2003-01-31 - 6:16 p.m.
I wanted to go to the Salar de Uyuni. Actually, I wanted to go lots of places in Bolivia, but the blockades were making that virtually impossible, and flying everywhere I wanted to go just wasn't in my budget. I mean, if I actually had a budget, and not just my usual mantra of "spend as little money as possible, but don't forget that you're in South America, and who knows if you'll ever get back here again?" I had to make a plan. Or several.
Plan A involved flying from Cochabamba to Buenos Aires, and working my way back north to Bolivia by bus, hopefully getting back by the time all the blockades were over. I made this plan mostly because I was excited to find out that Cochabamba had a direct flight to Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires! The most European of South American cities! But Buenos Aires is really far away, and I would have spent most of the time on the bus.
For Plan B, I would fly back to Cuzco, take a bus to Arequipa, and work my way down south to Chile, where I would try to sneak into the southern part of Bolivia as part of a tour of the Salar de Uyuni (conducted from the Chilean side, far less popular than the tours from the Bolivian side). And I would hope that I was far enough south to avoid the blockades. But that would also take more time than I had, and I'd have to do a lot of backtracking, working my way back up to Lima, to make my flight to Quito.
Plan C. Oh, how I love Plan C. For Plan C, I would fly to Tarija, in the southern part of Bolivia, take a bus to Tupiza (once again, hoping I was far enough south to escape the blockades), and then take a train to Uyuni. Once in Uyuni, I could do the tour of the Salar, and on day three, arrange for my tour group to sneak me across the border into Chile. Once in Chile, I could work my way back up north to Peru, stopping at the beach along the way. Because I like the beach. And Bolivia is a landlocked country.
I chose Plan C. On Monday, I bought my plane ticket to Tarija - eighty dollars, enough to last me almost a week in Bolivia. On Tuesday, the blockades were lifted. I didn't care. I loved Plan C. I was sticking with it. So I flew to Tarija, and immediately took the overnight bus to Tupiza (nine hours, unpaved roads), and arrived at 5 am. I had approximately a day and a half in Tupiza - my first day, I slept, and watched cable tv (mostly bad American movies dubbed in Spanish), had the best shower in all of Bolivia, and went to the train station four separate times to try and buy a ticket. My second day, I went on a five-hour horseback ride outside of Tupiza.
It was like riding through the set of a western movie, if it were shot on Mars. Red rocks and cactus everywhere. But I think running has ruined my knees for any sort of career I might have had as an equestrian. I could barely walk afterwards. I had heard that the 7 pm train was running late, so I didn't get to the train station til 8:30. The train showed up at 10 pm, and we were told it wouldn't leave til midnight. I boarded anyway, made myself as comfortable as I could, and eventually drifted off to sleep. I woke up a few times throughout the night, to change position and see if the train had decided to start moving. It hadn't. We were in the station til 6:30 the next morning. I suppose I saved money by not paying for a hotel room. But I'm beginning to lose faith in the Bolivian transportation system.
The view from the train to Uyuni: