The World's Highest City

Trip Start Oct 17, 2004
Trip End May 13, 2005

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Thursday, February 24, 2005

A very uncomfortable seven-hour ride from Tupiza along a gravel road took me and my friend, David, to Potosi. Incidentally, we also ended up travelling with three of the other four guys from our jeep accident the day before too. Potosi is known as the highest city in the world, at 4010 metres above sea level! It is situated in a pretty desolate area (even for the Bolivian Altiplano), only being founded due to the "Cerro Rico de Potosi" - a nearby hill which yielded fantastic amounts of Silver and, more recently, Zinc.

It would have been pointless going here and not visiting the mines (as Steve and Matt, two of the crash victims, pointed out). Had doubts due to my asthma, but gave it a go and it was definitely an unforgettable experience! Almost crawling at some stages in small, muddy, sometimes hot and airless tunnels certainly left an impression. Working conditions are tough, but undoubtedly better than in colonial times when an estimated eight million (mostly slaves) died down there. I got to chat with the miners, ask endless questions of our informative guide to help understand the history and impact of the mines on the locals. We also enjoyed a few dynamite explosions - one just 30 metres down the tunnel from where we were!

The city of Potosi was less interesting, a bit shabby and hectic. You wouldn't know the city was so high up but for three things - the lack of vegetation around the city; the weather - hot with the sun, cold without; and the fact that after walking only a few blocks you would be completely out of breath! Got into a good habit for beating the cold though - first by chewing coca leaves, and then (much more enjoyably) tucking in to some nice coca tea! Well, it did make you feel less susceptible to the cold, and also it was fun to try something that is highly legal in most of the rest of the world! As the Bolivians rightly state, "La Hoja de Coca NO Es Droga" (The Coca Leaf is NOT a Drug).
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