From Calama to Uyuni

Thursday 15th October 2015

I woke up at 5am in Calama in Hostel Loa, got ready and walked 5 minutes to the bus stop. There were already a few people waiting there to board the bus. Now something very interesting happened there. A couple from Finland in their forties or fifties I would say arrived and stand next to me. Calama bus station is reputed to be a place where people often, very often, get their bags stolen. So while standing and waiting, I kept my big backpack on my back and my small backpack in front of me. The Finnish guy did the same but his wife kept the small pack in front of her and she put down her big pack between her legs. I was watching the people around me, waiting to see if we could see thieves. One guy arrived, in his forties, a brown hat on his head, no bags…He just passed on the street but looked a lot at the bag she had between her legs. Then 5 minutes later, a young guy with a red bandana around his neck walked by too and did exactly the same, he looked a lot at the bag of this woman. He was only carrying a small backpack so obviously him too was not about to take a bus to Uyuni. That`s a good way of spotting dodgy people, the ones who hang around at a bus station but do not carry any bags. The first man came back and so strangely…he came to stand right next to the Finnish guy. There was the Finnish guy, then the woman then me. And the young guy a few minutes later also came and stand next to him. They were not talking to each other, but they looked like comparses. I kept an eye on them, and they were indeed keeping an eye on the bags. Now what I am not sure off is there was another young guy next to them with no bag who was more discreet and in front of us another young guy on the other pavement opposite our. Were the 4 of them comparses? Or just the two first ones who were probably amateurs as they were really not discreet in their way of looking at her bag. I told the woman, watch your bag, those two guys on our left are after it. She said she had noticed too. She still kept the bag on the floor though. Then the garage opened in which the bus was, and people started moving towards the bus. She grabbed her bag and went in. Other people arrived, including tourists, and we all went there to put our big backpack into the baggage compartments under the bus. Those 2 guys were still there. Watching. Watching probably in case one person would distractedly leave their small pack on the floor while putting the big pack inside the compartment. And I was sure that before they would know it, their small pack would be gone! Luckily, no one did that mistake and we got all our big backpacks in, and I waited next to the bus until they closed the doors of the compartments then I got in. I saw the 2 guys go away from the bus, disappearing in the streets. Too bad guys, you couldn`t steal anything this time!! Ahahahaha. It was so interesting to watch that though, had not happened to me the last few months a single time to watch thieves from so close. As Patrick told me later when I related the story to him when I saw him in Uyuni in the afternoon, they were probably amateurs as otherwise, a bag is gone and no one saw anything usually. But still…It was really interesting!


And off we were in the bus going from Calama to Uyuni, which would take about 9 hours with border crossing.
Soon we saw the dawn colours in the sky.


Mountains waking up in the early morning light.


There were some pipes not hidden yet alongside the road.


It was really dusty in the bus, we kept caughing. And when the light rays came in, you could see the dust reflect in them.


Landscape to the left


We saw this salar to the left. It is so obvious that once upon a time, this would have been a lake or sea with real water.


The Salar


Another view from the window during this bus journey


Some kind of old volcano with old lava traces


A village, in the middle of nowhere. Wondering if it is abandoned like the others or if a few people still live there.


We stopped in Ollague to do the Chilean border crossing.


Queuing to give our little exit paper and get an exit stamp. In front of me, a Bolivian woman, dressed traditionally. With leggings inside her shoes, two braids with some ornament at the end of each, a hat, and crazy layers of clothes with so many diverse colours. I love their dress code, it is unique in the world! It was funny to see a ping-pong table and a table football in the waiting room ahahah.


Back in the Atacama 2000 bus.


A bit later we changed bus for a Bolivian bus. No toilets in that one ahaha.


Then we queued again at this immigration point to give entry papers and get an entry stamp to Bolivia. There was Kim, a Dutch girl who didn`t speak much Spanish who had forgotten to give her exit paper at the previous control point and the guy was giving her a hard time because of that. Her French boyfriend Adrien had forgotten a few Spanish words like “to forget” which is “olvidar” so I jumped in and tried to explain to the guy too that the guy at the other border had forgotten to ask her for the paper, and that was not her fault. He asked why she was already in Bolivia then went to Chile then was coming again to Bolivia. I said I was doing that too, that the 2 countries were beautiful so she had been to the Salar until San Pedro de Atacama and now wanted to visit the rest of his beautiful country, like I was doing too. Somehow he finally took her paper and gave her the entry stamp and entry paper and took from her the forgotten exit paper.

Then it was the turn of a guy from South Korea who had not made a visa in Santiago for Bolivia. It is possible to do it at the border for people who need visas but it was more complicated and expensive. Obviously the guy at the border had never done a visa for a Korean or for anyone in general maybe, and spent lots lots of time reading about all the details, grabbing a sticker, asking the Korean to write down his name and passport number on the sticker which is stuck inside his passport. It cost the Korean guy 93 USD for the visa and I thought at that moment how lucky some of us are being able to travel the entire South America without ever having to bother doing a visa or paying for one. After helping him out with that, I felt I should maybe just sit in the chair next to that guy and work with him as his interpreter hey maybe??


I was getting hungry as I had not brought any snacks with me, so while waiting for the queue to clear up, I crossed the iron gates here and went to see the woman on the other side and buy some lunch from her.


Here was my lunch, chicken and rice, yummy, better than nothing!


As I saw the queue was not clearing up faster, I went back in the queue while continuing to eat my chicken and rice. Hey, you know, 6th time I am crossing a border by land on this trip, I am starting to take it easy now ahahahah. It is not a big deal after all! Then we went back in the bus, finally. Took forever. Actually we did wait for a while in the bus because the guy from the immigration asked back the Korean for something and a Chilean guy for something else. During that time, another girl was in the bus next to Adrien, Kim and me whose name was Salma. She had studied architecture in France and in Santiago and while in Brazil for a month in July she had realised she didn`t really believe anymore in artistic sophistication and that minimalism construction made more sense and was wasting less of the environment`s resources so she had quit her Santiago`s semester and decided to go travel South America instead. She was from Morocco and explained to us that she had gone to the Bolivian Consulate in Santiago to make a visa there and that it was way better to do that there than at the border, something the Korean guy would have benefited doing too.


The bus finally took off again. Some of the landscape on the way.


We stopped in San Cristobal for a quick toilet and buy snacks stop.


It was funny, I bought some snacks but I didn`t have any bolivianos yet so I asked to pay in Chilean pesos. I had 2,000 Chilean pesos and the woman said, alright you can buy this pack of biscuits for this money, plus 5 of this candies or 8 of these or 3 of these. So I went for the 3 of these. Ahaha.


In the bus, Adrien and Kim were way more prepared for the journey and started making a ham and cheese sandwich. European touch there hey!


We got closer to Uyuni and could see the mirage kind of reflections of the little islands which seemed like floating above the Salar.


Entering the city of Uyuni.


We got dropped and everyone went in different directions. Adrien and Kim were off to catch a bus or something to go to Sucre immediately while Salma got harpooned by a woman who wanted to sell her a tour to the Salar. As that`s what she wanted to do the next day, she went with her. I walked the street in the direction of the Piedra Blanca hostel and saw this landmark statue of the Paris Dakar.


Got to the Piedra Hostel. There I asked at the reception for Patrick and the woman went to know on the twin room he had booked. It was really cool to see him again after 5 weeks! We had spent 2 weeks in the Galapagos travelling together and then he had shoot off to Ecuador and then Colombia to spend some time with his girlfriend who was volonteering there for 3 months. He had just been to Huayna Potosi and had made it to the summit and then taken a night bus from La Paz to Uyuni. He was super tired but up for a beer to catch-up so off we went to a nearby pizzeria (there seemed to be only that next to the hostel anyway!) where we had pizzas and beer. Discovering more of the Bolivian beers!


It is really so cool to meet travellers, travel with them for a bit, stay in touch and then meet them again later in your trip and catch-up, the same way as I had met Paul and Emmanuelle in the Ciudad Perdida trek early July and seen them again 7 weeks later mid-August in Cusco! After that, Patrick went to pick up some laundry and then we had the crazy idea to go watch the sunset on the Salar de Uyuni. Alright, alright, I had the crazy idea, fine. 🙂 So we jumped in a taxi and off we went. Uyuni is not actually that close to the Salar de Uyuni, you have to drive 20-25 minutes to Cochani to be at the entrance of the Salar!

We saw the sunset from the car although somehow I did not take that shot of the last rays and appearance of the sun that day, but took a few shots of the golden rays on the horizon we saw from the car.


To the right


The taxi which took us to the entrance of the Salar de Uyuni.


Even if we missed the sunset, the after-sunset colours were beautiful. Such a pure sky, such a wide amplitude of the colours!


Another shot a bit later


Almost dark, time to go back!


We went for dinner in another pizzeria in front of the hostel and then were both tired, me by the early bus and him by the lack of sleep on the night bus added to climbing Huayna Potosi so went to bed pretty early.

Tomorrow, Patrick off to the Salar and me another day blogging yeah, and then off to La Paz with the night bus!