Country Bolivia | Dates June 5-6 | Accommodation Piedra Blanca Hostel
Uyuni Bolivia: Not All That Unique
Our salt flats tour ended in Uyuni Bolivia, a smaller town near the border that was described by locals and travelers alike as a place with “not much to do.” Many people headed directly to the bus station, but we were tired and didn’t want to mess with a night bus so we decided to stay in Uyuni a night.
The outskirts of the town gave an impression it was small and relatively undeveloped – small cement brick homes with tin roofs, llamas and dirt roads. Once we explored downtown, however, we saw there was more to Uyuni. Dusty streets lead up to the main drag of cement facades with mini markets, restaurants/bars, and of course tour agencies as it’s the gateway to the flats. There is an unexpected main plaza boasting a variety of tourist restaurants (with tourist prices). Across from this a cute little park with a train and “Uyuni” sign (good photo opp) and at the other end a nice clock tower, Bolivia statue, and a bright blue municipal building of some sort. There is a Mercado Central (they seem to have them everywhere), with pasta, fruit and tons of bread for sale. I wouldn’t recommend Uyuni as a destination, but it’s worth exploring for a few hours. I will admit we also tried the quinoa beer (quinoa is local to the region) but it didn’t taste that unique!
First Bolivian Bus Ride
We had a 7:30 am bus from Uyuni Bolivia to Potosí. And forgot to set an alarm. Despite our efforts to jump out of bed, hurriedly pack and walk fast at a high altitude to the station, we didn’t make it. We tried to use our tickets for the 8am bus, pretending we didn’t realize they were for the earlier one. The lady kept repeating, “no that is for 7:30,” but we did not offer or ask to pay again and in the end she let us get on without buying new tickets — but just this once (yes!). As most buses are in Bolivia, it was basic and uncomfortable; also our window was stuck open. It stopped many times along the way, making the relatively short journey mileage-wise take substantially longer as we picked up people from the side of the road in the middle of nowhere (I still do not understand where these people come from), including many women wearing the traditional textiles and carrying goods on their backs. To stay busy, we ate stale bread and jam and took photos out the (ajar) window.
Salesman Enters Bus to Sell Salve | Near the end of the journey, a guy in purple entered the bus and began an aggressive and lengthy (15+ minute) sales pitch for some green hand salve, with apparently amazing properties to cure-all illnesses from diabetes to stomach issues. He handed out samples, and the bus filled with a menthol aroma as people rubbed it into their palms. To our shock and horror, at the end of the pitch almost everyone on the bus bought the salve! The man ignored us assuming we didn’t understand, but my sister said the pitch was so good she almost asked for some herself!
Wandering Without Map
We were dropped off in the side of the road in Potosí without a map or any idea where we were going (we forgot to check in our haste to run to the bus). We entered a small hotel and asked how to get to our hostel’s street, and were told to take the bus to central — it was far. We stood on the side of the street with our stuff, plus a huge leftover water jug and loose food bag (hobo alert!), and flagged the #130 collectivo when it came. I nearly fell off as the small bus started rolling, and locals helped us sit down and told us to pay later. In the end, it was 1.5 BOB (21 cents) each. We rode towards the historic center and guessed when to get off; when the buildings started looking colonial and we saw an old church we motioned to stop. We then found a map on the street corner and started our navigation. Something went wrong, though…what else is new. Potosí is the highest city in the world at 4,067 feet, so we were out of breath and struggling with our bags and the stupid water jug on the uphill. Just when we wanted to pass out, we saw some other travelers approaching us. They whipped out their maps (they had downloaded in advance) and pointed us in the right direction. Thank goodness! Continue on to read about Potosí