At the very end of four days of exploring the southwest of Bolivia, with mesmerising landscapes, volcanoes, snow-capped mountains, rock formations, lagoons in bright colours brimming with flocks of flamingoes, and the enormous Salar de Uyuni, it is time for something completely different. We drive a little south of Uyuni, over dusty roads, and reach the train cemetery. On train tracks, long rows of locomotives and carriages are parked. The wind brings salt air from the Salar, which makes for a constant process of decay. The sun is shining bright on our heads, and I realise this is the worst time of the day for a visit. The trains are begging to be explored, so I walk across the rails to the furthest, and longest, train, and walk all the way to the front, passing an under carriage that seems to be out of place, in the middle between the rails.
In 1884, Bolivia lost the War of the Pacific, effectively losing access to the ocean and becoming a landlocked country. It still is a national trauma, and even made it to the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 2018, where Bolivia lost again. At the end of the 19th century, British engineers arrived to construct railways. These would help to transport whatever minerals were mined in Bolivia's rich soil to the coast, to reach a worldwide market. The trains stopped being used in the 1940s, also because the minerals were finishing. Eventually, the trains were parked on the rail they so often had ridden, and left to decay. There is no company able to recycle the metal represented in all those carriages, so they are still there, standing in the altiplano landscape, rusting away, attracting visitors for their rare beauty.
When I reach the front locomotive, I climb up the rusty beast, and walk all the way to the front, and climb to the top, always making sure not to fall on the slippery iron. I look out over the long train, of which all carriages have a similar, dark brown colour. There are carriages in which coals were burnt, there are many more locomotives, there are cargo carriages. This is an open-air museum: every single one of these vehicles would be a prime attraction in a rail museum anywhere in the world, yet here, they are freely accessible to all. Walking the length of the train, I see some carriages where artists have left their marks with paintings. Otherwise, it is mostly rusty colours with bolts, and wheels sunk into the ground from which they will never emerge. When it is time to leave, I decide to come back again, but then, around sunset for the much better light. One thing seems sure: these trains are not moving any time soon.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Train cemetery (Bolivia). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Train cemetery. Read more about this site.