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Published: December 3rd 2014
Friday morning I was picked up from the salt hotel by Alvaro and David and we headed into Uyuni. I had to get some more cash out and they had to organise some stuff with the car. Before long we were on our way to Potosi. The road to Potosi is fairly new and felt amazing after three days off-road. Even besides that, it was still probably one of the best roads I’ve been on in South America.
We stopped a couple of times along the way to Potosi. The first was the village of Pulacayo which used to be a very rich city because of the mine. It also had the first movie theatre in Bolivia and the first train. However, the biggest drawcard to the town now is that it houses the train that was robbed by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when they came to Bolivia. The village is pedestrian only now, so we walked around the train yard and had a look at the main square. The village is very much past its prime, but Alvaro said they are hoping people will move back and breathe some life into it because the mine
is running again.
We hit the road again and after a brief stop to check out the view, we arrived in Potosi just on lunchtime. The city has very narrow streets and is nothing short of chaotic. I think we did a couple of laps of the city trying to get somewhere to park, but eventually we managed it. Alvaro, David and I had lunch in one of the city’s restaurants and I had a local specialty which is a soup they serve with a hot rock in the bowl. I don’t know if it was strictly necessary because the soup was very hot. After lunch we headed to the hotel where I said goodbye to them both.
No sooner had I done so when a lady come up to me and asked if I was David. She was Aude, my tour guide for Potosi and Sucre. She was French but lives in Sucre now with her Bolivian husband. I took my stuff up to my room (which was very nice, it seems I am in five star hotels for this leg of the trip) and came back down so we could start the
walking tour of Potosi. It was a quick walk around of the sites, mostly churches unsurprisingly. The weather had turned, however, and it began to rain. Aude suggested we head to the mint, which would take an hour and a half, and see how the weather is after that.
The mint was where the Spanish made the coins from the silver that was extracted from the mines nearby. In those days, Potosi was one of the biggest cities in the world apparently. Someone once claimed that with all the silver extracted there, you could build a bridge from Potosi to Madrid. Someone else claimed you could do the same with the bones of the slaves who worked in the mines. Anyway, the tour of the mint was provided by the mint and Aude waited for me outside. It was a pretty interesting tour, seeing the different machines that were used over the years to make the coins.
Once the tour finished, it was still raining outside. Aude asked if I wanted to tour more of Potosi but I declined. The city didn’t really grab me as particularly interesting, and with the narrow and hilly
streets, it didn’t seem worth getting wet for. So we went back to the hotel and Aude left, telling me we would be leaving for Sucre in the morning. I went upstairs and started writing my last blog entry and when dinner time came I thought I would just get something light from the hotel restaurant. Unfortunately, for some reason none of the light things on the menu were available. So I had to head out into Potosi. Being a Friday night (and school finishing up for the summer that day) it was quite crowded. I managed to find something and returned to the hotel to finish the blog. I wasn’t going to miss Potosi when I left.
In the morning we left Potosi to head to Sucre. There was only one stop along the way, at a point overlooking the old bridge. It is pedestrian only now, but before they built the new bridge trucks had to stop there, unload so their cargo could be carried across separately, and then reload at the other side. It could take half a day, apparently. It was a beautiful bridge though. We then continued down to Sucre, which is
The Mint, Potosi, Bolivia
at a considerably lower altitude – only 2,000 and something metres above sea level.
Sucre is the capital of Bolivia, but really only the Supreme Court is still there. Most of the other government administration, including the President and the Congress, are in La Paz. That’s why a lot of people think La Paz is the capital. Upon arriving in Sucre, I was surprised to find myself liking the city straight away. It was probably the only city in South America that I did like straight away, most of the others taking a little while to grow on me. It’s very pretty because the centre of the city has to maintain the colonial style, with white walls and red roof tiles (although away from the street, some houses cut corners). We drove past the main square which looked lovely and headed up the hill to a lookout where you could see the city better. It still looked great from there.
We headed into the nearby weaving museum. I wasn’t expecting much but I ended up being very impressed. The local people are being encouraged to restore the skills that were lost with the Spanish
conquest. The details in the textiles on display there were amazing. To be honest, I think they have surpassed where they were when the Spanish arrived. In the museum store, there was a lady doing some of the weaving. Each week they get one of the ladies to do that, apparently. All the items in the store were more expensive than what you could buy in stalls outside, but the difference was these items were genuinely hand-made and even come with a card telling you who made it (the bigger items even include a photo of the lady). Naturally I had to buy a couple of things.
We then headed to my hotel which was even nicer than the one in Potosi. It had a lovely garden in the central courtyard and the room was huge… possibly as big as my apartment back in Sydney. Aude left me to have lunch and said we would resume the tour in a couple of hours. She recommended me a couple of restaurants but I just went for a pizzeria. I realised that she, being French, was recommending fine dining but to be honest, I was getting a bit over
eating in restaurants. I can’t wait to get home and have a toasted cheese and tomato toasted sandwich from my own kitchen!
After lunch I met up with Aude again and we resumed the tour of Sucre. Most of the afternoon was on foot andwe started with a tour of Bolivar Park, which is sometimes known as mini-France because there is a small Arc de Triomphe, and a small climbable Eiffel Tower. It was pretty nice. We then headed up to the old Assembly building, which has also been a church and a university but is now a museum holding portraits of all the presidents of Boliva. It was very interesting walking around there, but mostly because of the history of the revolution that Aude told me as we went around.
Despite clouds threatening rain, we were lucky and it held off. Because we next went into what used to be a church and is now a private school. It was a pretty building, but the main reason to visit was the rooftop. It gave us a much closer view of Sucre’s centre than the lookout in the morning. After wandering around for a
The Old Bridge
Between Potosi and Sucre
bit, we headed back to the hotel. Aude told me she would be back in the morning to take me to the airport where I was to fly back to La Paz. I wasn’t entirely looking forward to that and found myself wanting to spend more time in Sucre. However, there wasn’t that much more to do there, so it was probably for the best. Sometimes it’s good to leave wanting more.
Sure enough, in the morning Aude and the driver picked me up to take me to the hotel. We had had no power all morning and we could see some guys playing in the wires trying to fix it. At the airport, I checked in fine and when the gates opened, said farewell to Aude who had been a great guide. In the line, a lady turned and said to me “You sound Australian” and I replied “So do you”, so I had someone to talk to while we waited for our delayed flight to La Paz. Eventually we boarded and the flight went uneventfully. Upon arrival in La Paz, however, we waited at the luggage carousel for ten minutes before someone eventually told us
that they hadn’t actually put the luggage on the plane (I think due to the weight). So we had to go to the Amaszonas Airline desk and give them our luggage tag numbers and our hotel so they could deliver it later that afternoon. I didn’t really like the sound of that, but what choice did I have.
I was picked up by someone from my tourist agency and they took me to my hotel in central La Paz. Along the way we were discussing what I could do on my free day on Tuesday. One of the suggestions was the so-called “Death Road” which is supposed to be one of the most dangerous roads in the world. There’s a new road now, so it’s mostly travelled on by tourists. I thought that sounded good, so I booked another private tour with them for Tuesday. By this stage it was raining so I decided to just chill out in the hotel for the afternoon and await my suitcase. The hotel is great, and the restaurant has the best hamburger in South America, by my reckoning. However, I waited and waited and no luggage arrived. I got the
concierge to follow up on it and they kept being told it was on its way. By midnight, I gave up and tried to sleep. I kept thinking about all the stuff I’d lose if my luggage didn’t arrive, so sleep didn’t come. I’m glad to say the luggage did eventually arrive at 1am, but I can assure you I will never travel with Amaszonas Airlines again.
Monday I had a private city tour of La Paz booked. The guide was a really funny lady and it turned out to be a pretty good tour. We drove past a few places first, and stopped at the main square (Plaza Murillo). Around the square, like all main squares in South America, was a Cathedral and government buildings, including the Government Palace and the National Congress. We walked around for a bit and my guide told me various bits and pieces. The most memorable was about the time the police mutinied in 2003 due to low pay, and they had a fight with the army in the square. She pointed out some of the bullet holes in nearby buildings. Thankfully the police and army get on better today.
Next we headed to the Witch’s Market. Mostly this is just a series of streets with shops that have various herbal remedies in it. I did find some amusing souvenirs there though. We continued walking and you could see that the Witch’s Market has slowly been pushed back by the regular tourist shops. We visited the San Francisco Colonial church (no photos, as usual) before hopping back into our van. Because it was Monday and the museums were closed, we headed to the yellow cable car (I had been on the red one the other day). We rode to the top and then back down, enjoying the great views. The cable cars are a real plus to the city, and the green line opens later this week. Alas, I will be gone so I won’t be able to complete the trifecta.
From the cable car, we headed out of La Paz slightly to the Moon Valley. I didn’t find it as impressive as Bolivians seem to think it is. It’s a valley of clay formations, but really, nothing special. Frome there we visited the studio of a local ceramic artist, Mario Sarabia. Being the only
one there, I got a good chance to talk with the artist himself and found him to be a really nice guy. He and his daughters create art there (his daughters tend to do jewellery) and it was a really enjoyable experience. Of course, I had to buy something but I didn’t have enough cash on me. He said that was no problem, just give the money to the guide and she will bring it because she visits regularly with tourists. That was pretty awesome, I thought.
That was about it for the day. On the way back into La Paz, the rain hit with a vengeance. The streets were awash with running water and there was even hail. After I got the money for the guide to give to Mario, I decided to spend the afternoon indoors at the hotel.
Tuesday morning and we were leaving early to visit the Death Road. We left La Paz and stopped at the highest point, 4,700m above sea level. We then continued on and were soon on the famous road. As there is a new road, it is mostly just for tourists now. Many tourists opt
for mountain bikes, but I was glad to be in a van because I could take photos. We stopped at a couple of places and walked. I found the road to be not that scary, to be honest, and the views were spectacular. I could imagine it being scary if you were passing cars and trucks going the other way, but it was mostly empty for us and it seems tourists all tend to travel in the one direction.
At the end of the road we stopped at a sanctuary for animals that had been rescued from the significant black market trade in wild animals in Bolivia. The sanctuary has many volunteers from overseas and we had a tour with a Scottish guy who is volunteering for a year. They have many birds, including parrots, macaws and toucans. There is also a lot of turtles and tortoises, plus some spectacled bears which we couldn’t see because they have a large area to range in and are only seen at feeding times. But the highlight was the various monkeys.
After that we left and headed to the town of Coroico. We had lunch at a
restaurant out of town before heading to some nearby waterfalls. They were pretty cool, but nothing special. That was about it for the tour and I was surprised it was nearly five o’clock. The trip back to La Paz on the new road took nearly three hours and turned out to be scarier than the Death Road. This was because the road climbed into a heavy rain cloud. Visibility was very low, and the road was wet as it climbed around and up the mountain. Combined with crazy drivers who overtook at insane places, meant that this was quite hairy. I suspect that the crazy drivers were a large part of what made the Death Road so dangerous.
And thus ends my visit to Bolivia. I am flying back to Santiago today. I will have a few days there before flying back to Sydney.
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