I spent a good deal of time yesterday deciding how to get to Uyuni. My options were: fly to Sucre, and either sleep in Sucre and catch the direct bus to Uyuni at 6:30AM the next morning or get on the next bus to Potosi and hope that there is space on a Uyuni bus when I get there; OR bus to Oruro and catch a bus or a train to Uyuni. I chose the one that seemed simplest, and I admit, that seemed to throw my poor Bolivian planning less soundly in my face.
This is when technology started to fail me. I could not find any information about whether or not the train ran on Sundays; or rather I could, but it was from 2009. I also could not find any information about when buses to Uyuni left Oruro. Neither of these things disturbed me at the time, Uyuni’s a big deal, it would all work out when I arrived in Oruro. I didn’t book a hostel though, just in case something didn’t work out or in case I would be arriving in the morning on the 26th. (The Internet also wouldn’t tell me how long the bus trip is from Oruro to Uyuni.) So, I caught the first bus from Cochabamba to Oruro this morning, departing at 06h00.
I arrived in Oruro at 10h45 to find out that buses only leave Oruro for Uyuni between 20h00 and 21h30. Oh, and the trip takes 7 to 8 hrs. I’m sorry, what?? Exactly who thought that one through?? Also, no salon cama available and no baño on board.
That will be 50 bolivianos for almost less than nothing, gracias.
Proceed to, “find a bloody hostel, quick, and make sure they’re happy to receive you at three in the bloody morning.” This quest lead to my discovery that there is absolutely no wifi available, for purchase or for free, in Oruro. 800 000 people and no beep beep boop wifi?! Unless one wants to book a hostel room, of course. That seemed like a ridiculous option at 11h00 this morning, it’s now 16h00 and with five and a half more hours before my bus leaves, that is looking like it was in fact a brilliant idea. Instead I went into an Internet booth and used FB to ask Mark to book me a hostel in Uyuni. Bless his heroic soul, he got me the second last (good) bed in town!
Even using the Internet booth had its moments: the first computer they put me on crashed each time I actually got any information up on the screen. They, of course, still charged me for this time. Then, on my second computer, I discovered/remembered that Spanish keyboards don’t have an @ symbol readily apparent on them. This makes logging onto FB tricky. I found Microsoft Word and scrolled through the symbols catalogue until I found @ then copied and pasted it into my email address. Interestingly, I noticed that Google Bolivia is offered in Quechua, as well as Latin American Spanish.
I had worked up an appetite, bullying the Internet booth’s computers into submission, and so went into a restaurant that had been suggested to me earlier, El Fogon. I felt hopeful because the place was nearly full of Bolivians. The restaurant is run in an interesting fashion: the waiters tell you that you can sit anywhere, and then, once you’re seated they assure you that you must go up to a cashier, place and pay for, your order. She then gives you a laminated ticket, and you go back to your table. The waiter comes over and takes your ticket to the kitchen and places your order.
I ordered “Charquekan”: shredded llama with cheese, boiled egg, potato and corn. I wasn’t even worried about ordering this; I have been having such great luck with food, I forgot to be cautious. I couldn’t eat it.. They had cooked the shredded llama until it was sticks of oily carbon, and somehow this affected the palatability of the rest of the plate. I went up to the cashier and ordered a beer, and am now drinking beer instead of eating. Probably for the best.
I apologize if this is another sour grapes entry. They did play an excellent film on the bus this morning: Dos Filhos de Francisco. I recommend it it to anyone. Spanish-speaking or not; there were no English subtitles and I still really enjoyed it.
Photos from my time wandering around Oruro:
Addendum: Further to my comment made previously about bus travel in Bolivia: this bus company, San Miguel, claimed semi-cama quality, however, on entrance it was bus regulare. As usual I had the ill luck to be seated beside a man who felt he owned at least a fifth of my seat. Please do not think for an instant that I am not putting considerable thought and effort into obtaining comfortable transportation. I look for recommendations on the Internet, ask a few different companies, make diligent observations about the quality of their signage, am eagle-eyed any time I see a bus that looks in good repair to see its company name; yet it does not seem to make any difference. Or maybe it makes a world of difference. Maybe there are worse experiences to be had than my own.. probably now that I think of it. But it is still infuriating to have NO idea what you are purchasing as you hand your money over.