Southern Cross – Bye bye Bolivia

Trip Start Jul 30, 2010
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Trip End May 29, 2011


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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Friday, April 29, 2011

Vomitar [bomiˈtar] VT, VI - to vomit
Collins English-Spanish Dictionary


The threat of "Voy a vomitar" was enough for our taxi driver to slow down. Nothing else seemed to work but the threat of having to clean out his Nissan did get thru' to him. He obviously didn't want to get to 'estoy vomitando’. The journey from Potosi to Bolivia’s capital Sucre normally takes about 3 hours. Our driver was determined to beat this. The car, a red Nissan Sunny was a piece of junk. The windscreen had stickers all over it and shading that extended half-way the window. Normally this would impede a driver’s visibility but as a typical Bolivian he could barely see over the steering wheel so this wasn’t as issue. The rear view mirror was obscured by a small DVD player from which a fluffy leprechaun (?) hung. His seatbelt, which hung limply, was equipped with one of the aftermarket paddings which makes the car look sooo much cooler and come with names like 'Viper’, ‘Cobra’ or ‘Wanker.’ Best (or worst) of all was the after-market exhaust pipe which meant that even when idling it made the car vibrate and sound ridiculous.

Nonetheless we made it to Sucre and were pleasantly surprised to find our hotel was actually quite good compared to other Bolivian hotels.

Before Sucre we had spent a day in Potosi. We travelled there from Uyuni, in a private bus rather than a public bus (for which we had to pay extra, but for Ģ9 it was worth it). Potosi used to be one of the richest towns in all of S. America due to its silver mines. But that was up to the early 1800’s and nowadays most of silver is gone altho’ there are still some streams left as well as zinc. 

On reaching Potosi the group went for a bit of a city tour. I, on the other hand, opted to watch the Schalke vs Man Utd game with Neepesh, the other Man Utd supporter in the group. Personally I think it was the correct decision even if it did involve a nervous 60-odd minutes wondering if we would break-down the Schalke goalie. Potosi was by the standard of the previous towns we’d visited quite a bit nicer and whilst poor compared to its heyday it still had a fair share of colonial buildings and its central plaza was quite a civilised place to sit and watch the world go by.

Before we took cabs to Sucre some of the group visited one of the existing open mines. The history of the mines is appalling. African slaves were brought in to replace the native workers, and it’s estimated that as many as eight million indigenous people and Africans died in the mines during the first three centuries of Spanish colonial rule. Most described it as a gruesome experience. Even now there are no safety standards as such. Miners are issued with helmets and that’s about it. Most miners start working in their teens and are finished – literally – in their 40s. It’s a grim life but it pays better than agriculture which, without a decent education, is the only option for many men.

Sucre, on the other hand, has a more celebrated history. Because many of the principal buildings are painted white it’s known as the ‘White City’. It’s also Bolivia’s capital and it was by some considerable margin the nicest of all the Bolivian towns or cities we’d visited.

And it was in Sucre that all the ‘buts’ about Bolivia come together. Bolivia is a beautiful country but it is scared with ugly, poverty stricken towns and villages, its people are poor but less so, much less so, in Sucre, its hotels and hostels are run on a least possible effort basis but not in Sucre and I could go on. I guess many of the same comments could be made about the UK, but without the abject poverty you see in Bolivia. A few days in Sucre had softened my opinion of the country.

The difference between 'rich' and 'poor' countries was brought home on the 29th when I found myself being woken up a little after 5am as Claire decided she wanted to watch the Royal Wedding. CNN had uninterrupted coverage of the event so what seemed like hours and hours we watched, or rather I dozed, as the best of British, in terms of pomp and pageantry, was shown to the rest of the World accompanied by Pier Morgan's inane commentary and Cat Deeley's vacuous witterings.  Made me almost proud to be British and Claire homesick.
 
Sucre airport is how I imagined Heathrow looked in the late 60’s or early 70’s. Lots of wornout wooden floors and lino, no electronic notice-boards, a dot-matrix printout for a boarding pass and catering facilities that would be at home in a caravan alongside the A1 serving mystery-meat burgers. All very basic but in a way quite quaint. And naturally this being S. America our flight to Santa Cruz was delayed for no apparent reason.

Eventually our little Boeing 737 turned up. AeroSur, the Bolivian airline we were flying with, have painted their small fleet with cartoon animals from the Amazon basin. Ours was painted as Caiman (a type of crocodile) but the best is the shark, altho’ I’m not sure how that fits in with the Amazon theme.

Santa Cruz turned out to be a rather nice place. It’s the 2nd biggest city in Bolivia and probably the flattest. Having flown over the Andes we found ourselves finally at altitude (just 400 masl) that was comfortable and in a landscape that was East Anglian flat as far as the eye could see. It has an almost non-Bolivian feel to it, itīs not dirty nor dusty, there are 4x4s all over they place that would never leave tarmac (as in London) and we even found a half-decent coffee-shop.

On the road in from the airport we saw somebody juggling whilst trying to balance on a unicycle at a junction whilst the lights were red. Unfortunately for him his seat was so high up that the passing cars, when the lights went green, could not reach up to hand him a few coins for his efforts.

Altho’ we only spent the one night in Santa Cruz before catching the overnight train into Brazil. The city is centred around a large and pleasant plaza and seemed quite a civilised place to spend a night before leaving this country of extremes.  
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Comments

Andy Howell on

Hello again - glad all's still well. In my experience, all forign trips (long or short) boil down to an anecdote about a taxi journey. My best one involves changing a puctured wheel myself at 4am in thick fog on an narrow chinese road populated soley by massive trucks. Two questions - why not just watch the Royal Weeding with the spansh commentary and is Neepech a typical mancunian name ?

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