We were due to leave Uyuni at 8.30am. We had gotten up, packed and made it to breakfast and were duly told that there had been landslides overnight blocking the road to Potosí. Not only that, some of the local people had set up road blocks in protest against the government(?). So over the course of the morning, the landslides were cleared and we and our bus waiting for us on the other side of the blockade sat and hoped the protestors would move on eventually. Our guide Vlad was very optimistic that would happen… But then he’s an eternal optimist.
Several hours of twiddling our thumbs and nada. The protestors weren’t budging. So we were given a couple of options: 1- wait it out in Uyuni with the possibility that we may need to pay for the extra night of accommodation there or 2- hire some new 4×4 cars and off road it until we bypassed the blockade and met up with the main road to Potosí. So can you guess what the unanimous vote was in favour or? Escape of course. (There really isn’t anything to do in Uyuni at all…)
After much calling around, we ended up with three new cars and three new drivers. We left at 4pm and were told it would take around 6-7 hours to get to the next town.
Now these drivers had clearly never tried this before. I guess it’s not common to have to do this- I reckon most people just wait it out. I think their plan was to drive off in the general direction of the road and to hope for the best… It was hard going. There were several moments where the drivers all stopped, got out of the cars and wandered off together to try to figure out which way to go. One guy even got up on the roof of his car for a better look! It wasn’t the most assuring thing.
We weren’t the only ones trying this madness. We came across a couple of buses and trucks going both directions though also not doing much better than us. The terrain didn’t help. For the most part it was flat but covered in small bushes and there were faint dirt tracks of previously used paths visible. The worst bit though was a narrow dirt track descending into an uneven rocky terrain.
This all wouldn’t have been to bad if were with good, experienced drivers and as luck would have it, we managed to get the worst of the lot! I did get the impression that this guy was roped in last minute to help us out which was nice of him but he really had no idea how to use the four wheel drive. Like at all. At one point as we were attempting to go up a slope and the car just ground to a halt. We had to get out of the car and push it up the hill! At least it was a source of amusement to the folks in the car behind us… After that, the other drivers had to stop to give our driver a lesson in using the gears… Worrying to say the least. We got by a little better after that though he had a tendency to drive too fast over large rocks causing scary things to happen to the undercarriage.
We made it to the road before sunset. Which was good since no one wanted to get stuck out on the plains during the night. This was meant to be the easy bit now. Well maintained asphalt road, street lamps. It seemed like everything was going so well!
That is until we realised our driver couldn’t do any better on a real road and that there was a very high chance some serious damage had been done to the car whilst off road. The fumes coming into the car and the super heated floor were not good signs. Another worry was that the car slowed to 5mph on even the slightest incline meaning that it would take even longer for us to reach our destination- especially since Potosí was at a higher altitude. What was even more concerning was that that other cars (containing the only spanish speaking members of the group and our guide) had zoomed off ahead! We had no idea how far behind we were or if they’d stop to wait for us. There was definitely an air of panic running through the group of us in the car!
Nevertheless, we reached the city limits, tired, starving and panicked and found the other two cars waiting for us. They had been there at least 20 minutes already! The others were not best pleased with the delay…
We made it to the hotel by 11pm, by which time we were all dead on our feet. Cat and I opted to skip food to take a hot shower and curl up in bed ASAP. Definitely a good choice. Whether the cars were one too is another matter entirely.