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.

Departure Blues


At the airport. The hub has little to offer other than the dreary monotony of passing the time before the ship is to resume its flight and deliver us all from familiar surroundings.

I watch the members of the nomadic public with some degree of amusement, searching in vain for any evidence of excitement imprinted on their faces.

Struck by the apparent triviality with which modern travel is approached, I wonder whether – since it became a prerequisite for many of their number – heading for the distant corners of the world is taken to be a tedious necessity.

Whereto did our spirit of adventure go?

PS: I suspect it’s just hiding. I’m sure there are many an adventurous soul embarking on yet another journey. Appearances can’t always be trusted. I’d rather hope for the best!

Fly with Me

When Ismay was nine she learnt to fly. It was all semblances, dreamscapes of course. Even a child of nice can distinguish between what is real and what is not, but for her, sleep had become more than a necessity. It was a refuge.

Her mother and father had rowed before, of course. But never that badly ever before. “Of course” – she learnt to accept it too soon.

She watched love turn to loathing. Wakefulness was increasingly painful to her. There was nothing she could do to change the goings-on in her home, so instead she searched for sleep. She was forever sleeping.

Years later, she could still remember with perfect clarity her first encounter with Patrick. He came to her in a dream.

She was sitting in her aunt’s garden, under the walnut tree, reading her favourite book. This was the place she felt safest in. It was hers to escape to. The gate creaked open. As she looked up from the page, she saw a teenage boy fighting his way through dandelions to reach her. He smiled. A second sun joined the day.

She was transfixed by his other-worldly beauty.  That skin, so pale yet radiant in the summer light, that rebellious mop of jet-black hair, and those eyes: indigo – like bathing in the sun-dance of a field-full of violets.

He offered his hand to help her stand up next to him: “Hi, Ismay.”

“Hello…” she paused, suddenly unsure, “Why are you here?”

“You were unhappy, so I came. I’m Patrick.” He kept her hand in his and motioned over towards the little plum orchard at the back. “Tell me, Ismay, did you get your wings yet? Can you fly?”

His question was an odd one, but she did not find it so. “It can’t be done.” She told him. “It is an impossible feat.”

“Trust me.”

He picked up a couple of pieces of flat timber from under a plum tree. They were even and thin and Ismay noticed that their edges had been smoothed out so that they looked almost oval in shape. Patrick ran his fingers over the two surfaces in turn and then placed them on the ground one next to the other. He stepped onto the board closest to him and indicated for her to step onto the other.

He took both her hands into his. “Close your eyes. Feel your feet against the timber.”

She did as he said.

“Can you feel it?” he asked after a few moments, “Can you feel its stillness against the ground?”

There was no mockery in his voice. He told her to trust him and Ismay took a leap of faith. “Yes.” she said.

Her feet were one with the timber. The timber was one with the earth. There was a flowing energy connecting all together.

“Now drive it into the ground,” said Patrick, “Imagine that you want to push it down, all the way to the centre of the planet.”

She did as she was told, but nothing happened. She opened her eyes and looked at Patrick, her lower lip protruding slightly. It did not work. It could not happen. But Patrick did not seem unhappy.

He held her hands and grinned broadly, “You’ve got it!”

And she had! Incredibly, they were floating on their boards a few inches above the ground, as if the magnetic force of the Earth had reacted to that of their bodies, set against it and pushed them skywards.

“We are flying!” she laughed happily. “Patrick, I am flying!”

“Not yet. But we are air bound and that’s a start. Now you need to imagine yourself moving forward. Just imagine the force in your back foot outweigh the other and find a point of reference… How about the gate?”

He let go of her hand and moments later was at the gate, floating just above it. He waited for Ismay to join him. The strain of the exercise had crowned his forehead with water beads. They glinted in the summer sun like gemstones.

She focused all her new-found elation of flight on him. He was her point of reference. She wanted to be next to him, to hold his hand again. This will move her forward. She strove to get near, and her board seamlessly carried her to where her heart’s wish lay.

The lesson was over. Their adventure was just beginning.

Soon they were two blurry outlines above the yellow-green fields. Then hand in hand they crossed oceans, the saline wind whipping their cheeks.

“This is heaven!” she exclaimed, “Let’s never stop!”

She breathed in the flagrance of prairies, of algae peppered seas, and frosty mountaintops. She abandoned herself fully to this voyage he gifted her. She will always crave the exhilarating newness of a journey.

But stop it did. As the evening approached, Patrick told her that she had to return home. It was with great reluctance that she agreed. And as she waved goodbye, standing next to the gate at her auntie’s house, she wished with all her heart that she would not wake up.

Morning came. The dream was over. But from that day onward, Ismay could not wait to go to sleep again. Her parents’ drama raged against the walls of her outer-world for months. For months, night after night, Ismay’s mind turned inward as she visited mysterious continents at the side of her wistful companion.

She was convinced that he was real. Somewhere in the world there lived a boy whose face and voice were already familiar to her, and through some unknown magic, their minds had found a plain of existence where they could be together.