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Uyuni, Bolivia: Stranded

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Wednesday 2nd April - Friday 4th April 2014

We got dropped off from the salt flats tour in Uyuni. What we expected to be a city was in fact a town. A town with very little in it. That's one of the interesting things about travelling, you have no idea what to expect in each new place. Because Uyuni comes up so much in blogs and guide books about Bolivia we had painted a picture in our heads of this sizeable town or city. Tall buildings, dusty roads, bustling and a little bit dreary, but big.

As we got closer my eye was drawn to the barren fields at the side of the road, they were filled with something colourful. All the fields. I was staring out the window, as were the others, all watching these colourful things blowing in the wind. Colour for as far as the eye could see. I couldn't figure out what they were, it looked like they were tied to long wires hanging low and stretching across every field. But the penny suddenly dropped, it was rubbish. Colourful pastic bags littered each and every field and the dirt roads beyond...

We had one stop before our tour finished and that was the train cemetary. It's full of old rusting disused steam trains that were decommissioned when the Americans brought in bigger and better trains (or that's the story we heard) and they have been left there to rot. Eventually someone had the idea to make it an attraction and they put a sign up. Job done. It is in fact like a massive playground for adults. People climbing all over the trains, hanging out of windows, running along the top to jump carriages, lying across the tracks...

Our convoy arriving in Uyuni
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When we got out of the jeep at the office we were informed that there were road blocks throughout the country on all main roads so there was no way out. We were all stranded. We had read about the high risk of road blocks in Bolivia but it's hard to believe it will happen to you until it does! It didn't stop every single one of us walking to the bus station to try and buy non-existant tickets though. Only to be told exactly what we already knew. So the streets of Uyuni were swarming with tourists walking around like headless chickens. It was way worse for others who had onward travel booked from La Paz, arrangements that would cost a lot to change. And of course most people had decided to leave immediately after the tour and had nowhere to stay and the hostels were filling up quickly. The standard of accomodation wasn't great either so there was a bit of a panicked air. For us it was better. We had time on our side, a nice hotel booked and we looked at it as an adventure!

We had booked a hotel for one night, Tonito Hotel, and it was glorious. Huge, powerful hot running water and a warm comfortable bed. Bliss. And as for breakfast the next morning...amazing. It's American/Bolivian run and the American influences were very evident. We feasted on pancakes and different breads, eggs and ham, cereals, pastries, fruit, juices. It was good. And the place filled up with people from other hostels and hotels who had heard about the spread.

As much of an adventure as it was, of all the places we could have got stranded, Uyuni was definitely the worst! It's a military town and has little to offer. The internet is extremely slow to non-existant so we couldnt even catch up on admin and planning. We explored every inch of the town, strolling aimlessly, sitting on benches and watching everyone else strolling aimlessly. To be fair it was an interesting insight into local life. All the women dressed in their beautifully coloured skirts with tall hats and long plaits swinging down their backs. We kept seeing the same faces and every day there were new faces arriving which made us worry that even if the roads opened we wouldn't be able to get tickets to get out which led to regular trips to bus offices and flight offices.

Our hotel was next door to the army base and we had some serious signs in reception. Only turn left when you exist (towards the town) and never right towards the base. Do not take any photos. When you hear the national anthem at 8am in the morning observe 1 minute of silence and remove your hat or better still don't be outside at 8am!

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I didn't realise at the time but this man was wagging his finger at me for taking a photo. Oops! large_90_IMG_5385.jpg
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Possibly the ugliest dog in the world. Poor dog.
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And the cutest dog
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Our hotel
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Please connect...please connect...please connect...
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Sampling the local beer. Not bad.
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On the Friday morning over breakfast the owner mentioned that she had somehow managed to get the phone number of a pilot who was landing a commercial plane in Uyuni that morning en-route to Sucre. Our next stop. The plane wasn't picking up passengers but she wanted to speak to him and see what he could do, if anything. She kept calling but his phone was off because he was still in the air. We decided to wander up town to the train station to see if anything had changed (it hadn't) and as we walked back to the hotel there was a commotion going on outside. The owner had sent someone looking for us, she spoke to the pilot and he would take us to Sucre but we needed to leave immediately, he was waiting on the run way. And so began a mad dash, I had to throw everything into our bags while Zarius checked out and in three minutes flat we were jumping into the back of their van. Her husband whizzed across town at top speed with 7 of us in the back. The airport is tiny and as we arrived staff were standing at the door waiting to meet us and usher us through. There was a lot of frantic hand signals and a mad dash by all 7 of us to the ATM machine as the guy at the check-in desk hand wrote our boarding cards. It was the quickest check-in and security check of our lives and within 20 minutes of returning to the hotel we were boarding a plane full of bemused looking faces. We hadn't thought that the plane would be full! As soon as we clicked our seat belts closed we were off. Sucre was a short hop away and we got a drink and a snack too. Eat your heart out Michael O'Leary...

The airport. And our plane!
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Posted by DeeandZarius 09:06 Archived in Bolivia Tagged bolivia uyuni_bolivia salt_flats_tour train_cemetary_uyuni tonito_hotel_uyuni

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