Published: September 2nd 2012September 2nd 2012 Day 322 Tuesday 28th August
View of Cerro Rico from main plaza
Lucky for us our bus wasn’t leaving till 10 so we didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn. Managed to get a good breakfast this morning with fresh bread rolls before packing our bags and checking out. It was a 10 minute walk to the station where we had a short wait till our bus arrived, which wasn’t as bad as we expected although it could have done with a clean since Moses travelled on it. We were on the road at 10.15 and for the next two hours we were entertained by a snake oil salesman that was flogging a powder that cured everything from sore fingers to death and everything in between including cancer and sexual impotency. The packaging it came in had Chinese writing all over it so it was probably made from dried and crushed Panda bear. The guy selling the stuff was a real shark and just wouldn’t shut up for the entire two hours, and forced the few people who were standing in the aisle down to the back of the bus so he could move around. Unfortunately for us we were sitting near the back
and so Shelley was soon crowded, which didn’t help her claustrophobia. Bolivians like most South Americans have a different understanding of personnel space to us Australians and they don’t seem to comprehend that you may not want them leaning over you from the aisle or reaching over your headrest to play with your hair. Shelley thankfully kept her cool and managed it like the trooper she is.
At 12.00 we finally made it to a small town where stopped for a lunch break. Neither of us was hungry and was happy to stay on the bus but we were ordered off by the driver so he could lock it up. Unsure what the name of the town was but I should find out as I never want to return there. Whilst catching the sun a drunken guy approached us with that classic look of “what are you looking at? Want to start something?” Seen that look heaps before in Pubs back home where drunken guys go looking for a fight, and as I don’t oblige back home I wasn’t about to here so we gently edged away from him and thankfully he didn’t pursue us. His face was so
Leading into town
smashed up I sort of guessed he was continually picking the wrong people to fight with, or he wasn’t much good at his chosen hobby.
It felt good to be back on the bus and moving again at 12.45 except it was hot and crowded, and the thing was filled with people coughing and sneezing. Didn’t get to Potosi till 3.30 and it was an amazing site as we wound down around the great Potosi hill Cerro Rico and into town. The new bus station is located a fair distance from the centre and it is a fairly confusing building which we had to walk miles around before we could get out, but a local dog started to show us the way till he got distacted. Got a taxi for 10 Bob ($1.50) and as we were leaving the terminal our driver did an illegal U-turn right in front of a policeman. They shook hands and then the policeman reached through the window and hit him across the back of the head before sending him on his way.
We are staying at the Hostal Tukos La Casa Real, where we got a large room with heating and hot
water for about $35 a night. Apparently heating is a bit of an issue so we paid a bit extra to ensure we got it in a town we were expecting to freeze in. Potosi sits at 4060 metres high and after Uyuni, which was freezing we were expecting the same here. Luckily for us the weather is pretty good and was actually hot on our arrival. Once the sun dipped below the horizon the temperature dropped as well but was okay. We were both feeling a bit battered after the bus journey and so got an early dinner at a restaurant down the road that wasn’t too bad before heading back for an early night. Day 323 Wednesday 29th August
The heating in our room was great and kept us warm all night, and in fact was a little too warm and we had to turn it off. Slept in a bit before getting a good breakfast of fresh bread rolls and lousy cold coffee…you can’t have everything. We usually go for a long walk around town on arrival but because we were so knackered yesterday we didn’t but we headed off this morning
Looking towards Convento de San Francisco
for a look.
Potosi was founded in 1545 after silver was discovered in the hill behind the town called Cerro Rico (Rich mountain). The amount of silver in this one hill basically supported the Spanish Government for 3 centuries, and a popular boast was that they could have constructed a bridge of silver to Spain and still had silver to carry over it. The mountain has in fact lost 200 metres of its height and although the silver coming out of it has declined dramatically they are still mining it, along with lead and tin. Not only did the Spanish Government get rich on all this silver but the town of Potosi did as well with the building of their own mint, 80 churches and numerous mansions. Of course the flipside to all of this was the miners whom were African slaves or Ingenious bought in to dig and process the ore died. Over the first 3 centuries that the mines were operating it is estimated that up to 8 million people died as a result of the appalling conditions under which they worked. To this day a miner is only expected to live 10 to 15 years from
the day he first enters the mine; most die of Silicosis or Pneumonia. Most mines are now cooperatives and you can do tours down into them to see the working conditions, but unfortunately/fortunately for us it is not recommended for those that suffer from asthma or claustrophobia so we opted to give it a miss. Without the health risks there is also the chance of being taken out by an explosion or a cart full of ore, which has apparently happened to tourists in the past.
With a mine tour crossed off the list we decided to check out the museums and churches tomorrow and spend today shopping and enjoying the vibe. The town isn’t exactly pretty but has a good feel about it and is really busy so it was an enjoyable day checking out the shops. The streets are lined with lots of beautiful colonial buildings that have been converted into souvenir shops and restaurants. A few of the streets in town have multiple bends along their length in an attempt to slow down the chilly winds that hit the place in winter, and are now lovely pedestrian malls. At midday we stopped for a coffee and
Casa Nacional de Moneda the mask of Bacchus
a piece of stale cake at a café before resuming our stroll. Shelley was actually looking for a new hat as her present one looks like it was run over by a tractor towing a plough but couldn’t find anything.
Went to the same restaurant again ‘4060’ but tonight it is packed and we got one of the last tables. I am sure this place is packed because of the good service, decent meals and trendy décor (for Bolivia). By the time we left quite a few groups had left without getting a table. Day 324 Thursday 30th August
Had breakfast and walked to Casa Nacional de Moneda the National Mint which is now a museum for the 10.30am tour in English. Much to our surprise the tour is happening and in English so we waited in the courtyard for it to begin with about 100 school children and that is not an exaggeration and more were pouring out of the building. In the courtyard is a stone fountain which the school girls were dipping their hair in along with the pigeons all those poor mothers’ who had dressed them in their best for the
The first locomotive in Bolivia
excursion. Also on an arch in the courtyard is a mask of Bacchus, hung there in 1865 by a Frenchman and for some reason has become the symbol for the town. Lucky for us the kids tour was finishing so by the time ours started they were gone and it was quiet. This building was the second mint built in the town and started construction in 1753 and takes up a whole city block, it replaced the original mint built in 1572. The first thing we saw was the first locomotive brought into Bolovia we then moved on to see many interesting religious artworks from Melchor Perez Holguin and the famous The Virgen of Cerro by an unknown artist. It was then onto the actual coin producing area in this huge room there were three huge timber minting machines sent from Spain to regulate the coins. These machines sailed from Spain to Buenos Aires and then continued overland to Potosi an amazing feat in itself, these are the only ones left in the world although others were sent to other countries. The machines actually take up two floors, the lower floor is where four donkeys were used to turn the
La Virgen del Cerro
cogs per machine, this is a very sad story because of the altitude and 12 hour days they only survived 3 to 4 months once they started work, so thousands died until the new steam powered machines were introduced. The silver from this town is tarnished with the deaths of men and animals to make another country rich. The machines are well preserved due to the dry climate of the area and lack of insects to destroy them it is amazing to see them still in situ. In a room nearby is where the silver was melted to feed the machines and here are the original bellows and equipment. During the coin production which occurred here from 1753 to 1951 there were three forms of producing the coins the first one described above then steam power and finally electricity all these machines are still here to see. Other rooms contain mineral samples and artefacts from the area including mummified babies from a church, initially I thought they were dolls it was very bizzare. And of course there was a room containing examples of the extravagant life of the rich people from Potosi’s colonial time which included everything being made in
Timber minting machine from Spain
After this amazing tour we walked around to see Torre de la Compania de Jesus which only has the façade remaining after the rest of the building collapsed in the 1700’s. Then onto the outside of Iglesia San Lorenzo de Carangas which was closed so we peered in from the iron gates. It is the outside of this church which is famous for the ornate Mestizo baroque portal of carved stone. We then took a break as the sites we wanted to see were closed for lunch so we headed to a café. The food was good but the service was atrocious and he looked at us as if it was a great inconvenience, in general the Bolivian hospitality rule is no service and definitely without a smile. It is a shame because it is such a beautiful country and we have met some lovely people but service industry is definitely not their forte, we hope this changes as we continue our travels.
After this we went back to the hotel mainly to check if they had cleaned our room as they forgotten yesterday which would not matter except for the toilet bin and no toilet paper.
Steam minting machine
Today we are lucky it is cleaned and there is toilet paper.
The next stop was Convento de San Francisco but they were not offering any tours in English so we walked around to Convento de Santa Teresa. When we arrived there were some others waiting for an English tour so we were in luck and our guide was great and had a sense of humour. This was a cloistered Carmelite nun convent so it had all those quirky things like turning serveries so the nuns could sell biscuits and jams without seeing the outside world. The mezzanine choir area at the back of the church is covered in lattice so the nuns could sing without the congregation seeing them. Once they entered the convent no one outside could see or touch them again including their parents. Their life was filled with pray and two hours a day when they could talk to each other and do handicrafts. Inside the convent there is an interesting very small room containing equipment for self-flagellation, God knows what sins they did locked away but I guess they had a lot of time for naughty thoughts. The convent has been restored under the
Electric minting machine
direction of one of the nuns who is an architect. Currently there are seven nuns living in a new section interestingly there was only ever 21 nuns living here at its height.
The tour finished about 5.15pm so we went back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner. We ended up back at the same place as last night after the café earlier today, at least here we will get service and sometimes with a smile.
There are more photos below