A quick tour of Potosi, Sucre and Oruro three cities that sit proudly on the high Altiplano of Bolivia. Potosi fabled for its silver mines is actually the highest city in the world at 4090m. It has outstanding colonial architecture with a beautiful renovated central square. The square is lined by Potosi cathedral and the Spanish Colonial Mint. The dominating Cerro Rico was rich in silver from 1556 to 1783 about 45,000 tons were mined. The Spanish decimated indigenous labour and imported 1000s of slaves to endure the mines, it is fair to say the history of the city and mines is hard. The current mines are a bit of a tourist attraction where you can go and see what a hard life the miners have, most are drunk or on narcotics it seems. The life expectancy is less than 40. We declined to take a day trip to the mines and instead explored the fascinating streets and buildings. There is a bit of an ethical dilemma here as to whether the ‘extreme’ tourist mine tours help or hinder the progress towards safer conditions.
There were numerous interesting artisan shops, I purchased some nice warm hand woven Alpaca socks and a fashionable hipster Alpaca jumper. Marion picked up a nice scarf and some woven wall hangings all at very fair and pretty sustainable prices. If we didn’t have 2 months of ski touring ahead we would have bought more of the locally made artisanal textiles.
Next up was the stunning Colonial Acrhitecture of Sucre, a good spot to take time out and learn Spanish or exploring the surrounding villages. The downtown is well preserved with many interesting buildings. There is also a good sized covered market full of lots of random stuff. We bought a few nice woven items but it was significantly pricer than Potosi. It is also known as the Chocolate capital of Bolivia as the French translation hints at. TO be honest I wasn’t blown away by the chocolates, maybe I just didn’t buy the good stuff though! At 2810m it is not super high but a nice all round cool climate. It felt pretty warm during August i.e. mid winter when we were visiting.
As the constitutional capital of Bolivia it hosts many interesting buildings such as Sucre cathedral, the national library, The house of freedom and the Archbishops house. All date from colonial times and most share the whitewashed exterior that I felt defines the city.
We were fortunate to time our visit with Bolivia´s national day on 6th August. This meant huge celebrations, many marching bands, a few well dressed dignitaries, military parades and so many versions of the national anthem!
Potosi was hosting a national marching band event, while Sucre was more of an event fitting of its constitutional capital status, with endless marches of endless groups of people. The entire city must have been involved. It went on for literally two days. We came back at 9am after a late night and they were still marching!
From Sucre we bussed up to Oruru an eight hour ride so we paid a couple dollars more for the cama deluxe bus. It also left at a convenient time. Sadly it had no working toilet, massively bald tyres and generally a scarily worn out. No toilet all night was interesting we had to ask the driver to stop then find spot by roadside, fine for me but Marion found it less tolerable! It was also bit disconcerting trying to sleep on a bus when it is dark outside but the road is twisting and turning up and down some seriously under engineered roads in the Andes all at some great altitude. It was probably best not to see all the roads but then again your imagination runs wild with what was behind the veil of darkness!
Oruru was dull we arrived at 6.30am and decided to leave as soon as possible. We wanted to get direct to Sajama National park, this proved hard, no one would help. We were sent on two wild goose chases to random bus offices around town trying to find a bus. It seemed like one should exist but it was beyond us to find it. We bought a ticket to Arica in Chile then we just had to get off by the border so we could hitch or taxi into the park. The village of Sajama is 15km off the main road so walking at the 4400m altitude is not your best bet. In hindsight getting a local bus to Patacamaya a junction with the La Paz-Arica road would be the best option and getting a ride from there would be possible.