Bolivia part III: Oruro to Uyuni

Em português, aqui.

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Leaving La Paz was a bit of a relief. The city is a busy, busy valley and the expectation of seeing a bit of countryside was great. We were southbound to Oruro, a mining city where Carnival festivities are the country´s most famous. The route is a straight one, something I got used to here in Argentina, but still the landscape was impressive. It was pure, arid desert. Mountains surrounded us in the horizon, looking like cocoa powder hills.

Travelling by bus in Bolivia is not a pleasant experience: people stand in aisles, seat in aisles, eat in aisles, seats are uncomfortable (specially compared to argentine buses, which offer first-class service) and toilets are non-existant. We got to Oruro and my bladder was at its fullest.

We still had a couple of stops before getting to the restaurant: picking up train tickets and checking-in luggage. And then food. And toilet, of course.

In Oruro the dust flies with the wind that blows and sweeps the altiplano. There are no trees and vegetation is sparse. It gets to be warm under the sun but staying in the shadow is almost freezing.

It was Mother´s Day in Bolivia so as we got to the restaurant there were no free tables. After waiting a bit, we could order what came out to be the “best meal in Bolivia”, quoting my fellow passenger. I had a vegetarian meal – the only one there was – but the food was delicious and the size of the portion was far more than I could handle. And I am good at handling large portions.

See more photos here.
After that huge meal we happily boarded the train, thinking of a good siesta to help make the digestion. The train was comfortable and there was a TV with a DVD player, which gave us plenty of entertaining after it got dark. Before that the landscape was all the entertaining we needed.

From the window we could see the “last breath” of Lake Titicaca, as these small(er) lakes are the ones that connect the only river that drains it. The river feeds these lakes and dies here, as water evaporates quickly due to the dry climate. The waters are shallow and flamingoes can be seen with their feet soaked. (If only flamingoes had “feet”…)

As the sun sets blankets are brought to passengers: the temperature outside drops to a bitter, harsh, cutting cold as the wind blows on the altiplano. There aren´t close mountais to exert any resistance to it, so it blows and everything is swept away, lips get cold sores and ears hurt.

After seven or eight hours of almost-watching movies in the train, we get to Uyuni, the pueblo in the middle of nowhere that used to be the place where railroads crossed on their different paths to Chile and the south. It is also the base for visiting the Salar de Uyuni, a huge salt field with more than 140km in diameter.

In Uyuni I felt the coldest in my whole life. I know I come from a city where snowing is a phenomenon and live in another one where exactly the same happens; I know that I´ve lived close to the tropics my teenage years; in short, I know that my “cold” measuring is probably not the best; but still – it was cold. And the worst part? No heating.

The next day was “Salar day”. The experience was so amazing that it deserves a full independent post.

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