"The Beautiful Junkyard Where Bolivia’s Trains Were Left to Rot"
August 7th, 2014
Booming global demand for smartphones, tables, laptops, and electric cars has led to increased interest in Bolivia, home to the world’s largest deposit of the lithium needed for the batteries that power those devices.
It’s not the first time natural resources have attracted foreign interest to Bolivia, which celebrates 189 years of independence from Spain this week. Near the end of the 19th century, British engineers came to the country with the Antofagasta and Bolivia Railway Company, which was building a railroad to carry minerals from the Bolivian capital of La Paz to Chilean ports on the Pacific Coast. In the 1940s, the mining industry declined, leading to the creation of the Cementerio de Trenes, or train graveyard.
Just outside the city of Uyuni, in southwestern Bolivia, dozens of abandoned steam trains are scattered around as if a giant child dropped them there. The “cemetery” marked only by a small sign that explains very little, has become a minor attraction for tourists visiting the nearby Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat. The trains have been buffeted by wind for decades, just a few miles an enormous natural stockpile of salt, and it’s obvious. They’re rusted out, long ago stripped for useful parts. Covered in graffiti—some of it pretty good—they’re strangely beautiful relics of an industry left behind.