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Published: August 10th 2006
Tarabuco Market Day
Note the traditional hat
Our visit to the Tarabuco Sunday market was like a step back in time. We hired a private taxi to drive us the 30 miles or so. He was such an animated fellow, driving like the usual Bolivian: using the left lane on the windy road, passing on curves, pointing out various sites that we couldn´t understand, and going faster than I would prefer. Aside from that he would have a great laugh and then go all quiet which led me to believe he may have had a bit to drink and was tired, but Dennis didn´t think so. Once I asked him to drive more slowly and that we weren´t in a hurry he was just fine. Once we got to the main square where all the vendors were selling their wares we saw what the Spaniards must have towered over while on horseback some 500 years ago. The indiginous people were of such small stature, maybe about 4'5". In addition, both men and women were still wearing hats which were the modeled on the original conquistador helmets. We spent a few hours here wondering about the streets in amazement at the sights around us.
On Monday we hired
Another traditional hat
another private taxi to drive us the 2 hours to Potosi where we planned to visit the famous Cerro Rico mountain which had been mined by the Incas for 400 years and then subsequently mined for 500 years by the Spanish colonizers. We booked our tour for the following morning and spent the rest of the afternoon taking it easy as best we can at 4,090 meters altitude (13,415 ft).
By 8:30 the next morning, our tour operator had us outfitted in rubber boots, yellow protective pants and top, and a helmet with a lamp. From here, our bus drove our group a few miles in town to the miner´s market. Our tour guide offered us a plate of coca leaves to chew on and passed around a small bottle of alcohol which we all had a shot and spilled a drop on the ground in honor of Pachamama (mother earth). At this stage, we were instructed to buy some gifts at the market that would be handed over to the miners during our visit. And since this was a special day, in honor of Pachamama a llama would be sacrificed at each of the co-operative mines on Cerro Rico.
One of the two days a year this celebration occurs. The sacrifice is meant to honor Pachamama and to bring miners good luck, good fortune, etc.
These are the types of typical gifts that are sold at the market: alcohol, beer, cigarettes, coca leaves and dynamite. The dynamite comes with 3 elements: the stick of dynamite, a quarter pound of ammonium nitrate in a small sealed bag, and the fuse with a blasting cap. Yes, we bought some of each and hopped back on the bus loaded with our gift bags. Our first stop was the viewpoint to have a look at the city and explode a few sticks of dynamite. The guides demonstrated blowing off a few rounds of dynamite, all in good fun of course, and then we hopped on the bus to drive to the mine entrance.
We were split into two language groups and went with our guide and about 4 other tourists.
Wow. Immediately you´re struck by the cramped quarters, lack of good air, and the sounds around you, i.e. falling pieces of stones, and every once in a while, the sound of a blast going off. The tunnel is not always a direct path
900 years of silver mining
as it follows the silver vein and every once in a while there is a gapping hole to the side. Our group was offered the chance to slide down a hole to see the miners working. We opted out of this experience and stayed in the shaft waiting for the others to re-appear. Once they did, our guide offered anyone the chance for an early out before continuing on another 20 minutes. We took this chance to bail and head for fresh air.
Once the rest of the group ascended the mine, we hung out by the entrance with our guide and the mine boss, both chowing down on coca leaves waiting for the ceremony to begin. Chewing of the coca leaves is used to stave off hunger, but it also is a cultural thing. The intent here is not to get wasted, but to keep going with sometimes limited resources. Yes, we did see the llama sacrafice but didn´t stay for the BBQ. It was an amazing day spent in another world.
From here, we took the bus to La Paz to catch our flight to Rurranabaque. We spent the night in town and took a long boat upriver
Mine Tour Guide
Offers us coca leaves for the tour
for 5 hours to our lodge. The lodge is run by the local community to support the local people. Once we arrived we were introduced to our private guide who would teach us about the local flora and fauna indiginous to the area. It was great. We took a night walk on the trail and subsequent day hikes. We would also take canoe rides on the lake in the early evenings to spot caimins. We saw plenty of monkeys, birds, a tarantula, a pygmy owl and many other species local to the Madidi National Park.
From here in La Paz, we will take the train tomorrow to Argentina to take in new sights and sounds. Hope everyone is well and enjoying the summer. best to all Nancy & Dennis
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