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South America » Bolivia » Potosí Department » Potosi
June 23rd 2012
Published: July 30th 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

Sucre and Potosi



Part of us was a little bit sad to be leaving La Paz, and the other part of us was just ready to keep moving on after being in one place for so long. Sucre was a city we had heard was supposed to be a place where people get stuck for more time than they had planned because of how beautiful it is, so we were pretty pumped to see for ourselves. We had taken an overnight bus to get there, which we thought had kind of screwed us on trying to get a room so early in the morning since everyone kept telling us that they were full. Randomly, there was a guy on a street corner who asked if we needed a place to stay. It’s so typical that Nate would be reluctant while Jessie would immediately answer “yes” and convince him to take a look at the place, only to find out that it was a great place to stay and run by a very sweet woman who we came to really like within only 20 minutes of being there. Besides, we had a huge, clean room with cable TV (which meant more crime TV shows at night). Everyone working here was really nice, and leave it to Jessie to make a new friend again. The girl working during the day was pretty much obsessed with her eyes and loved talking her ear off as often as possible. Of course she didn’t mind one bit since she got to practice her Spanish. Oddly, the only word Juanita knew in English was “yellow.” Not, “my name is” or “hi, how are you” we thought it was odd but really cute. We know Juanita’s English will improve leaps and bounds with the once a week classes the owner of the guest house has her enrolled in. Talk about a great boss!

The area of Sucre we stayed in was really cute and full of old European colonial style buildings with a main plaza in the heart of everything. This could have easily been a dangerous city for us. With so many options to eat at, we were going to have to be careful. We could totally see ourselves gorging like hyenas until our stomachs were about to pop. It was bad enough that the first day we were there we found the ice cream place just about every local was having a treat from. One taste of THAT and it was all over. We would be visiting every day until the day we left to get in our sweet fix while we could. Although we have to say, that’s one thing that has amazed us about everywhere we’ve been in South America. People LOVE their ice cream, even when it’s cold outside! I mean, we get it…it just makes your mouth so happy! Back in the states people normally get something warm to drink or eat when it’s chilly, but not here…especially in Bolivia! We were good with eating it during the day, but when it was dark out and the ice cream was barely even melting, we weren’t exactly dying to eat any. Plus, we knew that we would be experiencing teeth chattering, goose-bumps, and nipples hard enough to cut glass as soon as we started heading further south. That was part of what made our time here so nice. During the day, you could actually sit out in shorts and a tank top if you could find a place in the sun without any breeze. It’s not like you’ll be sweatin’ like a whore in church or anything, but it feels so good to be in the sun again. Just ask Jessie…she spent a couple days in the back of our place soaking up the sun as if she hadn’t seen it in months. We already know we’re gonna be happier than a pig in shit when we get back to the beach!

After checking out a couple of tour agencies, we were really tempted to do a dirt bike or ATV tour one day. Even though it was a bit pricey, the temptation was definitely there! But, we wouldn’t end up taking the plunge. Instead, we went for a cheaper option (mostly for Amelia, the little monkey who has a blog for Nate’s mom’s second grade class) and went to a dinosaur museum. We were planning to go to Cochabamba, but decided against it to go here for her instead. As soon as we stepped on the bus we could tell that it wasn’t exactly the most popular thing to do in Sucre since the only other people on the entire bus were 2 old men, but we really didn’t care. You’d think there would be a bunch of naughty kids screaming and bouncing around on a sugar rush. The museum proved to be pretty cool to see actually and we even got a quick tour with an English speaking guide. Because of the way the land was pushed up from back in the day when the plates were shifting, you could see dinosaur footprints that looked as if they were walking straight up the side of a hill. We actually thought we would be able to get a lot closer to them, but that wasn’t going to happen. Seeing that the area they were found is still a working quarry, you practically need binoculars to see the damn things. So, if you want to get up close and personal with some dino footprints, we highly suggest a detour to Cochabama in place of the ones in Sucre.

Of course at the park there were also plenty of man-made dinosaur figures around the small museum as well, and we had a good time posing and taking some shots with the giants. One of our favorites was the one that rivaled the size of a 5 story building, partly because the typical boy inside of Nate came out when he imagined what it would be like to be stuck underneath it when it decided to relieve itself. “Could you imagine gettin’ knocked out by a fat pile of dino-logs? The scariest thing is they’re probably bigger than we are!” Jessie didn’t have to say anything to know what she was thinking: “Oh my God, am I really stuck with him…No babe, only YOU could imagine something like that…” Nate didn’t say it out loud, but seeing the T-Rex with his short, stubby arms he was reminded of when someone had told him why the ferocious dinosaur was so angry all the time…you’d be pissed off too if you couldn’t reach down to rub one off when needed. Obviously it’s HIGHLY unlikely that’s true, but it makes for a good laugh. Actually, if those things really had dicks can you even IMAGINE how big they would be….seriously. It would make an elephant feel like it had a baby shlong!

By the time we got back to our guesthouse we had built up quite an appetite. To tell you the truth, our best meal here didn’t come from a restaurant…oh no…it came from Jessie’s hands. There is a really nice, proper grocery store in Sucre with some great cuts of chicken for sale. There was only one way to eat ‘em as far as Jessie was concerned, chicken fajitas. They turned out so well that we ended up eating them like 5 times while we were there! You can tell you made a good meal when you have 2 guys (Nate and John) who can hardly even talk because they don’t want to stop taking bites in between the “mmmm’s” and “oh my God’s.” You’d think we were having an orgy in the kitchen, but we were only makin’ love to our fajitas! Needless to say, we wouldn’t waste a single scrap and every little drop of sauce was claimed by the 2 vultures Jessie was cooking for. Then again, how could you NOT hammer down on something different for a change. God knows the food in Bolivia isn’t exactly the best tasting thing ever, or the healthiest. We probably don’t even wanna know just how much lard was used in the making of our fried chicken and oily french fries. The people at Jenny Craig’s would probably send us free food along with a sympathy card and a free one year gym membership somewhere if they knew what we had been eating lately! It’s kind of sad when you start thinking about how eating at Burger King was actually as step UP on the healthiness ladder from some of the things we ate. Some of it’s been good for sure, but some has also been enough to give u a heart attack right then and there!

With there being a market close by to check out, Tarabuco, you know we were all over it! It’s pretty rare that we miss any markets no matter where we go, they’re all different. We were surprised to have such an energetic, English speaking guide on our bus. She was probably about 5 feet tall and more energy than a coked out chimpanzee. The market itself was…ok…not the greatest honestly. It was mostly a collection of the same things we’ve been seeing for quite some time now. If you weren’t used to seeing all of it, you might think otherwise, but we were kind of over it within an hour and a half or so. One thing we COULD have done was try some guinea pig as there was a food section with plenty of them to choose from. It’s funny how Nate can eat all kinds of bugs, but something about eating one of those furry little critters just doesn’t quite do it for him. In the end we decided to have some ice cream in true local fashion before heading back to the bus. There would be no knawing on rodent body parts. Granted we haven’t tried it so we really can’t say anything, but if it tastes like it LOOKS, we just might rather be eating grumps. For those of you who don’t know what those are, they’re the bubbles that rise to the surface of the water when you drop ass in a hot tub. You can thank Jessie’s grandpa for that one!

If we hadn’t had to spend so much time trying to get our ATM card situation figured out, we probably would’ve been taking at least few weeks of Spanish school in Sucre along with doing some volunteering. Unfortunately, after wasting over 2 weeks, that wasn’t going to be an option. Instead, we would have to keep moving, and next up on the list before making our way to the salt flats was Potosi, a small mining town. Really the only reason why people stop here is for the mine tours, which we had heard can be pretty intense at times. With the average size of most Bolivian men, Nate was already a bit worried about fitting in the tiny tunnels. Then again, it couldn’t be THAT bad could it? We would soon find out, but first we would have to get fitted for the trip with the right clothing and helmets. Our outfits definitely weren’t going to win any awards on a fashion reality TV show by any means, but they were just fine with us. Besides, we all got to wear helmets with crazy ass stuff written on the sides of them. For example; “good fu*&er”, “wanker”, “best fu&^er”…and the list goes on and on. Either somebody was really bored, or super stoned, one day to go through all those helmets. You could obviously tell this was done for the enjoyment of those on the tour, and we have to admit, we got a good laugh from some of them. After all, how could you not laugh if you saw someone wearing a helmet that said “dick beater” or “shit eater” on it?

The helmets weren’t the only thing good for a laugh. As we were all getting decked out, a couple of the guides came out wearing just their underwear and boots with a shovel on their shoulders. Of course they had to stuff a beer can inside their underwear to make themselves look bigger. Then again, who could blame them? It was probably cold enough to make his poor piche look like an outtie bellybutton more than anything else. They must have known what we were all thinking, because they went on to tell us that they have a saying about gringos (who they also told us is basically anybody who looks different than them). Basically it was something about gringos being big but having a small dick, where as Bolivian men are the opposite. Sure pal…that’s why you had to stuff your little man thong with a beer can, ‘cause you’re hung like an elephant! Typical guy though right? At any rate, we were off to a good start. Before entering the mines, we had a couple stops to make. Most people think that only the guys working the mines have it rough, but even the ones separating the minerals in the rocks are inhaling all kinds of crap! It was actually pretty interesting to see how they used different chemicals to separate the metals from each other. We even got to have our own little silver ring…for about 5 minutes until it rubbed off anyways. Of course we had to make a quick stop at the miner’s market to buy some gifts, mostly TNT and nitroglycerin. We could’ve bought some alcohol (super cheap by the way), but after tasting it and just about coughing out fire and realizing it actually tasted like rubbing alcohol, we just couldn’t do it. If there was ever a time when your Dad or Grandpa said to you, “That’ll put some hair on your ass right there”, THAT was the time! (well, if you’re a guy anyways…you would hope!)

Before we knew it we were making our way into the mine, quickly realizing it was going to be even tighter than we had thought. Within about 10 minutes we were already crouched as low as we could go and having a hard time breathing. Between the arsenic, cyanide, altitude and lack of oxygen in the cave, it was by far the most suffocated either of us have ever felt. Our guides made sure to take plenty of breaks and take the time to answer any questions we had while explaining the life of a miner to us. We were shocked to hear that these guys were actually carrying up to 50Kg on their backs all day long while crawling through the little spaces. We also found out that when some of the kids (some younger than even 12 years old) start working at such a young age, their life expectancy can be as low as 38 years old! Even the guys who start later in life can expect to make it till only about 48-50. We asked why they didn’t get better working environments or if anything could be done to make things better, but we learned something else quite interesting. The miners don’t really want to form a union because then they would be required to work a certain amount of hours every day during the week instead of being self-employed and setting their own schedules. Nevertheless, this was NOT a job either of us would be seeking out anytime soon!

Just being inside the mine for a couple hours was enough to make us want to run out! Some of the spaces we crawled through were pretty damn intense. A few times Nate actually had to calm himself down and stop breathing so heavily while crawling on his stomach through arsenic and cyanide dust with rocks scraping along his shoulders and not being able to lift his head up because the hole was so small. It’s not like he was curled up in the fetal position sucking his thumb or anything, but it was pretty heavy. When it came down to it, actually being inside of the mine wasn’t the most fun thing in the world. We would definitely chalk it up to a good experience, but not something we needed to experience again. Nate was pretty much over it by the end, but Jessie decided to go take a look at Tio, basically a statue of the devil since we were underground. The miners are mostly Catholic and believe that God is in Heaven above and the Devil resides in the Hell below the surface of the earth. Hence, the men praise Tio, the devil, and make offerings to him so they are protected while underground. The timing however wasn’t exactly the best as someone had just lit off a stick of dynamite, making her journey just a LITTLE bit harder as she fought her way through the smoke, dust and filth. Although we have to say, being able to blow up some dynamite inside the mine was pretty awesome. It wasn’t nearly as loud as we thought it would be, you could sure as hell tell when it went off by the blast of air and dust that came shooting through the tunnel. By the time we saw daylight at the entrance, we couldn’t WAIT to breathe fresh air again. Taking a hot shower after grabbing a bite to eat was pretty high up on the list of priorities since we were basically covered in poisonous materials. We were probably emanating enough cyanide and arsenic to fumigate a barn full of rats! When you think about it, there’s really no reason why any of the miners should have those things in their house. All they have to do is leave their clothes out for a couple days.

The four of us who went together along with another couple ended up going for pizza, which actually turned out to be really good! There’s just something about pizza that hardly ever gets old isn’t there? We would take a little bit of time to check out the rest of the small town, which was pretty cute once you got towards the plaza and away from all of the half-finished, abandoned buildings. Even though the town itself had some charm, we weren’t really looking to spend any extra time here. Instead we were ready to head off to Uyuni, hoping that the police strike we had just heard about would be over by the time we had to head back towards La Paz. Only in Bolivia can the police actually go on strike! Nothing makes you feel safer than a criminal’s dream come true, a police free playground. We were pretty sure everything would be fine, but the thought of possibly getting robbed again because of the lack of police force was a bit unsettling. Then again, so was the fact that it was getting colder by the night…much colder. But, we had no idea just how brutal Uyuni was going to be once we got there.

Travel Tips

Getting there

Sucre: From La Paz we took an overnight bus for 90B each, standard rate. All semi-cama buses are heat and toilet free! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise….we stopped once in 12 hours.

Potosi: From Sucre a regular bus to Potosi is only about 17B each and run pretty regularly, the ride was painless.

Staying

Sucre: We highly recommend Forestero Guest House, got a room with cable TV, kitchen use and breakfast included for 100B per night. The guest house is moving to another location, it will be more like a B&B. The price will be going up and you are essentially staying in a big house. There are quite a few other cheap options if you don’t want to pay the inflated price.

Potosi: We stayed at Koala Den in the dorms for 40B each, but this also included a really good breakfast and they have heaters in the rooms, score!

Eating

Sucre: If you’re looking to cook, Sucre has an awesome supermarket! We needed a break from Bolivian food at this point, so we really didn’t eat out much. Also, you can get some really good ice cream for about 10-15B near the main plaza at a place called Frozz.

Potosi: We found ourselves eating pizza here, with a Coke it cost us 66B total for a large pizza split with another couple. Pizza places are a pretty easy to find right next to the main plaza a couple blocks from Koala. The fried chicken was a cheaper option but the smell alone turned us away.

Getting around

Sucre: You’ll end up paying about 10-15B for a taxi into town depending on how many people you have. Once you’re there, Sucre is a very walk-able city with lots of charm.

Potosi: You can get a taxi from the bus terminal into the center of town for 10B. Most of what you are looking for is within about a 10 minute walk from the plaza.


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