linked to La Paz by a railway but for a whole number of reasons the service was discontinued. Now, literally dozens of old locomotives from the USA and even the UK sit abandoned on the train rails rusting away and gradually being taken apart by scrap metal hunters. It felt a little like a ‘Mad Max’ film and the trains are amazing. It is a photographers dream although I had to work fast as other 4x4s approached full of tourists who first task was to take ‘selfies’ and not even look at the poor old engines. This is where todays photograph is taken to capture a few of the trains before they are lost forever.

Finally, mid afternoon we headed for our hotel. What a place. It is totally made of salt and I mean totally - the walls are salt blocks and the floors through the hotel (apart from the bathroom) are made of rock salt. The decorations and seating are made from... you’ve guessed it - salt! Although it can be a little gritty underfoot, it is a truly amazing place and I do not think we will stay anywhere quite this unusual ever again. During the day the temperature was around 20 degrees but at night it plummets to around -1 so all around the hotel large fires are lit and our room is cosy with its own little heater. I decided to have my first bash at star photography. This was made somewhat challenging as I had discovered in Puno that my remote shutter release has broken so I am having to resort to the 2 second delay function. I have difficulty manually focussing on stars so far away however, for an inexperienced first attempt, I did manage to capture part of a rather blurred Milky Way - I was quite pleased (and very cold). I have put us down for a special star gazing and photography night in the Atacama desert in a few days so I hope ‘Jorge’ can help me improve then.

We are now at 3,640 meters which is a slight drop in altitude from Potosi and we are gradually acclimatising (we managed a few rounds of table tennis earlier without needing oxygen or collapsing in a crumpled heap). As I write this and a certain person is snoring away, I have just noticed that the bed is actually on a massive block of salt - not a bedstead at all (hope the mattress is soft!).
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