Stand By Me In Uyuni


This blog entry about the events of Tuesday, January 13, 2004 was originally posted on January 19, 2004.

DAY 87: In Stand By Me, the 1986 Rob Reiner movie about four boys who bond together during a two-day hike along train tracks in search of the corpse of a dead kid, the narrator (played by Richard Dreyfuss) says this:  “Friends come in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant.”  This statement also rings true for people on the backpacker trail; you never know when someone you met before will suddenly be in your life again.

I WOKE UP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT when the bus ride suddenly got extremely bumpy.  Lara had her eyes closed, but she was awake as well, listening to her CD Player.  As my body shook around like a can of paint in a mixer at a hardware store, I thought to myself, “Jesus, are we even on a road?!”  Suddenly it became clear to me why there was no road drawn on the map between La Paz and Uyuni.

Around 6:30 a.m. the bus stopped in the middle of nowhere for what we thought was a flat tire.  The conductor and driver got under the bus and jacked it up, but no spare tire was needed — instead, they just randomly started banging on things under the vehicle for half an hour, leaving us to wander around aimlessly with our cameras.  It was the perfect opportunity for me to walk far away from the others to take a photo — and to release the fart I had been holding in for quite some time.  Pringles and Oreos can do that to a guy.

We eventually continued down through the desert to the desert town of Uyuni, the base of tourism for trips into the Bolivian salt flats.  As soon as our bus arrived around 9:30, we were assaulted by dozens of tour operators trying to get our business.  Lara and I just wanted to check into a hotel and rest up before making any decisions — the long, bumpy night ride didn’t offer much opportunity for sleep — but one company’s deal included a free hostel’s night stay before the tour.  The woman quoted us $65, and we managed to get it down to $60, which was really good when we found out others were paying $75-$100, some without a free hostel stay.  We followed the woman to the Hostel Avenida with other clients she had managed to snag. 

Lara and I got a room and settled down our things before going out for breakfast.  We ended up at some outdoor cafe run by some woman who didn’t seem to care about anything, especially her customers — getting a menu was like pulling teeth.  “Miss Personality” (as we dubbed her) finally served us breakfast after quite some time.  Perhaps she was a very disgruntled employee because before finishing her eggs, Lara felt really sick and ran off to puke.  Nearby I met two English girls, Sam and Zoe, who had also made the mistake of choosing Miss Personality’s restaurant — they had been treated the same way and worried about saliva in the food.

THE NARRATOR’S STATEMENT IN STAND BY ME rang true when I ran into Simion and Axel, whom I had met in the Amazon and bumped into on Christmas in Cusco.  I caught up with the Englishman and the Frenchman as they finished their breakfast, before they went off to sort out a tour.  Soon after another traveler came back into my life like a busboy in a restaurant:  Gilbert, my Dutch roommate from La Paz, who was also in town, just having arrived from the town of Oruro. 

Like the character Vern in Stand By Me, Lara — who is in no way, shape or form “the fat kid” — convinced Gilbert and I to go see a dead body:  a mummy at the Museo Arqueologia y Antropologico de los Andes Meridionales.  There were four mummies on display, well-preserved with their original hair and teeth.  One particular one had a tremendous hair weave coming out of its pubic region, which just made us laugh.  “That mummy is in desperate need of a shave,” Lara joked.  The three of us giggled like schoolchildren looking at the mummy with the apparent uncontrollable bush, and even started singing a childish and immature song that I transcribed into the museum’s guestbook:

Her name was Lola
She was a mummy
Still in those clothes she used to wear
With that offensive pubic hair

We all signed it, hoping someone else would find it funny.

WE BUMPED INTO SIMION, who tipped us on a visit to the Train Cemetery in the middle of the desert about a mile out of town.  Gilbert, Lara and I walked down the train tracks like the characters in Stand By Me (picture above), singing the songs of our generation along the way.  We eventually found the dead trains and wandered around the iron and steel remains of cabooses and freight cars

On the way back into town, we heard what sounded like a Nazi rally coming from the nearby military base, but the gates were closed so we couldn’t confirm any existence of the Third Reich.  Instead, we walked back to the town center, passed the Momumento a Los Heroes del Chaco, to the tour office to finalize our upcoming four-day tour.  Lara and I had already paid the $120 dollars for our tickets, but realizing that Lara signed up end the tour on the third day to leave for Chile, she was determined to get some money back.  But of course when a tour operator already has your cash, getting money back is like trying to get shoes back from Imelda Marcos.  The woman we had dealt with wouldn’t give anything back, arguing that there’s nothing to see on the fourth day anyway — it’s just a transport day back to Uyuni. 

Lara argued and argued, saying that she was paying four days for only three days and was getting quite feisty.  The woman called in some guy who had an even worse argument:  “We can’t buy three-fourths of a chicken, we can only buy the whole chicken.”  Lara was getting really wound up — not about the money, just about the principle — and ultimately got so mad that she just got up and stormed out before really getting nasty with them.  Gilbert and I sat across from each other, speechless; Gilbert looked as if he was even a little bit embarrassed by the whole thing.

In the spirit of friendships like in Stand By Me, I calmly sat over with the tour guy to finish Lara’s argument.  I simply said that we saw his side of the story, but unequal tours shouldn’t have equal prices.  Eventually he knocked off five dollars off of Lara’s price, which wasn’t much but something. 

While Gilbert signed up to join the tour, I went outside to look for Lara.  I thought she might have gone back to our room, but I realized I had the key.  It wasn’t hard to find her though; she was sitting on a bench all the way down the plaza with her arms crossed, trying to calm herself down. 

“I’ve had three hours of sleep, I have P.M.T., and they want to rip me off?!” she said to me.  She was a lot more calm after sitting out for a while and venting.  I gave her the five dollars. 

“Thanks, mate.” 

Gilbert came out of the tour office after booking his tour to see how Lara was doing.  “I think it’s time for cervezas,” he suggested.  Well said.

We sat at a cafe for a round as the sun began to set down the Bolivian desert.  We rushed to walk across town, away from the obstructions of buildings for a good photo, but the sun set before we could make it.  On the way back, we bumped into Kate and another Aussie named Joel.  We eventually all ended up having dinner together at a place called Kactus where I blindly ordered a pique macho without knowing what it was — only that it was a regional food.  When it came I discovered it was a beef stir-fry platter similar to Chinese food. 

WHEN THE NIGHT HAD COME, and the land got dark, Lara and I went back to our room to catch up on our journals — that is, until the power went out in the entire town and the moon was the only light that we’d see.  In the darkness of our room, Lara started singing our song about Lola the mummy with the offensive pubic hair, which made us both start laughing in bed.  It was good to hear her in good spirits again after her little tantrum earlier in the afternoon — but I suppose any song about a mummy with offensive pubic hair does the trick every time.

Next entry: Now Entering Dali World

Previous entry: Leaving La Paz

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Comments for “Stand By Me In Uyuni”

  • first…had to do it

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/19  at  05:50 PM

  • damn .. Markyt: atleast it wasn’t lovePenny wahhahah ...
    E., I may just be stupid but, Whats P.M.T. ?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/19  at  06:03 PM

  • email from mom at work: “where is he now.  post first tell him that’s for me.  too bad I cannot open the internet here..”

    oops…got the email to late mom…

    pics are nice…but no new wallpaper yet for me….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/19  at  06:05 PM

  • SIM:  PMT is what the British call PMS.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/19  at  06:11 PM

  • well, can’t blame lara for getting mad. but then, those people need the money i guess. at least she is feeling better now. and what the heck is PMT? post menstrual temper?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/19  at  06:22 PM

  • dood, that mummy pic scared me sh*tless.

    anyway, glad you’re back (well, your blog is back).

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/19  at  06:35 PM

  • ALICE/SIM:  The “T” is for tension.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/19  at  06:40 PM

  • You see this is why I don’t understand women ... the acronyms I’m use to are ESPN, NBA, NFL & ViViD ...hehehe

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/19  at  06:53 PM

  • That first mummy scared me too LP! It’s so IN YOUR FACE! I wasn’t ready…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/20  at  01:11 AM

  • I loved the reoccurring theme Erik! Great literary device.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/20  at  01:12 AM

  • Erik - post a warning on the mummy LOL.  I jumped back about a foot in my chair.  Great photo smile

    Posted by Liz  on  01/20  at  11:33 AM

  • Geez, looks like I am really missing out on that mummy pic. The computer that I am stuck using only has a 15 inch monitor with 640x480 res so I can’t even view the full pictures or scroll them. I can’t wait to get outta here back to my beautiful computer at home.

    p.s. Never, ever, ever, ever be a nanny!!!!!!!! or maybe its just me haha

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/20  at  08:52 PM

  • Great mummy pic. Made me think of Indiana Jones… I half expected a snake to come squirming out of it’s mouth! And that was no bush, it was plush carpeting!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/23  at  07:22 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
Now Entering Dali World

Previous entry:
Leaving La Paz


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