It sounded like the most boring place to visit. When another traveller had told me a few weeks back that they really hoped to visit the train graveyard in Uyuni, I looked at them as though they were crazy.
“Really?” I asked, “You’re not joking?” They weren’t joking. What strange times we live in.
So why the enthusiasm? Didn’t they have better things to do, places to see? And what the hell was a train graveyard in any case?
The tour I’d booked the day before through Andes Salt Expeditions started with a morning trip out to Cementerio de Trenes, the train cemetery or train graveyard.
I stepped out of the jeep after a 2km drive and gathered around with my new tour buddies. It was quiet, a little awkward; people were in ‘I’ve-just-met-you-friendly’ mode, polite but a little standoffish. I stuck with my friend Carl.
It was fresh and clear. Little fluffy clouds dotted a sunny blue sky and a slight, chilly breeze whispered to me: Keep an open your mind! Go and enjoy this strange place!
Our guide, Gonzalo, gave a brief overview and history of the place. While Uyuni had been a central hub in transporting goods between South American countries from the 1880s onwards, things started to slow down – a result of the closure of a number of mines? – and the railway was decommissioned. Everything just stopped. Like that.
Now the trains stand there gradually decomposing. Why not, then, make the place into a spectacle?! As one report suggests, this is ‘a trainspotter’s sick dream’. I’d have probably chosen a different word in there, but you get the gist.
Post-history lesson we went and played. If nothing else, the Cementerio de Trenes was a big playground with swings and seesaws and things to climb on and not a hint of health and safety in place to spoil the fun.
We jumped and ran about. Creativity and big kid syndrome kicked in. Oh happy, carefree day.
Within an hour we were back in the car, had picked up our bags from the agency and were headed for the salt flats themselves. Some of the others had partied at the rave a few days earlier so were less enthusiastic about seeing the place, but me, well, this was the whole point of being here, right?
I was excited.
And then the chaos started to unleash as the boys each cracked open a can of beer and switched Gonzalo’s music for their own, cranking up the volume.
Did I get lucky or unlucky, bunched in with five guys, Gonzalo and the driver? The other car drove along in silence: four well-mannered girls, one guy and the driver.
Back in our jeep, Gonzalo nodded along to the tunes and we all threw in a few restricted dance moves and adopted alter egos. While the Social Club Co-Ordinator set to work, the Rock Star put on a pair of shades, and some collaborative whoops were thrown into the music mix.
The party reputation of our car started to build. I would either grow to love or hate these boys, I realised.