Exploring Bolivia’s Train Graveyard
Once we arrived in Uyuni itself, the tour was pretty much finished, except for one last stop to an eerie old train graveyard. Imported from Great Britain in the late part of the 19th century, at one point these locomotives were the workhorses of the Antofagasta and Bolivia Railway Company. After the local tin mining industry collapsed in the 1940s, the mining companies drove the trains here and pulled up all the rails for scrap leading to the creation of the Cementerio de Trenes, or train graveyard. With no remaining value, all the easy to transport pieces have been scavenged and the hollow shells abandoned to the mercy of the howling winds and corrosive effects of the salt flats. Now these former leviathans serve as a playground for the local kids, a canvas for graffiti, and a unique last stop on nearly all tours of the salt flats. It’s a fun place for photography, and you could spend several hours playing around with angles and light. We stopped here in late afternoon, but the site is an easy walk from Uyuni. If I make it back in the future, I’d be sure to set aside time for a sunrise or sunset photo shoot.
Harvesting the Salt
After seeing the train graveyard, on the way to our hotels we came across miners chipping blocks out of the surface and grinding the salt down into pieces that could be loaded into trucks for processing into ordinary table salt. Here we also came across pools where underground water would seep up to the surface in brownish pools that the locals called the eyes of salt (Ojos de Sal). If you stuck your arm in one of these pools, it would be covered with salt crystals as the water drained off and evaporated. The water is slightly acidic, and apparently the locals believe it’s got some sort of mystical healing powers. I’m no doctor, but I’m guessing that fact could help explain the reason the Bolivian life expectancy is at least 5 years shorter than the neighboring countries.