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Sucre and Potosi, Bolivia

Tupiza, Bolivia

Sucre is an absolutely beautiful city and one that I could have stayed for weeks on end I think just to sit in the square and people watch. However, there isn´t a huge amount to report from my three days there as that´s about all I did!
When I first arrived I took a taxi to the hostel that I was planning to stay at but unfortunately they had no spaces so I made my way to another one nearer the centre of the city. Similar to Copacabana and Puno, despite the popularity of the destination there´s an abundance of places to stay, but not many backpakery hostels so the place I ended up staying for the first night was comfortbale but not particularly sociable as I was in my own room. I used the day to get some laundry done and explore the city a little bit. I found it to be almost a mix between Cusco and Arequipa; many of the buildings were painted white giving the whole city a smart and clean appearance but also there were many sweet little streets full of little shops with painted wooden signs hanging outside giving the whole place a very friendly and cosy feel.
I wandered around until early evening and then wasn´t really sure what to do with myself to occupy the evening as there were no communal spaces in my hostel, (more like a hotel really) so I decided to take myself out on a date to the cinema! The film itself wasn´t much cop but was quite fun - just a smash em bash em crash em, as Dads would have called it - and after I went to a nice cafe cum bar for a bite to eat. I happened to see a group there who I had seen leaving my hostel earlier and so I went up and said hello and they invited me out for a drink with them, so in the end it turned out to be a very nice evening of pizza, beer and chatting.
The next morning I (thankfully) checked out of my hostel and went back to the one I had originally tried and they had some spaces so I moved in there for the remaining two nights. It was a much better place with a kitchen, dorms and a TV room so I immediately met some fellow travellers. The main thing to do from Sucre, sightseeing wise, is a local cement quary where they recently discovered a huge collection of dinosaur footprints. There are something like 500 individual tracks and you can also see the longest dinosaur track in the world. The ´Dino Truck´leaves from the main square so I hopped on that and althought I´m not really a dinosoaur person in particular, it was actually really interested and pretty cool to see footprints that had been made hundreds of millions of years ago.
On the truck I met two English guys called Tom and Michael and we hit it off straight away so I spent the rest of the day with them and their other friends Rory and James. We were all planning to head to Potosi next which is where the famous mines are so that evening we decided to go to a viewing of the docu-film The Devil´s Miner which follows a 14 year old boy who has worked in the mines for four years already and shows his family struggles and his work down the mine. It was absolutely fascinating and made us all pretty excited about getting to Potosi.
The next couple of days were mostly spent wandering round the city in the sun and sitting in the central plaza and reading my book. We were all hoping to go to a local market on the Sunday but there was an anual street car race being held that day so all the roads were blocked until the afternoon. It was a shame not to be able to get to the market - the largest and most colourful in Bolivia - but actually the race was really good fun to watch too. We sat in the plaza, which was packed with onlookers, all afternoon watching the cars zoom by and then caught a bus in the afternoon when the roads had re-opened to Potosi.
It was absolutely freezing when we arrived so we quickly found a taxi to take us to our hostel, a cute a cosy establishment called Koala Den which actually had gas heaters in the room - an absolute godsend! We had organised in advance to go on the mine tour the next day so we were all up fairly early to board the bus. Potosi used to be one of the world´s richest cities because of the abundance of silver mines. These lucrative resources have been mostly been used up now and the miners dig for minerals instead. The tour was a brilliant and powerful experience; we had seen what to expect from the movie we had watched a few days before, but nothing can prepare you for the reality of the harsh conditions the miners work in. We first stopped at a ´miner´s market´to buy gifts for the workers; coca leaves and dynamite mostly, though some people also bough cigarettes and the 96% alcohol the miners give to their underground god (or devil really) Tio. Entering the mine was fine but quickly the tunnels narrow and decrease in height so we were all, yes even me, were stooping. In many places we actually had to get onto our hands and knees and slide down chutes, crawl through tiny gaps and descend down rickerty ladders. It was so dusty that it was hard to breath even wearing a buff over my mouth! We only descended to level three which seemed deep enough, but apparently the mine goes all the way to level eleven. At one point we were all trying to catch our breath in the dust and wipe the sweat from our faces as it´s super hot down there, when our guide told us that this was the place where the deeper miners come to get some fresh air! We couldn´t believe it.
We were only underground for about an hour but I think we were all quick happy to see, litterally, light at the end of the tunnel when it was time to emerge, hot and dirty, from the mines. We were rewarded though with a display of explosions which was pretty fun, especially as we were allowed to hold the lit dynamite for a few seconds before our guide ran off to plant it ready for explosion. I don´t think I know many people who can say they´ve held smoking dynamite!
We had only planned spend two nights in Potosi before heading to Uyuni to do the salt flat tours as there´s nothing else really of interest in the town, however the were loads of protests going on which meant the road to Uyuni was blocked and we became stuck in Potosi for another night. After this we were still unable to get where we wanted so we decided to head to a place on the Argentinian border called Tupiza - the site of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid´s last dance - just to be moving again. Although we ended up having to stay two nights before finally being able to move on to Uyuni, I have to say there´s not a lot to report from there. It was surrounded by the most fantastic Wild West scenery but the town itself was pretty empty.

permalink written by  veritykent on June 16, 2009 from Tupiza, Bolivia
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