Published: April 4th 2009March 15th 2009
We travel through the Peru/Bolivia border and head to La Paz via Copacabana and get onto a ferry to cross Tiquina Strait. At around 3,600 m (12,000 ft) La Paz feels like the top of the world. It's not far from it and vies with Tibet for title of highest capital in the world. Although Sucre is the official capital of Bolivia, La Paz is the centre of commerce, finance and industry. The city is renowned for its many markets, including the Mercado de Hechiceria or Witches' Market where they have weird and wonderful stalls which sell everything from potions to incantations made from herbs, seeds and unidentified bits and pieces to cure any ailment.
Our next port of call is Cochabamba where we take a city tour by bus and visit the Archaeological Museum which has Bolivian mummies on show.
At our next stop in Sucre we take a trip to the Dinosaur museum; Cal Orko, where 60 million year old footprints have been discovered. Also during our stay in Sucre we visited a local orphanage and were asked to buy toys to donate to the children. The children do not have much and were extremely excited to receive the
toys and games we bought.
From Sucre we head for Potosi which has had a turbulent past, centred mostly around its mining successes and failures. During colonial days, the extensive mining of Potosi's silver-rich Cerro Rico was said to have kept Spain running for 300 years. During this time Potosi, briefly celebrated life as one of the richest cities in the world. However, working conditions in the mine were appalling and huge numbers of indigenous people died. African slaves were brought in to replace them and fared no better - as many as 8 million people died in the mines during the Spanish era. In the 1800s the supply of silver declined, as did the market price, and the city started to suffer. A few of the group take a trip into the mines. We set off to buy miners some refreshments and dynamite - for under two pounds we each buy a stick of explosive along with a fuse and detonator from a local street vendor! We arrive at the mines to find a father and son just leaving the mine after a 12 hour shift, the boy is only 10 years old! Entering the mine we are dressed
in coveralls, hard hats with a light attached and a scarf around our mouths to protect us from some of the dust. Underground is claustrophobic and uncomfortable with little space for manoeuvre especially when climbing down to the lower levels. The dust is everywhere and chokes us as we descend. It is disturbing to be told that few miners live to their 50s. As we travel further in we come across miners working and offer them the refreshments and dynamite which they happily accept. The lads in the group even assist some miners to get their cart back on the track after it became derailed on a bend.
A scenic bus ride takes us to Uyuni for a night, before we start a 3 day trip through the south-most area of Bolivia. We are about to explore the strange and stunning landscapes between the Salar de Uyuni and the Atacama Desert in Chile by 4WD. Day 1 we visit the massive salt plains of Bolivia which are an incredible sight and offer plenty of opportunities for bizarre, perspective-defying photos (bottle balancing). Endless blue skies meet endless white salt on what was once a prehistoric lake. That night we stay in
a hotel made purely from salt bricks including the tables, chairs and beds. Being extremely cold we sleep in our thermals! Aside from the salt plains, we discover, during days 2 and 3, mountains, active volcanoes and geysers. We stop by Laguna Colorado, a rich, red lake and Laguna Verde, a striking blue-green lake, both vividly coloured by algae and rich minerals. The strangest sight in the region however, must be the abundant wildlife and we see everything from llamas to flamingos. Apart from providing geysers and snow-capped volcanoes, the volcanic landscape also gives us the chance to relax in the region's thermal baths - something we do on the last morning - in the bitter cold we change into our costumes step across the ice into lovely hot thermal waters, which defrost us very nicely!
We leave the extreme landscape and weather behind and head to Chile.
There are more photos below