The next morning, after allowing ourselves a sleep in from our late arrival into Uyuni, we pack our things and head out, hoping to find a tour operator and another hostel for tonight, all before our checkout time of 10.30am.
We head across the street to hunt down the Estrella del Sur offices, which are marked in Lonely Planet as being roughly opposite our hostel, Hospedaje El Salvador. Try as we might we could not find the Estrella offices. We ask in places and they point us up the street. We head up the street and can’t find it. We ask again and are pointed back in the direction we’ve come from. With our hunt fruitless we head to the tourist office and ask there. They tell us the office has moved to the street opposite the train station. So we hunt and hunt there, again without success. Touts for other companies are all trying to entice us, one particular persistent woman is starting to get on our goat as we wander up and down, up and down. Other touts tell us that Estrella has shut or that it is on the street we have already searched. But they are the type of people who’d sell their grandmother to make a buck and their word can’t be trusted.
Eventually we head back to the tourist office and ask if we can call Estrella but their office has no phone. Frustrated we try calling from my dying mobile but can’t get the number right.
So we head back to our hostel, grab our bags and check into a room at Hostel Avienda which two Swiss girls on Ryan’s mine tour recommended to us. The room with shared bath is not as beat up as our previous one and is only 60 bols.
Then it’s back to our Estrella hunt. We are being persistent as we’ve had a number of recommendations from friends who used Estrella successfully and Lonely Planet recommends them as well. We hunt down an internet cafe with phones and after some confusion as to what numbers to put in front of the phone number we manage to get through. After some Spanglish the woman seems to confirm that Estrella is no longer Aberto. It is finito.
So we head to the offices of Cordillera, our second choice of tour operator. We talk to the guy in the office in Spanglish before he indicates that someone else will come and talk to us. Imagine our surprise, disgust and disbelief when the particularly persistent tout walks through the door. We immediately pick up our things and walk out, refusing to do business with a woman who would not take no for an answer in her harassment of us.
Frustrated we are heading back to our hostel when we ask a group of people loading up a road worthy looking jeep which company they are going with, and head into the office to check things out. The woman is professional and nice and we end up booking a standard three day tour, finishing with an included transfer to San Pedro with Expedicions Empexsa for 600 Bolivianos. It is all inclusive with a driver and cook. We are told the jeep has two Dutch people in it so far and will have no more than 6 people, including ourselves.
We spend the rest of the day relaxing. Online we see breaking news that Christchurch has suffered a massive earthquake. It is early days, but it seems no one was either seriously hurt or killed. Having travelled through three countries in South America thus far and seen up close the standards of building and infrastructure, whilst we feel sorry for Christchurch, it does not seem fair to moan too much about the consequences of the quake when you consider the loss of life in the Chilean quake earlier this year, and the total devastation of buildings and infrastructure suffered. Our more stringent building standards mean we got off lightly compared to others. Furthermore, being in towns like Pisco and Ica, which suffered an 8.0 earthquake in 2007 destroying 80% of the city, and which are still dominated by rubble, including the cathedral that is now just dust, make you count your blessings. We can’t imagine that rebuilding in Christchurch will take as long, so we hope everyone is pulling together and counting their blessings.
When our tummies rumble we hunt out somewhere good for dinner. One place on the plaza is listed in the Lonely Planet (Italiana), but things have been confused by there now being three places with strikingly similar names and menus and decor. Sneaky. We find the real McCoy and pull up a couple of seats. There is a kerfuffle with some patrons at the counter about being overcharged when we arrive and eventually when I’m able to get to the counter the guy will only give me one menu. ‘Dos?’ I ask. Uno, uno is the reply. So Ryan and I share a menu and then I go up to order. Service does not seem such that he will come to us to take our orders. At the counter I order enchiladas. Times two. ‘Dos?’ I am queried. ‘Dos’ I repeat. He looks incredulously at me. Exasperated I point to Ryan at my table. The penny sinks. But then the phone rings and I am begged ‘un momento’. I oblige. Off the phone the guy disappears away from the counter and exasperated by the service, or lack of, Ryan and I leave to order and eat somewhere else.
Next door as it turns out, at Restaurant 16 de Julio. We have two quite alright pasta dishes and a hot chocolate to warm up with before heading to bed.