This would have to be one of the only places on Earth where you can safely fall asleep at the wheel. It would probably be a couple of hours before you hit a bit of rough to wake you up before hitting the side of a mountain. The mountains are usually within view, but they’re so far away they never look like they’re getting closer.
The day got off to an auspicious start with some typically South American inefficiency which had so far been absent for much of my time in Chile. Finding a passage from San Pedro de Atacama in northern Chile to Uyuni in south-west Bolivia had proved harder than expected, with buses only going twice a week and at extremely inconvenient hours, but with a bit of research I had found a company that would take me directly through the desert, four-wheel-drive, in one day. Perfect. But two hours after the intended departure time we were still in San Pedro at the immigration office with every other bus and truck in northern Chile trying to get through at once. And somehow my driver was still at the back of the line, chatting jovially to his colleagues, in no hurry at all.