Bolivia Part 1 – Uyuni and Potosi

You can always trust the Irish! Free wifi that works in an Irish Pub…though they don’t have any Guinness! So here is our latest adventures…

After leaving the salt flats tour we booked into our cheapest hotel so far at £6 for the night whilst we sorted out our bus to Potosi.

(our only photograph from Uyuni)

Uyuni isn’t a great place to stay and serves mainly as a hop on/hop off spot for people starting or ending a tour. That said we had a pleasant evening there. I ate llama and we joined some of our tour party and watched them get wasted (again).

The next day we boarded an early morning bus for a 5 hour jouney to Potosi. This was yet another stunning journey, the road winding up and down mountains with nerve jangling drops a few feet away.

(the stark terrain on the way to Potosi)

By the time we got to Potosi however I was feeling rough. Potosi claims to be the highest city in the world, and at 4070 metres above sea level my head was banging. Lucky Claire seems to be immune to altitude sickness.

This was the day before my birthday so we booked ourselves into a nice hotel for a couple of nights. The comfortable bed was helpful as I spent the next 24 hours shaking off the headache. The view from our room was superb too.

Potosi itself has an interesting history. A large mountain looms over the city from which an astonishing amount of silver has been mined over the centuries. The Spanish took most of it but now cooperative miners continue to work the tunnels in terrible conditions, significantly shortening their life expectancy in the process due to the toxic nature of their work. Apparently miners will normally die of silicosis pneumonia within 10 to 15 years of entering the mines.

(the mountain that funded the Spanish empire)

Despite its lofty location Potosi is a lovely town. We spent our first day wandering the streets and market. All very slowly though as I could barely breath every time we walked uphill.

(women in traditional dress… subtly photographed by Claire)

(table football in one of the many plazas)

(some of the impressive architecture for which Potosi received UNESCO World Heritage Site status)

Our hotel kindly agreed to book us a “shared taxi” to our next destination the next day. But in the morning they advised that it had been cancelled. After some research we discovered that Bolivia is gripped by protests and road blocks, which is a regular occurrence it seems.

So we reverted back to our budget backpackers ways and strolled round the corner to a cheap hostel. Luckily they provided seven blankets and we used every one of them that night!

From there we visited the bus station but had no joy. Taxi drivers would only offer to take us to the road block and dump us there. Eventually we were advised to visit the new bus terminal out of town.

The new bus terminal was quite a sight. Almost mosque-like it loomed over the rest of the area. We soon managed to secure a ticket to Sucre for £2.50 each for 6pm that night.

A few hours later we loaded our stuff into a taxi and arrived at the bus station. 20 minutes before our departure I discovered that the bus had been cancelled due to a blockade.

As I walked back to Claire (who was guarding our bags) I could here the bus company women screaming “LaPazLaPaz” and “CochabambaCochabamba”…the only 2 destinations available.

By this stage I was getting bored with Potosi and the fact I could barely climb stairs. So I pulled a coin from my pocket and after a quick coin toss we set off to buy tickets to Cochabamba. A stroke of luck as we later discovered that there were riots ongoing in La Paz! The bus wasn’t due to leave for 3 hours so we shot back to town for yet another stonkingly good steak.

Despite my altitude issues Potosi is a lovely city and we enjoyed our time there. It has great buildings and some nice restaurants and the steaks I ate every night were some of the best and cheapest so far. And one taxi driver we met also turned out to be a miner. It was great talking to him though sad to think he has to work two jobs and one of them is likely to kill him.

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