Bolivia at last!
12.03.2015 - 20.03.2015 19 °C
Bolivia has been a welcomed change for us, with its indigenous people in traditional clothing, fewer tourists and little evidence of the western world. The people are also mostly lovely and interested and surprisingly, speak English better than in Argentina or Chile. The showers are probably the best we have had in all of South America, despite a lot of them being right above or beside the toilet seat. Perfect temperature regulation and even spray, as Tom wanted me to write. I unfortunately spent the first week being sick due to the dodgy water here - we aren't even suppose to brush our teeth in the water! But even so, the experience of Bolivia has still been great! The indigenous women here wear these amazing bowler hats and big skirts and the mothers carry their babies in colourful wraps on their back. It's amazing watching these people just go about their daily lives in such an old fashioned or simple way.
Anyway, we arrived in Uyuni after our three day tour and spent the afternoon wandering around the small town, looking at the many stalls in the market that was there. There were lots of stalls selling pirated DVDs and it seems to be a popular thing to sell in Bolivia. Another very popular thing here is ice cream - there were more places selling ice cream than food. There were also two cute monkeys in the market, unfortunately dressed up and chained. Everyone over here is also a lot shorter than us, so we had to constantly be alert as to not penetrate our brains with one of the stalls' umbrellas. Once we got our fill of big booty and big breasted mannequins, a bag of quinoa and some grapes we headed back to the hostel. The next morning I was ill and stayed in bed for the rest of the day, resulting in a delay in our departure for Potosi. Tom spent the day caring for me and eating and playing cards with Christian.
The next morning propped full of Imodium, we boarded a decent, non pee-smelling, bus to the highest city in the world. The bus took us up winding roads for 4 and half hours passing by tiny villages. There were people living in stone houses built with the stones one might find in the backyard. We saw lots of people working in the steep fields on the mountain slopes tending cattle, llamas or growing quinoa. Very primitive environments. Potosi sits on a mountain at 4100m above the sea, a large city with a mix of both modern(ish) buildings and old colonial style ones. It's harder to breath up there and walking up any small hill made us breath a little harder. Once checked in to our nice looking but freezing hostel, food was needed. I haven't been impressed with the food here so far, apart from the yummy lama and quinoa dish we had in Uyuni. Tom is however pleasantly surprised as he was expecting worse, but then again I haven't been eating much due to being ill. I spent the rest of the day in bed again.
On our wandering through the streets of Potosi the next day, we came across a curious parade. Coming up the road were children in traditional costumes, women in colourful short costumes and heels, men in, I don't know how to describe it, and several bands playing music. This may all seem fine and dandy to you, but get this - they were all drinking beer, with several people running alongside the parade supplying them with more beer. The beer of course was their own Potosini beer, brewed in the city. So perhaps it was a beer festival you say? Well maybe, but further down the parade, floats featuring Jesus and other holy characters were making their way up. What we also witnessed after following the parade a bit, was how it stopped in front of several stations with a sort of memorial, where people would throw stuff on the holy characters and blow incense on them. Like previously mentioned, a curious parade.
The next day we prepared for the main event, the silver mining tour. Our crazy guide met us at the hostel, got us geared up in miner clothes, rubber boots and a hard hat with a lamp. We were then taken to a shop where we were presented with Bolivian dynamite, which the guide decided to put a lighter to to prove how safe it was. FUUN! He then drank, and offered us, some 96% alcohol and some Pisco (Brazilian alcohol). More fun! We didn't take any, although Christian did try the Pisco! We had to buy "gifts" for the miners here and tom bought some dynamite and I bought them some juice and beer - recommended. Then we got back on the bus and headed up the mountain to the mines. Once at the mine entrance we all huddled together in a stone hut with 3 miners while it rained and hailed outside. We waited here for what seemed like ages staring, huddled round this glass box with a Jesus statue inside it surrounded by slightly decaying flowers. There were also about 5 empty Potosina beer bottles strewn over the floor. Tom got some coca leaves off the driver to chew on as they are supposed to help with altitude sickness. The miners chew on a bag a day to keep the hunger away when down in the mines. Sometimes they are down there for upto 15 hours. Anyway, eventually (the Bolivians have no sense of urgency) we headed into the mountain. We walked and followed the tracks ducking down half way through the dark tunnels until we got to this red weird devil statue. The miners pour Potosina and coca leaves all over it before heading into the mines for good luck and safety against accidents. It's really weird. They also leave a burning cigarette in its mouth. Really odd ritual. Our crazy guide told us that there is no religion when down in the mines - just superstition. Outside, the majority are Catholic. He kept pouring beer on the devil's big red penis (see the pictures on facebook for that!) and saying good luck to Tom for that night to make babies. On that note, further we went into the mountain and had to climb down shaky ladders and squeeze through slippery tight holes. They really are not concerned with safety like we are in Europe! Eventually we made it down to where the miners were - 3 of them in this group - and they were banging away on rocks separating the silver from the rocks. We also saw lots of fools gold down there which was cool. The miners all shared a Potosina and dripped a little on the floor before drinking it - again a superstition for safety. It was one of the weirdest experiences we've ever had! Imagine a tour of some mines, and then erase that tour from your mind because it was nothing like what we experienced!
Later that day we caught a bus to Sucre, the Bolivian capital, where we have been spending the past few days, planning, exploring the city by foot and hanging out. Yesterday we went to a dinner-show with traditional Bolivian dancing which was really good - they have a lot of catchy music and great costumes. Today we went on a not -for-profit tour where the money we paid goes back into the local community. The tour started with a trip to the Cretaceous park, where they have the worlds largest paleontological site containing 5,055 dinosaur tracks from at least 8 species! They also have life size replicas of some of the dinosaurs and were they BIG!!! After the dinosaur park we hiked for over three hours down a mountain, along a river and up a mountain to the seven waterfalls, or 7 cascadas in spanish. A beautiful natural site with several waterfalls. Unfortunately it started raining just when we got there so we took cover under part of the mountain and had a picnic lunch. When the sun reappeared we climbed up a steep mountain (I nearly died) to a village where we caught the bus back. A really tiring but great day. To top it off we stopped by our favourite restaurant for our now daily, strawberry and coconut milk smoothie. It is incredibly delicious and I hope we will be able to recreate it back home. Tonight we're joining the hostel's assado (or in English, BBQ) and later we are going to a bar for some shisha with a Dutchman, a Czech and a guy from Cyprus to enjoy our final night in Sucre. I am feeling much better today (Tom thinks it was because of the hike...HA), so hopefully I won't get sick again!
Flights in bolivia are the same prices as European flights so we've decided to fly round bolivia instead of taking the long buses on crappy roads. Tomorrow we will fly to the west of Bolivia and Santa Cruz for further adventures, so don't go away because we will be back with more "tomkat adventures" shortly.