Potosi

Trip Start Nov 20, 2006
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77
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Trip End Jun 27, 2007


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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Tuesday, May 15, 2007

We'd been warned that the roads in Bolivia are really bumpy and that the driving can be slightly erratic. Having survived the roads in India though we didn't think it could be that bad. We were all a bit concerned then when we noticed that the bus driver's nickname was 'crazy'. He certainly lived up to it taking some of the corners on two wheels and leaving us wishing we'd not bothered with breakfast. At least we had lots of beautiful scenery to distract us from the driving. Everything is a lot more basic in Bolivia than Brazil and we were warned by Jono to say goodbye to toilets. Toilet breaks on the journey thus consisted of girls on one side of the bus, boys on the other.

The journey to Potosi took us from an altitude of 2,700m in Sucre to 4,200m. We were all a bit worried about altitude sickness but on arrival most of us felt fine, just a bit short of breath. During the night though everyone suffered to a certain extent. We all had bad headaches, felt a bit sick and were struggling to walk up stairs and hills. The local remedy for altitude sickness is coca leaves. These can be drunk in tea, taken in a concentrated liquid or just chewed. Apparently they contain a small amount of cocaine that gives your heart an extra hand to pump the blood around. It certainly seems to work and by the next day we all felt a lot better.

Potosi is a mining town and silver, tin and other minerals have been mined from the mountain by the local indians for centuries. The conditions in the mine are really harsh. Small children work alongside their fathers and there are no safety regulations so the poorer miners will work without proper shoes or helmets. Around 11,000 people work in the mines on extremely poor wages but as this is the only source of income in Potosi they have little choice in their employment. Their life expectancy is significantly reduced as most of the miners suffer from lung disease from breathing in all the dust and fumes.

Our tour of the mines started with a visit to the miners market to buy gifts for the miners. Most of all they wanted drinks and coca leaves as well as dynamite and cigarettes. Before we went into the mines we were given a demonstration on how to make dynamite. Once the fuse was lit our guide passed it around the group for us all to nervously hold! He took it to a safe distance for it to explode and the noise was deafening and you could feel the ground shake. It was then into the mines. The conditions were awful - very dusty and claustrophobic. It was so bad that half of the group, including me, didn't make it to the end. Matt made it to the end though. The miners have a small shrine inside the mine to whom they offer alcohol, coca leaves and cigarettes. If the cigarette is smoked by the god they would have good luck. I think everyone found the trip really interesting but a bit disturbing. That afternoon Matt and me had a quick visit to the mint where the silver from the mines used to be made into coins.

We also visited the local market in Potosi, including the meat market. Matt and me have seen quite a lot of meat markets on our travels and they have never been that pleasant. This one though has to be the worst I have ever been to and looked more like something out of a horror movie than something you'd cook for dinner. Matt took a few photos (I couldn't even look) but I think they are far too gruesome to put on the blog. If you've got a strong stomach and want to see them we'll show them to you when we get home.

That said we still managed to have some meat for dinner that night and finished the evening with a few beers in one of the locals bars.

Next stop Uyuni and the Salt Flats.......................
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