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Uyuni

Written on: Sunday January 6th, 2008

A journal entry from: Kevin and Julie's RTW

Location: Uyuni, Bolivia 

Author: Julie 

Hola! 

The small town of Uyuni is located on the outskirts of the world?s largest salt flat. It was founded in 1890 as a trading outpost but has since grown into a tourist Mecca for those seeking to visit this wondrous landscape. We had come, like thousands before us, to experience the salt flat, the surrounding desert, the snow-capped volcanic mountain range that was all part of the Uyuni experience, but first we needed to find a dependable travel agency. At last count, there were over 80 agencies operating for the small town, most of them fly-by-night operations that took your money and ran. We didn?t want to be caught in this trap, as we had heard many never ending stories of things going completely wrong on the 2-night, 3-day trip. 

Our guidebook made mentioned of a Rankings office that would help match our requirements and needs to the services offered by the various agencies. After walking around the small town, visiting its many monuments to the train industry and it?s oddly large boulevards leading to nowhere we found the office in a non-descript building, up a flight of stairs. We spent an hour talking to the owner who explained that as of five months ago, the office had stopped offering official rankings of all the agencies had the gentle prodding of the local government. All he could do was offer us information on the general tour, what questions should be asked from each agency and the expected price to pay. He told us the list of recommended agencies in the guidebook was pretty accurate in his opinion. So out we marched with our list and walked around the village trying to find these agencies. Well, each one of them had their doors locked and closed, while those around were operating. We later found out that they close their doors when they have sold all the seats in the truck, which explained why all the best agencies in town never seemed to be opened. They had enough advanced bookings to not need to open during the days we were there. The town was full of Chilean, Argentinean, and Brazilian tourists as this was their busiest summer month of the year to travel. 

I was a little confused, thinking maybe it was a national holiday or they didn?t operate on a Monday. We were getting a little hungry so we stopped at a little restaurant on the pedestrian walkway which had chairs and tables outside. We took a few moments to figure out our next step when we were approached by a lady with a business card for her agency, telling us what she offered which was the same as everyone else, the price and the little bit of information that she had a truck ready to leave tomorrow with four other people and she needed two more people to fill it. We told we would think it over and if interested we would stop at her office. Her agency wasn?t on the list and we wanted to see a few more that were before approaching her. Well, just by chance her office was next door to another one we wanted to visit but the door was closed so we walked away to find another one when we turned around to find her chasing us to come into her office. She had seen us walk by and thought we couldn?t find her. As she talked we informed her that we still wanted to talk to a few other agencies at which point she started lowering her point. This made me think she was desperate to fill that truck so she wouldn?t lose any money to empty seats. After a quick talk with Kevin, we decided to walk over with since we were getting to the bottom of the list, the price was decent and we wanted to know more. Back at her office, we were shown a photo of the type of jeep we would be taking, she assured us that it would be a newer model but that we couldn?t see it because it was out on a trip today and only returning later in the evening. The day was growing late and we really needed to book a trip because our visa was running out in 3 days and we needed to be out of the country, so we finally decided to book with her. We thought we had a scored a good deal with a reduced rate of 90$ USD per person, instead of the average of 100$ and we had her throw in the bus tickets from the border to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, as well as a couple of sleeping bags since the night promised to be cold at 4200 meters. We handed over our price of 90$ USD per person and were told to come back tomorrow morning at 10:15 for a 10:30 departure. 

After we had booked, we ran into our friends Vince and Nora from the Netherlands. We hadn?t seen them since Huacachina, Peru and couldn?t wait to hear what they had done since we had last seen them. We met at the same pizza restaurant we had eaten at the night before and spent an enjoyable evening with good food, good people and a couple of good beers. We spent the remainder of the evening packing up, buying snacks for the next three days and going to bed early. I couldn?t wait, I had dreamed of visiting the salt flats for years.