Outside Uyuni lies an odd tourist attraction: a train cemetery. In the 19th century the British sponsored the construction of a railway between the port of Antofagasta (currently in Chile, on the Pacific Coast) and Uyuni. The latter was the transportation junction for trains carrying minerals – such as silver from the Huanchaca mines – to the port from where they were exported.
Until 1879 Bolivia bordered on the Pacific Ocean but the Pacific War with Chile resulted in Bolivia becoming a landlocked country. Exporting minerals became a problem, the mining industry collapsed, and there were technical problems in maintaining the railroad. The combination of these problems caused the ambitious project of transforming Uyuni into a prosperous transportation hub to fall to pieces.
Trains were abandoned and quickly fell into disrepair. Despite all intentions of turning this place into a museum of some sort, the steam engines and wagons are still rusting away without anybody caring for the decaying trains except for travelers who are attracted to this wasteland. The train cemetery was never fenced in and never had guards and so the trains have functioned as a free source of metal for many and as a welcome surface for graffiti.
Today steel skeletons lie rusting away in the middle of this arid landscape that is dominated by silence. Heavy rivets and antique-spoked train wheels lie on and around the rails and there are a number of ailing, early 20th century steam engines with their water tank missing. Coen described the cemetery as a surreal Dali landscape.
The corrosive effect of Salar de Uyuni‘s salty winds has had it effects. Together with the unforgiving sun and thick dust devils it would have been an mission impossible to have kept these trains in their original condition unless they had been protected against the elements.
For those interested on the specifics on trains here in Uyuni and elsewhere in Bolivia, this blog may be of interest.
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