Very high, actually, Potosi is arguably the world’s highest city, at 4090 metres above sea level. Even then the nearby Cerro Potosi dominates the landscape. It’s a place where it’s exercise just breathing and headaches are the order of the day, as the body tries to adjust to much less oxygen. Having said that, the Salt Flats most certainly gave Potosi a run for its money. In this high altitude panadol and I have been besties! And that’s coming from the gal who hates to use any medicine unless there is no other option!
|Potosi, with Cerro Rico in the background.|
Potosi is a lovely place to just hang around and take it easy. The two main things it is renowned for is its silver mines and the National Mint (Casa de la Moneda). As I have gotten older, there are just some things I can’t do anymore, the mines being one of them. I did the tour in 1999 and was not going to do it again. Also known as Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain), the peak’s huge supply of silver has led to both immense riches and appalling suffering. I simply was not prepared to view those appalling conditions, which I viewed in 1999, again! If you have time, it is worth taking a look at what conditions look like today.
We partook in a three hour guided tour of the Mint (also known as the Mint of Potosi in the colonial era). It is famous right across the Americas as it is the mint from which most of the silver shipped from the Spanish Main came. Potosi’s first mint was constructed in 1572; its replacement (this one) is a vast and striking building that takes up an entire city block! It was built between 1753 and 1773 to control the minting of colonial coins. The history we were provided with was mind-blowing; tragic on so many levels, especially the number of black and indigenous slaves who died working there, all in the name of money. Pun intended! Without a doubt, a Potosi ‘must see’!
|Inside the Mint.|
|The Mint; constructed between 1753 and 1773. |
|The streets of Potosi.|
I love the street life in Bolivia, and Potosi is no exception. I am a sucker for markets, I admit that. But I have to say, Bolivian markets aren’t for the faint of heart.
|Negotiating my veggie fix in Potosi …|
|… when all of a sudden I turned around and saw Billy Goat Gruff!|
|The locals doing their meat shopping.|
Word of mouth is a great thing, and someone told us about the Eye of the Inca (El Ojo del Inca), a natural warm water lagoon only a short bus ride out of Potosi. Along with some new friends from Mexico and Germany, we jumped on a bus and took off for the day. It was a 20 minute walk from where we were dropped off by the bus and we spent a pleasant few hours there. It’s supposed to be 25 metres deep and even at the edge it drops 1.5 metres, so watch out if you can’t swim! South America doesn’t really do life jackets either!
|El Ojo del Inca.|
|Taking a swim.|
|With Jana and ‘Brujo Intenso”.|
|Alex with Jana and ‘el Brujo Intenso’.|
|Livin’ La Vida Loca! El Ojo del Inca.|
|Walking to a thermal springs town close to Ojo del Inca …|
|… where the water’s very hot!|
|Potosi by night.|
A little bit of llama meat anyone?
Next on the list was the delightful city of Sucre; nowhere near as high as Potosi, but still high at 2810 metres above sea level. It delighted in 1999, and it delighted all over again in 2014. Alex loved it! We had the absolute pleasure of staying in the serene and clean Wasi Masi Guest House, run by Roxana and Fabio, and with a whole heap of equally happy and helpful staff members, including the gorgeous Miriam. What was originally meant to be a stay of a couple of days, ended up being a week. We had a type of ensuite room with a super comfy bed, private shower, TV room, small kitchen and balcony. We were in heaven! A vegetarian’s dream come true … we milked those markets, bought loads of fresh produce and cooked till we dropped.
Proud, genteel Sucre really is Bolivia’s most beautiful city. It is the symbolic heart of the nation. It was here that independence was proclaimed, and while La Paz is now the seat of government and treasury, Sucre is recognised in the constitution as the nation’s capital. A glorious collage of white-washed buildings with gorgeous patios and cobble-stoned streets, the government has (sensibly!) placed strict controls on development. This has indeed kept Sucre Bolivia’s poster child. It was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1991.
|Recoleta lookout, Sucre.|
|The cobble-stoned streets of Sucre.|
|Recoleta lookout, Sucre.|
|Playing in the rain, Recoleta plaza with monastery in background.|
Sucre by night.
In Sucre, we took the time to walk around and take it all in. We found a great place called Metro Cafe, which made excellent coffee, so we went there often.
|Chicha; a popular, fermented Bolivian alcoholic drink.|
|Not all is good in the land of Sucre!|
|With Miriam’s daughter.|
|A fresh juice from the market.|
Whilst in Sucre, we also were able to observe the Day of the Dead, celebrated on 31 October. It’s a holiday observed in many Latin cultures and focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. This often takes place in the actual cemeteries.
|Drummer, Day of the Dead.|
|Inside the Cemetary, Day of the Dead.|
Paying homenage, Day of the Dead.
We also decided to go on a day trip to Tarabuco on the Day of the Dead, which wasn’t such a smart move. A small, predominantly indigenous village 65 kilometres southeast of Sucre, it is known for its colourful weavings and sprawling Sunday market. We went on the Sunday, but it was virtually desolate … it was the Day of the Dead … quite literally!
|The desolate Tarabuco Sunday market.|
|The Tarabuco locals.|
|Still a few people from the surrounding countryside, Tarabuco.|
And like all good things, Sucre too was coming to an end. We had relaxed in a beautiful city, cooked great food in ‘our’ kitchen, made some great friends at our hostel, drank great coffee, and witnessed and partook in some cultural events.
|Saying goodbye to our friends at Wasi Masi.|
|Until we meet again!|
Thanks for a wonderful stay in Sucre.
Next: Samaipata, Santa Cruz and Cochabamba.
“Our lives begin to end the day that we become silent about things that matter” – Martin Luther King