In the morning we taxi up to the Sucre bus station and end up on a Trans Emporador bus to Potosi. The drive is pretty uninspiring and we arrive into Potosi's bus station, which is one of the newest stations yet. It's big, modern, but round and bloody confusing to find your way out of! Eventually we find the salida and out on the street manage to flag down one of the few and far between taxis passing by.
At Koala Den our room is being cleaned so we use the internet to check our emails. Good news, our El Calafate flights are booked. Our room upstairs is a bit cramped but okay and has a private bathroom. Ryan signs onto the morning mine tour for tomorrow and we have a look about the town, checking out the main square and checking the quality of the local donuts (tasty).
We buy bus tickets from Koala Tours, as that's who is doing Ryan's mine tour tomorrow. They've sold us tickets for the 6pm Trans Emporador bus to Uyuni for tomorrow. There are only three bus departures each day to Uyuni, and the times do not work in very well with our plans to leave on a Salar tour on Sunday morning. Buses only go to Uyuni at 11am, 12pm and 6pm and take 7 hours. So if we waited until the first bus on Saturday we wouldn't get into Uyuni until Saturday night which would leave no time to pick a Salar tour operator for the following morning's departure. So as Ryan is doing the morning mine tour we decide to be brave and take a night bus to Uyuni to give ourselves all Saturday to find a tour operator. Given that there are around 80 tour operators in town and many are fly-by-night cowboys, we are banking on it taking a while to sort the good from the bad. Sweet decision made.
So we'll be arriving in the wee small hours of the morning and in need of a place to immediately rest our heads. There are only a couple of options on Hostelworld. One of which is given a s*** rating and people say "stay away" (one of the HI hostels I think) and the other one, Hostel Avienda, wants to have the three digit security code from our credit card when we make a booking which seems a bit odd or dodgy to us. So we turn to our Lonely Planet, but few hostels have a website or email address to make bookings through, so we are left with having to call one to make a reservation.
We go to an internet place and I call our selected hostel in Uyuni using my best Spanglish to make the booking. Emerging from the booth I get the 10th degree from Ryan over whether the guy understood. Unsure Ryan calls and makes a second booking at the same place under his name as he doesn't reckon the owner understood my Spanglish. His is not much better.
We head back into town later on for some dinner at 4060, where Ryan has a s*** hamburger and I have an alright pasta dish. The staff (and there's a few hanging about) seem less than interested in serving any customers.
Back at Koala Den we snuggle under a decent number of blankets and head off to the land of nod.
Ryan is up early for the free breakfast but then finds it doesn't start until 8am anyways. At 8.30am he's off for his mine tour and I'm still snuggled up, wondering when to haul my arse out of bed. I do eventually, and manage to have a steaming hot shower before breakfast and then head out into town to take some pictures and enjoy the morning sunshine. With an altitude headache starting, which is not surprising seeing as we have slept at our highest altitude yet (4060m), I head back to the hostel.
Our emails bring more good news: our shipping boxes are almost in port in New Zealand and there is an Intermediate Planner position advertised in Christchurch, which I enquire as to how to apply for it (still waiting to hear how my application is going).
Around 2pm Ryan gets back and we head out for a wander, grab some postcards and get myself a retard hat to keep my ears warm on the salt flats. Mid afternoon we taxi to where the buses for Uyuni leave from (not the bus station, not sure why this is). We head into the office of Trans Emperador and present our tickets from Koala Tours. Despite the language barrier we quickly realise three things.
1. That there is no 6pm bus.
2. That the 7pm bus is full. And
3. Our names are not on the 7pm passenger list.
Koala Tours have sold us fake bus tickets and when they appeared to be talking on the phone to someone at Trans Emperador buses when we booked the tickets, they clearly were not.
So after the bus lady gets angry on the phone to Koala Tours, we get on the phone and get angry with them too. Ryan demands someone come down to the bus offices and give us a refund. The woman Ryan speaks to says she cannot leave the office as she is the only one there. When Ryan threatens to publish what Koala Tours have done on every internet forum, including Lonely Planet, she quickly becomes very apologetic, and says if Ryan comes to their office she will refund us, including the cost of the taxi. So off he heads. He gets our refund and finds the office not manned by just the woman, but with four staff members present. I guess they thought that if it was up to us to come and get the refund we might not bother. With the Koala Tours rip off sorted, we get ourselves tickets on another bus to Uyuni at 7pm, with Turismo-something-er-rather. Basically we picked the best looking bus and got tickets from that office.
We have to wait a couple of hours, sitting on the small couch in the tiny bus office shack. Eventually our bus arrives; we put our stuff on and climb aboard. The bus is very narrow between the two rows of seats and the ladies who board with their big sacks of stuff, struggle to fit between the seats. I help one woman who can't read, find her seat number. After much stuffing around our bus leaves and we set off into the dark. The ride is pretty slow and even though it's dark I think the road from Potosi to Uyuni is best described as a work in progress. It's very narrow, made of dirt, gravel or what have you, and every now and then our driver pulls over to let a vehicle coming the opposite way past. Late at night the bus stops and most everyone piles out for a snack stop.
Eventually we get going again. The bus is freezing, with no blankets and no heating. Luckily we've piled on the layers and have our jackets, hat, gloves and scarves at the ready. We manage to sleep a little but otherwise just watch the black countryside pass by. The stars in the night sky above the middle of nowhere are amazing. They would almost rival the beautiful night sky on the farm.
We pull into Uyuni at 2.30am and pile out of the bus. Taxi drivers hound us but we know the hostel we phoned is near the bus station. We walk to the corner and then spot the hostel sign, right next to the bus. We ring the bell and someone answers almost immediately. They don't seem to have our reservation, but it doesn't matter and we are shown to a double room for 90 bols. Our room is reminiscent of our beat up Cardiff room and there is a barrel of water in the bathroom. It is FREEZING and my feet are blocks of ice. I pull on a second pair of socks, keep my clothes on and climb into Ryan's sleeping bag beneath the blankets. Eventually I manage to warm my feet up enough to fall asleep.