Into the Salar a second time from Uyuni, just a corner of it, standing water splashing salt onto my legs and gear, reflected skies rainclouds on the ground and harlequin above. I cease and just am in the dreaming flatness.
Angle south wrong ending up at a salt mine town, Rio Grande, trucks tracks halfhearted plaza dirt lanes. Ask around until I am invited to the dining hall for the workers, we sit eating in clanking silverware, young men in suffering jeans and ball caps, their senior maybe supervisors sitting a little off at different tables. No electricity room is lit by gas lamp hissing and casting a very white light and sharp shadows. The lone woman bringing out the plates, popular with the crowd, moves efficiently, unnervous self possessed and easygoing.
Next morning I want to put off the inevitable washboard sand surfing that will be my next several days. There’s a straighter thin line on my map that goes through the mud flats, I snap my head up and scan, realize it’s the railway. Recollection of trains threat of rains, I’ll ride between the iron, the only dry.
Seven hours, emerge at a small army camp in a windstorm, they invite me to stay in one of their curious concrete domes for the night. Cold, desolate with the gale rattling the panes, their cheer directly opposes. Great guys, just kids really. I chat for a long time with the captain, he’s interested in languages and the disappearing ones of Bolivia.
Finally turn in, eyes shut in the deep darkness, my body creaking protests at the thin camp mattress. I drift weightlessTHERESAKNOCK. I call out just a sec, squirm out of the bag. It’s two cadets, gift of bread and a big steaming mug of coffee, holyshit I’m SOL as far as getting sleep. They sit, shining their LED flashlights around the interior of the dome, want to talk about the USA, about their hometown of La Paz, one year in the military, not like the captain who’s signed on as a career, what are women like in America?, can they see my photos again, not of Bolivia but of people I care about, especially.
Chatting in connection, in laughing against the isolation, in relaxed camaraderie I stop thinking or caring about eyeshut, I want to keep them wide open.