Potosi

The route from Sucre to Potosi was very scenic and led us through dry mountain ranges. We climbed another 1000 m and you could immediately the thinner air and the colder temperatures around 17 Celsius at daytime and around 5 Celsius at night.

20190423_141903

Potosi was in the 16th and 17th century among the biggest and richest towns in the world. This was driven by silver and tin found in the mines in Cerro Rico, the big peak at the door step of the city. Most of its buildings have the same color as the red sandstone surrounding the city.

DSC01940

We stayed at a hostel (Eucalyptus hostel) in the center. From here all of the main sights were easily walkable. We visited the Casa de la Moneda (tour 40 BOB per adult) which tells the story about the development of coins and bills in Bolivia. Further, we tried to enter the Convento de San Francisco and the Catedral Metropolitana which unfortunately held siesta time (12:30-14:30) during our attempt.

DSC01949

We used siesta time to head to the outskirts to Laguna San Ildefonso. We took a nice walk around this artificial lake and enjoyed the views of the Cordillera and particularly Cerro Rico. We even ran into a white lama which used the lake as a water source. The air was again quite thin here and breathing was not easy.

A very nice plaza to hang out is the Plaza de 10 Noviembre which is laced by white pillars and a beautiful fountain. Many restaurants and cafes surround the plaza and the Potosineros like to get together here. For dinner we tried for the first time Lama, a typical Bolivian dish, which was quite tasteful.

20190423_193127

Our main highlight was the visit in a mine. Many travelers debate whether it’s morally correct to go and stare at the miners and their hard working conditions but we wanted to see it with our own eyes. We decided to go with Potochij Tours run by Antonio, an ex-miner, and his wife. We were very happy with our choice and that we went.

20190423_171200

We met at 9:15am at the tour agency’s office and were to Antonio’s home where we got boots, pants, a shirt and a helmet with headlight. Before heading in a minivan to Cerro Rico we took some fun group pictures where everybody had to shout “Sexy Lama” 😉

20190425_100752

Next we headed to the miner’s market where we got the miners a bag of cookies, soft drinks and coca leaves and a mouth cover for ourselves. It’s apparently the only market in the world where you can purchase dynamite. Antonio also told us that pure alcohol (96%!) and filter-less cigarettes are among popular presents. However, it’s hard to believe that these goods help to improve the very low expectancy of the workers (30-35y after work start) and hence we did not buy them. Then we drove up to the mine “Primero de Mayo” at Cerro Rico.

The access point to the mine was surprisingly narrow as were the first couple of meters inside. Nothing for people with claustrophobia! Until we reached the first level with had to dug and crawl due to the narrowness. Luckily, the tunnels were not narrow all the time such that we could some relief.

20190425_113427

The first part led along rails for the mine carts. For the three of us it was hard to breath but we tried to keep as long as possible our mouth covers up due to the dust and small particles.

To get one level lower we had to climb ladders or even through small tunnels on our hands and feet. We learned that around 50 people work in this particular mine and that in total more than 400 mines in Cerro Rico exist. We met a couple of workers in the mine who we handed over our presents. We even were chased once by three workers pushing a filled mining cart.

At one point we heard a loud detonation which scared Lothar to death. Lothar thought the mine would collapse. Antonio immediately made us move quickly to the next tunnel passage. He told us that this was “just” a dynamite explosion and we should not be worried about 😉 We heard a couple of more during our stay in the mine (still scary!) and saw the holes in the rock where the miners put the dynamite into.

20190425_114707

The biggest long-term thread for the workers are lung cancer and diseases caused by dust and silicium particles. The biggest short-term one is collapsing rocks from dynamite detonations. Every month five workers die in the mines. They take this risk for the sake of making an above average salary: 150 BOB a day which is a lot more than policemen or market sellers make.

20190425_111251

The workers follow every first Friday of a month a religious ceremony. They bring alcohol, coca leaves and cigarettes to a god made of stone  (“El Tio”) and say prayers. This ceremony was introduced by the enslaved workers under Spanish colonialism as a counter religion to Christianity. Between the 16th and 17th century more than 8 million(!) workers died in the mines within one year.

20190425_112537

After a bit more than an hour we were very happy to be back at daylight. We don’t regret this experience and have the highest respect for the mine workers. None of us would ever be willing to switch with them.

DSC02014

After the return from the mine we headed 25 km outside of town to Ojo del Inca. It’s a natural lake fed by natural thermal springs in the middle of a gorgeous mountain range. Via a dirt road we reached a sign which said: “No hay atencion”. We parked Oscar and walked up to the lake where an old lady greeted us and allowed us to bath in the adjacent pool fed by the mineral waters (10 BOB per adult). The main lake has been closed by the authorities due to the drowning of multiple people.

The water had around 32 Celsius and was very relaxing given outside temperatures of around 18 degrees. It was a joy to star the surrounding mountain ranges while profiting from the cozy mineral waters. Again we saw a couple of beautiful Alpaca lamas.

Overall, we enjoyed our stay at Potosi and recommend it, particularly if one is interested in the mine tour. Just a word of caution: The two annoying things about Potosi are the emissions from big traffic and the high altitude which caused headache, a bit nausea and shortage of breath. The later one even made us wake up in the middle of the night. Something we had never experienced before.

DSC02018

 

 

Sucre

We arrived super late around 22 o’clock in Sucre due to road blockage of two hours on the route from Vallegrande. However, the landscape compensated quite for this. Luckily our AirBnB host ($55 per night for a five bed apartment) was patient enough to still meet us at that hour of the day. Also we got lucky that a pizzeria at the Plaza 25 de Mayo still was open which secured our dinner 🙂

Sucre is truly a beautiful city: White-washed houses, unaccountably many churches, relaxed parks and colonial buildings dominate the city center and resemble a lot of city’s history and traditions. We started the day with a pleasant walk to Parque Simon Boliviar where due to Easter Sunday a lot of kids attraction were set up. In the middle of the park stands a red iron tower – we joked that it’s the Bolivian version of the Tour Eiffel 😉

Then we passed by the impressive Supreme Court which was closed due to Easter. A couple of blocks later we arrived at the Central Plaza, the Plaza 25 de Mayo, where a lot of colonial buildings such as La Prefectura, the State Parliament and the townhall can be found. Again here due to Easter Sunday everything was closed and could be just looked at from outside.

DSC01883

The next day we drove around in Oscar since all the places we visited were spread around the city. We started off with the Plaza Pedro de Anzurez which provided us with magnificent views of Sucre. The adjacent monastery Recoleta was unfortunately closed – as all other churches throughout town.

Next we headed to two markets: Mercado Negro and Mercado Campesino. On the first one we got Maja a winter jacket for the cold in Potosi and Salar Uyuni which we will be visiting next on our journey. On the second one a lot of different things are sold: From silver ware and pots, over clothes and shoes up to vegetables and food stalls everything can be found here. The prices are really affordable here: A kilo of bananas or tomatoes goes for 5BOB! Of course, also coca leaves could be purchased here 🙂 But the craziest thing were the voodoo-like dead animals hanging at a couple of food stalls. The ladies selling this scary stuff referred to some kind of religion/ceremony when asked about it.

The last stop of the day was the Central cemetery where big family mausoleums of Sucre’s families can been observed. It was also the first time that we saw the practice of blind persons praying for someone. The blinds were waiting on the cemetery’s benches and could be approached and asked say a prayer for a small donation.

DSC01922

Overall, Sucre is a beautiful city and one can easily spend two days here.

Samaipata, Amboro & Vallegrande

DSC01748

Samaipata, a small village of 3,500 inhabitants located at the foot of the Andes, was our base to explore the national park Parque Amboro. We stayed a German-run guesthouse called “Landhaus” which had a beautiful patio, an outdoor breakfast area and a swimming pool (220 BOB without breakfast for a three per night).

20190418_124738

The day after our arrival was Leonard’s fifth birthday. Unbelievable that five years are already gone!

20190418_141745

Of course, we had a nice cake for him which the Landhaus prepared for us 🙂

First, we visited “El Fuerte”, a historical archaeological site which was used by the Guaranis and later the Incas for spiritual celebrations (50 BOB per adult). Consequently, the name is a bit misleading and in fact it was given by the Spaniards when they used it as a fortress when fighting against the Incas. The first stones on this site where actually set before Christ which was impressive.

20190418_111309

There’s a well-prepared boardwalks which provides different perspective of the carvings on the great rock and the foundations of the houses. Also the vistas of the surrounding mountains of Amboro National Park and Northern Chaco are spectacular!

After the afternoon cake we went to the local zoo of Samaipata (20 BOB adult, 10 BOB kid) which is located 2km south of town. Here many animals could run around freely on the premises which gave it a more authentic touch. Among the most fascinating were tucans, lamas, monkeys and turtles. Leo enjoyed his birthday a lot!

The next day we headed to Parque Amboro without a guide. Initially, we intended to take a guide but after talking to a tour agency and seeing pictures of the trails we decided to go without one. Thanks to maps me we know where a lot of hiking trails nearby Samaipata were located and hence we drove to the closest one. The road was pretty bad and most likely the worst one we have taken on this journey so far:

After an hour drive for 12km we arrived at the top where a young lady collected the entrance fee of 15BOB per adult and told us that we could not go unattended. She suggested that we should talk to a guided which arrived just 5min later. Irina negotiated quickly and immediately were we ready to join the group for 40 BOB per adult.

The goal was to see giant fern and ideally some animals. However, our Spanish-speaking guide set the expectation pretty low by explaining that most of the animals live in the northern part of the park which is lower and warmer. Since we were in the southern part our main focus was flora.

20190419_125021

On the start of the trail we saw this ant colony:

After 300m uphill on a wide dirt road we entered the forest where the trail got narrower and more authentic. We saw a lot of different berries and flowers on the way and stopped at two lookout points. Unfortunately, they were covered by clouds most of the time such that the vistas were not as spectacular as on a clear day.

DSC01729

After another 20min uphill we arrived at a spot were the giant fern (helechos grandes) grew. They were all of different size but could grow taller than trees. We learned that each of them grows at a pace of 1cm per year. It was amazing to encounter farns which were around 20m tall – 2000 year old plants!

DSC01732

We walked the same way back and enjoyed the great variety of flora which is a mixture of Andean, Chaco and Amazon landscape. The views of the valley where Samaipata is located were spectacular!

DSC01737

The last stop of the day was at the Cascadas de Cuevas, a popular waterfall ca. 30Km away from Samaipata. The entrance was 20BOB per adult and a well-prepared path led to the three levels of the waterfall. Many locals took a bath in it but since it was late afternoon we opted out and just took a couple of pictures.

The next day we left Samaipata for Sucre. On our way we took a small detour to Vallegrande in order to see Che Guevara’s mausoleum. 5Km before Vallegrande we had to stop for 40min caused by a road blockage due to a motocross race on the main road! We arrived around noon at the entrance and the lady told us that she’s on the way to her lunch break. We explained that we have a long drive before us and begged her to let us in for 10min which she eventually agreed to.

DSC01783

The mausoleum contains a mass grave of Che and six of his fellows. Above it there are four flags: The Argentinian one (he was born there), the Cuban, the Bolivian (he got killed and buried in the area of Vallegrande) and the Peruan (nationality of one of his allies). Behind the grave is a memorial of individuals who fought for the Cuban revolution. Outside of the mausoleum were trees planted for Che and the six others.

DSC01791

Apart from the mausoleum there’s a small museum with a lot of historical pictures, replicates of his cloths, arms and old newspaper stories. The entire museum is not that old: After a big project was launched in the late nineties the bones of Che and his companions were discovered and extracted in 1997 from a mass grave near Vallegrande. Most the remainder of his body was sent to Cuba and still lies nowadays in a grave in Santa Clara, Cuba.

DSC01795