Abandoned | Uyuni Train Cemetery

Uyuni Train Cemetery by Vic Briggs

Weekly Photo Challenge: Abandoned

You may know Bolivia for having the highest capital in the world: La Paz at 3,650 m or 11,975 ft above sea level. Or perhaps you remember it as one of two countries bordering Titicaca, the largest and highest navigable lake in South America. Indeed, the lake is home to Bolivia’s fleet (Don’t laugh. They do have one, and what’s a country to do once it looses its sea access to a bellicose neighbour?).

There are many wonders about this country that I could impart with you, but the one I want to share today is the story of its salt planes: Salar de Uyuni. You’ve guessed it. At 10,582 square kilometres or 4,086 square miles, they are the largest salt flats in the world.

The Salar is a desert of salt, virtually devoid of wildlife and vegetation. Only the giant cacti survive in its inauspicious planes amongst a few sturdier shrubs. First impressions can be deceptive however, and it may surprise you to know is that this seemingly desolate place is – for the length of a month at least – the home of several species of pink flamingos. Their bright plumage is believed to derive its colour from that of the algae they feed on, rich in carotene. I would’ve never suspected flamingoes of being fond of carrots, but it would seem they have found the next best thing.

When the Bolivian mining industry collapsed in the 1940s, the Salar became the retreat to a more unusual group of residents. Located only a mile or so outside Uyuni, is a collection of antique trains. They look rather desolate against the backdrop of yellowing salt, abandoned… once upon a time their wagons filled with mineral treasures journeying to some distant seaport. For British engineering and train enthusiasts however, the place has a charm of its own.

About this image: Set apart from its locomotive fellows, this specimen caught my attention. I set my camera at an angle to create the elusion of motion. Using film rather than digital photography had the added advantage of giving the image an “antique feel” in keeping with the age of its subject.

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10 thoughts on “Abandoned | Uyuni Train Cemetery

  1. When I was living and working in the Sinai desert (’77-’80) there were dozens upon dozens of abandoned tanks, military trucks (and unfortunately land mines). The tanks and trucks were excellent photo ops. The mines not, since they stilled worked.
    Great photo. And very interesting info on Bolivia.

    • You survived the Sinai desert! I have to confess I’m impressed. It must have been a fascinating experience. Have you written about it at all? I don’t remember coming across any Sinai articles on your blog, but perhaps it got hidden amidst others. Would love to read your recollections on the place if you have shared them, or indeed if you decide to share in the future. Thank you, Lance. There were no such danders in the salt flats, but object cemeteries – whether of trains, cars or planes – hold a certain fascination for me.

      • Thanks Vic. The Sinai is a beautiful place. Well it was in the Seventies. I have written some about it here:
        http://wp.me/p2Yfgl-6y
        And will be writing more. Specifically: about the time I drive my passenger van into a mine field on the way to Suez…

        I do hope you find time to read my “No Bare Feet Beyond This Point.”
        Cheers,
        -Lance

    • Thank you, navigator. I had the opportunity to spend some time on the lake when I visited Isla del Sol across the waters from Copacabana. There are many Inca ruins in that area, and you are quite right: they are beautiful.

    • Thank you, Lee-Anee. I am fond of trains, have been ever since a child. I think it is the romance of a journey yet to be undertaken that has prompted this particular passion. I am an explorer at heart.

  2. I was here in late 2012. A stunning place. And a great reminder about how big and truly amazing our planet is. It was such a shame about all the rubbish in the town though. Which was such a stark contrast to the cleanliness of the flats.

    If I recall correctly, you had a post about Peru too, right? I think we may have done pretty much the same trip…

    • Quite possibly, or at least a leg of it Sean. How long did you spend in South America when you visited? I do miss it. There is an innocent contentment to living out of a backpack for a while. We get too attached to things when we are at home.
      I agree about Uyuni. It felt almost like a western spaghetti town, although I only spent an evening there so that may be a little harsh on my part. The following morning we left for the flats, and then onwards so I didn’t explore Uyuni itself at length. Too much wilderness to delight in.

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