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Published: January 30th 2007
The two Bolivias
"I know two Bolivias, one is populated by people with black hair and black eyes. Those people are short in height, they don't work too hard and like to keep to themselves. But there is a second Bolivia where the people have blue and green eyes, are tall and open minded and this is the Bolivia, where I come from."
When the freshly elected Miss Bolivia travelled to the United States to "represent her country" a stunned Andean nation had to listen to those words which did not only promote the (in the Altiplano) very unpopular idea of seperation, but also attested to an offending racism against indigenous people.
It was our guide in the mines of Potosi who tells us this story and we have no idea how much of it is true, but it certainly fits with what we had observed in the last five weeks. In the Bolivian Oriente there are quite a few people who think that they are different. There was this nice lady from the bus to Trinidad who spent an hour talking to me, gringo with the bad Spanish, and herewith certainly proved her point, that her lot are much more
Convent Felipe Neri
Fairy tale architecture in Sucre.
communicative and open to foreigners than her Andean countrymen. In San Ignacio de Velasco our driver complained about Evo Morales, the president, who is only caring for the interests of the West, forgetting about Santa Cruz and inhabitants. Seeing the working conditions in the mines, the poverty of some beggars and the amount of child labor everywhere in Bolivia I can't help but think that a president who is committing himself in raising the living standard of his people is probably not the worst choice.
While in relatively rich, modern Santa Cruz a big crowd of young people is lying on mattresses on the cities' main plaza demonstrating against Morales and for independence a fifteen year old boy is pushing a wheel barrow through the narrow maze of gangways in the mines of once rich Potosi. Child labor is illegal, but no one cares. With the high mineral prices of the moment even the assistants make good money. But those prices are unstable and what is a good income today might turn into starving conditions tomorrow. For a country which mines gold, silver, zinc, antimon, plutonium, uran, salt and sulfur (and more) Bolivia is incredibly poor. It has always
been foreign countries who benefitted most. First, the Spaniards, later companies from all over the world. The people from Potosi claim that it had been the treasures of the rich hill of Potosi who made out of a nonrelevant village Santa Cruz todays richest city of Bolivia. It is no wonder therefore, that seperation is a clearly unpopular idea. Salt and Sugar
Sucre is a likeable city with its colonial buildings painted in a sugary white colour; clean, tidy and proper from the hostelroom to the brandnew bills out of the nearby ATM. It is a place to stay a while and get yourself cleaned up a bit (after all that mud...) Sweet is the chocolate, blue is the sky. And while we got bewitched by the fairytale belltowers of the convent Felipe Neri, others were enchanted by the building of the University (or maybe just by the girls within...). That is how we remember Sucre, sweet, charming and a bit magical as well.
While everything is sugary about Sucre except its name (which doesn't mean sugar in Spanish as we had first assumed but honors General Sucre, the independence hero) in Uyuni it is all about
salt. The Salar de Uyuni is the worlds largest saltflat with a layer of salt ten metres deep - The remains of an ancient ocean. Eventhough hard to believe, being on 4000 metres above sealevel, the marine origin is easily confirmed on one of the cacti-rich islands dotting the saltplain: the rocky surface is unmistakably an ancient coral reef. With seashells on 4000 metres, deep red lagunes, pink animals and this huge white plain that streches as far as you can see, the far Southwest of Bolivia is definitely a crazy place. We liked it though and while our families at home once more had waited in vain for timely snow to have a white christmas we spent a jolly salt-white christmas in the Salar and enjoyed, not salted peanuts, but sugarpuffs and the last bit of chocolate from one of Sucres confectionaries.
Find more stories and pictures on our Lovelyplanet-Homepage
. Planet Portrait
* Top 3:
The roof-terrace of convent Felipe Neri in Sucre
Shooting fun-pictures in the Salar the Uyuni
Riding a horse through the canyons around Tupiza
* Our route:
Copacabana - La Paz - Paso Zongo - Coroico
In the mines
The sun never shines. Toxic dust, unstable shafts and long working hours are everyday life in the Rich Hill of Potosi.
- Rurrenabaque - Trinidad - San Ignacio de Velasco - Noel Kempff Mercado NP - Santa Cruz - Sucre - Potosi - Uyuni - Tupiza
* That was bad:
The service in the tourist pizzeria in Uyuni was incredibly bad.
* Recommended guest house:
Hostal Renacer Chicheno in Tupiza.
30 days free on arrival. 30 days more for 20 US dollars. (Many countries get 90 days free).
* We paid for a meal:
between 3 and 14 bolivianos. Planet Pictures
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