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I will always remember my trip to Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia because it took the best part of 5 whole days to get there. The journey involved a backstreet yellow fever jab in Buenos Aires, painful overnight buses, an encounter with a Greek conman at the Brazil-Bolivia border and an extremely sketchy flight from an “airport” where a 10-year-old issued the plane ticket and directed us to board the plane. This was South American travel in its realist, most-testing form.

Getting from Brazil to Bolivia

While in South America, I met up with a friend of a friend named Shannon; we got along well – probably because of our love for spontaneous adventure, and soon we found ourselves taking an impromptu flight to Rio. After a few days of partying and exploring, Shannon and I decided that Bolivia was the next stop – and that’s when things started to get a little bit crazy.

I can’t say I got much sleep that night, but when we did wake in the early morning, we didn’t linger. We took our bags and returned to the bus station. My friend did not have her Yellow Fever paperwork, and we thought we may need to use the Greek Guy’s “border friends”  to cross without an issue, so we sat on the steps of the bus station waiting for him to see what he had to say. The next bit is a little bit hard to believe, but I am telling you that the following actually happened.

While sat on the steps, I looked up from the book I was reading and saw these cardboard boxes moving on the other side of the road; a few seconds later, the Greek Guy stood up from underneath the boxes and started to fold the cardboard away. That was the “holy sh*t” moment we needed to (1) realise that the homeless Greek Guy had just hustled money from us and a local family who had clearly agreed to give us a room for the night in their home and (2) to get up and walk (at pace without signalling alarm bells) to a the nearest local bus and jump on it. Goodbye to our Greek Guy… or so we thought.

To this day, I still can’t fathom how a man from Greece ends up sleeping on the streets of a border town in South America, but 30 minutes after this happened, the ordeal was over – for us, at least. We got through the border with no problems and momentarily celebrated our arrival in Bolivia… before encountering our next obstacle.

Salar De Uyuni

We weren’t able to continue on our journey when we landed in Santa Cruz so we showered, ate and slept in the city before taking on the final roads to Uyuni.

The next adventure came in the form of Bolivian buses. Picture a rundown, over-crowded bus packed with local Bolivian people crammed into seats and an aisle. Now, hold that image and imagine this overcrowded bus coming dangerously close to cliff edges with dramatic drops. Then imagine, one week later, reading the news that a bus on that same journey actually did go off those cliff edges. Finally imagine, just as day breaks, your bus breaks down. And this single bus journey takes 26 hours when it’s only meant to take 12. And there you have it – the horrific ordeal.

Bolivia’s Train Cemetery

But why are they there, you ask?

Uyuni’s Train Graveyard has a fascinating history, but what is equally as interesting is that no corporation has come along to monetize or fence off the area. This meant that we were free to roam amongst the trains in a wild, natural landscape. It’s worth a visit if you’re in the area.

The Salt Flats

Now, what is a salt flat, I hear some of you ask?

Salar de Uyuni’s salt flats are salt crust that remains from the transformation of prehistoric lakes, and it is magical. I looked up the pictures afterward; it is a travel photographer’s dream.

So what does one eat while out exploring the salt flats for a day? Llama – apparently. Yep, our picnic lunch was an interesting one – eating chewy llama out of a tub. Definitely a lunch we’ll remember for a long time to come. Did we use the flat land to attempt some totally cliché pictures? You bet we did.

Did I pretty much travel across the width of South America to visit and explore Salar De Uyuni? Yes. Do I regret it? Not for one salty second.

While much of this particular South American excursion may sound like many people’s worst nightmare, this really was an adventure that I look back on fondly – despite the occasional ‘oh f*ck’ moment. 

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Salar De Uyuni: Exploring the Salt Plains of Bolivia