🇧🇴 Bolivia

A genuine journey: from Uyuni to Villazon by train

Our train trip from Uyuni to Villazon deserves to be reminded for the unforgettable images of simplicity and dignity it gave us.  

We decided to bravely face it, and believe me when I’m saying that “to face” is the proper word, to reach Salta (Argentina) after memorable days spent in Bolivia, leaving that amazing place with the images of Salar de Uyuni engraved in our heart.

I love train, it’s pure poetry to me. It gives you the chance to think, read, be absorbed by what happens around me or just sleep, talk with my neighbor and blend with local people (maybe this time it’s not that easy).

While planning south American journey, I feared something could went wrong during this step of our trip.

Let’s just say that today I smile thinking about how that inconvenient has galvanized our travel, to be then fixed forever in my mind.

Train is our unique chance to reach Argentina from Uyuni, to then tear off in Salta and reach Patagonia with a direct flight. The fact that the train comes through twice a week plus how Empresa Ferroviaria Andina has ignored our e mail and calls, should let us guess that it was not the most reliable method to move.

Several attempts to buy the tickets on-line failed,  obliged to surrender to the fact that the “sistema de venta anticipata de boletos” is suspended until further notice. As a proof that there is always an alternative solution, a month before leaving Italy we got in touch with the owner of our hotel in Uyuni who confirmed that he would have bought the train tickets to reach Salta after anticipating the not-that-cheap amount through Money Gram.

Once in Uyuni, we didn’t manage to rescue our tickets and, the same evening of departure, Ms Dolores knocked on our door on behalf of Mr Money Gram promising we would have received our tickets shortly.

Speechless, we learnt that Uyuni ticket office is open from midnight to 01.30 am, half an hour before the train leaves. Proud Dolores came back to our room with two small pieces of paper, not bigger than a stamp, where our seat numbers were written. Good-start I thought, but I couldn’t avoid smiling back to poor and proud Dolores who sacrificed her sleep for us!

Few minutes later, here we are in small Uyuni rail station. No evidence of tourists around us. The station is crowded by local people moving the whole content of their houses! Piece by piece, the luggage wagon is filled by cupboards, old armchair and tables.The sky above us rewards us with  a starry night welcome, falling stars look so close that it seems we can touch them. It would be great to stop and look at the sky as on San Lorenzo night, the constellation are unknown and the blue of the sky is so deep!

The whistle of the train conductor, let’s go! Wara Wara wagon is waiting for us with not so clean blanket and an old TV hanged on the roof with home-made buIky hangbars then playing again and again the same old film all the way. The trip takes 9 hours, so we decided to sleep a while before the unexpected breakfast served in the lunch wagon.

The train assistants are super kind and smiling, the train conductor wears a waiter apron and pours us the tea and offer us some biscuits, jam and scrambled eggs. The simplicity of this trip is enriched by care and attention of people working with extreme dignity. Their smiles are real and it is possible to perceive how fortunate they feel to work for that train company. We all have something to learn from them.The train stops briefly in Tupiza and the conductor is  now wearing a blue mechanic uniform while doing some maintenance to the train. Here a bright example of multitasking! For sure FCA, the train company, is paying a deserved salary.

In Tupiza some Bolivian women with long black braids and bowler hats are entertaining with some relatives they shouldn’t have seen for a long time. A small pen-marker written timetable recaps the arrival and departure times.

Everything tell us about simplicity. Even when the train conductor, now as cleaning lady, sanitizes the the red carpet using water, soap and mop. My surprise is strong as the method is tested.

The trip is almost finished and the view, so far unchanged, is now offering some vegetation spots alternate to rocky areas increasing in dimension mile by mile toward Argentina.

When arrival time came, we started looking hesitantly at the train assistant as he informed us that the train is only one hour late. At this point, we realized that the delay and the not-calculated time change between Bolivia and Argentina would have led us to miss the direct bus to Salta!  Finally the train spot in Villazon where the railway ends.

Anxious, we wait for all furniture and luggages to be downloaded from the wagon to collect our backpack and run in the street in a rush, where we stole a taxi to two other desperate tourists in our same conditions. The taxi took us to the boards and then drop us close to a chaotic Bolivian bazar. We crossed the border between Bolivia and Argentina by feet and, after custom procedure and luggage check, to be said, the metal detector check held inside a small truck.

We took another taxi to reach La Quica station where we left, after few hours, with a substitutive bus. This was a local bus with thousands of bus stops plus five checkpoint where all luggage has been checked each time. During luggage check, I deeply hoped that none used my rucksack to hide dope, as this trick could cost me a lifetime imprisonment that would end my very short marital life with Mauri!

After endless 24 hours trip,  we finally arrived, starving and exhausted to Salta. Few hours in a nice hotel booked in advance and we were then ready for the lost Patagonia. Tierra del Fuego here we come!

Lucia Busato

From the trolley to the stroller. Life changes, passion for traveling remains the same. I love to call myself a rational daydreamer. Sometimes I have my head screwed on, sometimes in the clouds. I start traveling much before packing, with my mind of course. My trips are always so intense that I’m rarely well rested once back home. English breakfast and Dulce de Leche are an authentic heritage to me. What I find exciting? The roar of a Ducati motorbike, the Dolomites and why not, a nice pair of high-heeled shoes.

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