Bolivia’s Salt Flats and Blockades
We were woken up in the remote sleepy town of Uyuni to news of riots in La Paz and a blockade about to take place right where we’d spent the night. The plan was to head out to Bolivia’s salt flats that morning but if we weren’t quick we’d be spending at least another few long days and nights in this deserted, dust filled empty town. Panic followed as a number of taxi drivers were found to get us out but in the hysteria they drove off leaving four of us stood on the side of the road.
As members of the local community the taxi drivers all part of a corporative are expected to take part in the blockade which meant nothing could leave or enter the town whilst the protest took place. The Bolivians love a good protest and this one was all in aid of a new bus station wanted for the town. Apparently the existing bus station is in an inconvenient place. The taxi drivers who rebelled and were lured in by gringo cash could receive a fine and shame amongst their community. We stood outside the hotel with our rucksacks on the floor wondering what next.
A few calls were made and one of the rebellious taxi drivers agreed to come back for us but point blank refused to pick us up from the main street. So the next 20 minutes were spent skulking round the dust filled back streets, derelict buildings and litter strewn passages. This town is almost unnaturally bright, with the glare bouncing off every surface giving it an even more sparse feel. We hunted down our rogue taxi driver with our giant backpacks and white tourist faces. I guess we couldn’t have looked any more obviously on the run but there was no choice. We passed a gathering of around 30 guys ready to start the protest and skulked past them comedy style, they barely raised an eyebrow. A ha, there he is our rescuer from this bright, empty, dirty town. We crammed ourselves in his car and tore through fields absolutely chocca with rubbish. Every crisp packet and can of coke ever thrown out of a car window looks like it ended up here. We had to stop at a toll and the lonely face in the booth let us pass at a charge, we’d escaped. We found the rest of our gang waiting in a road but they had our bus, hurray!
This situation is far from abnormal in Bolivia as the people love a good protest. Oddly on this very day I googled Bolivia’s top news stories to work out what the hell was going on in my little travel bubble and saw a new law had just been passed. Children aged ten were now legally allowed to work full time if self-employed and aged twelve if employed by an employer. The streets weren’t filled with protesters about this news snippet. It’s every day life here and on a daily basis you’ll see street sellers well under the newly approved age. The parents often don’t have choices so the kids must work.
We made our way to the salt flats, past a train cemetery filled with British, German and French decaying trains. Sorry about that Bolivia. Visited a shop made of salt, salt hotels, salt packers. A land of pure salt. The salt flats are big white planes of salt. Once-upon a time it was a lake but now evaporated its salty remains form a pretty cool hexagonal patterned salt dessert. Within this dessert there’s a huge cactus island, a prickly oasis that sits within its never ending salty landscape.
What you gonna do with a big white surface that reaches as far as the eye can see? Take really cool photos of course in this giant sized natural studio. Do a quick internet search and you’ll find some great shots.
Travelling in a 4 by 4 is the only way to get around this neck of the woods and the drivers have to have local knowledge to make their way round here. Across 3 days we checked out hot springs and geysers, flamingo filled lagunas and magic rocks that looked like trees. The landscapes were insane, if I’d painted a picture you’d have said I had a great imagination but I took some snaps instead so you’re going to have to believe me. I’m hoping in time I’ll only look back and fondly remember the beauty of the area rather than sleeping in a room made of salt in minus 5 temperatures with some of the worst food I’ve ever tasted. Ahh it’s forgotten already!