In Search of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Tupiza Travel Blog

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Market vendor selling coca leaves

Way high up in the Ande Mountains is a small mining town called San Vicente.It is in this town where the two famous gringo bank robber, Butch Cassidy an the Sundance kid were found dead. As the legend goes, the two escaped the Pinkerton Detectives by taking a boat from New York City to Buena Aires, Argentina and settled down in South American for a couple of years. Before long they were back to robbing and this time they picked to steal the miner payroll outside the town of Tupiza in southern Bolivia, near the Argentine border.In an attempt to avoid the border, they headed up into the mountains and stopped for the night in the town of San Vicente, 15,000+ feet above sea level. In the same town, a group of military solders were arrived with orders to search for the "two gringos".

The devil's tooth
Well, being a small town, word had gotten out that two gringos were staying at the hotel. With this , one of the soldiers went to investigate and was shot by one of the two banditos. This started a shoot out that lasted into the night. The soldiers knew that they couldn't escape, so instead of wasting ammuniton, they waited until dawn to see what the two were to do. However, during the night there was one shot followed by another and the next day they found the two men lying on the floor, an apparent suicide. Both Butch Cassidy and Sun Dance kid were buried as they were in the local cemetary up in San Vicente. To this day, that is where they are suppose to be.

San Vicente is not a popular tourist spot, on the contrary, it is very difficult to get there as most of the dirt roads are washed out during the year.

Dried up river bed, heading toward San Vicente
This was our challenge, to visit the town where Butch and Sundance spent their last day.

Our trip started out in La Paz, the capital of Bolivia, and would take us some 600 miles south to Tupiza and then San Vicente. Ed Ryan, a diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in La Paz, was able to get the embassy's LandCruiser for the 4 day trip. We started out a 5:53am from La Paz and drove to Oruro, the only major city of the Southern Altiplano (high plains of south america).Oruro owes its existence to the fact that the area was chock full of copper, silver and tin bringing the founding by the spaniards back in 1606. It took us 3 hours to get there as we passed the small towns of Clamarca, Patacamaya, Sicasica, Pan Duro, and Caracolla.

Outside of Tupiza
By this time our odometer showed we had travelled 222 km, most of which was dusty dirt roads and all above 12,000 foot elevation.

Our next destination was to get to the town of Potosi and spend the night there. Potosi was one of the most successful and rich silver mines in the world back in the 1500's. "I am rich Potosi, The Treasure of the world and the envy of kings" reads the slogan on the city's first coat of arms and it wasn't far off the mark. As a matter of fact, anything that is incredibly lucrative has come to be know in Spanish as "un Potosi". It was founded on April 1, 1545 and soon had a population of over 200,000 and was the largest city in South America.

We got to Potosi by 3pm and checked into a hotel downtown.

Altiplano around Potosi
The first thing I noticed in the lobby was an oxygen bottle lying on the check-in counter and thought that maybe someone in the hotel was suffering from asyhma or other respiratory ailement. It turns of that the oxygen is for un-acclimatized guests, since Potosi is the highest city in the world! It stands at 13,350 ft high.

After spending a rather noise night in Potosi (there was some sort of celebration with fireworks), we left at 5:35 am to take the Pan American highway down to Tupiza and then San Vicente. This part of our journey was perhaps the most dangerous as we soon found ourselves on a dirt road winding around mountains without any sort of guard rail or ledge. Along the road we saw crosses lining the sides where either whole carload or bus loads of people (judging by the number of crosses clumped in one area) went over the edge, falling down some 200 - 300 feet.

Lake up above the tree line near Potosi, Bolivia
What made this more dangerous was the fact that trucks and buses travelled on the narrow road in both directions, many times coming to a full stop to negotiate the turns or back up for on coming traffic.

As we left the winding mountain roads, we picked up some local indians and gave them a ride to the next town with the intent of asking them information about Tupiza and how best to get there. We were on the right track and they confirmed our expectations. The land drops from the altiplano to a more scenic, desert southwestern look around Tupiza. We saw saguaro cactus, bolivian indians travelling on horse back and red rock canyons - all resembling the areas of New Mexico and Arizona (about 100 years ago). This was probably the most scenic part of the trip. We arrived in Tupiza at 2:39pm and had travelled 931 km from La Paz, most all on dirt roads and mountain passes.

Open market outside of Oruro town, near La Paz
Once there, we found out that all the roads leading to San Vicente were washed out and that the city was cut off from civilization. The only way as to take a mule or horses for the last 70 mile trek. We had not planned to take horses or any more time, so we attempted to drive up a river bed to see if we could make it passed the area where the road was blocked. We were unsuccessful and after spending the night in Tupiza, left to head back to La Paz.

On the way back, we decide to take a different road and avoid the hazardous Pan American highway. This road was much more scenic and less travelled. It took us up the center of the country and past some small bolivian villages where we stopped to buy food at the local markets. Getting petrol was an experience. First, we had to get a large olive oil can, about 15 gallons and fill it up with gas.

Small town outside of La Paz...can't remember the name.
Then we would pour the gas into the car with a funnel, trying not to spill the content all over the car in the process.

We finally got back to La Paz feeling as if we had failed to reach our goal of San Vicente. The trip was worth it since we got to see much of the country side and experience the different villages and towns we stayed in on the way. Maybe there will be a next time when we actually make it to San Vicente.

Town Distance(Km) Distance(Km) Distance(Km) Altitude Time Odometer City between Towns between Cities between Overnites (in Feet) (local) Reading (km) ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------La Paz 0 0 0 12,500 5:53am 41,032.7 Calamarca 60 12,950 7:16am 41,103.0 Patacamaya 46 12,350 7:41am 41,149.0 Sicasica 20 12,660 8:02am 41,171.

Altiplano...the walls of a small village.
0 Pan Duro 27 12,500 8:24am 41,211.0 Caracolla 29 12,300 8:40am 41,243.0 Oruro 40 222 12,000 9:01am 41,281.0 Machmacama 35 12,210 9:37am 41,323.0 Poopo 24 12,250 10:25am 41,350.0 Pazna 26 12,170 10:34am 41,376.0 Challapata 38 12,210 11:02am 41,417.0 Culta 93 13,500 12:46am 41,518.0 Yocalla 71 11,340 2:03pm 41,585.0 Tarapaya 25 11,680 2:22pm 41,602.0 Potosi(Arrive) 25 337 559 13,030 2:55pm 41,630.0 Potosi(Leave) 5:35am Cuchulngenio 40 12,160 6:47am 41,681.0 Padcoyo 91 11,110 8:15am 41,773.0 Camargo 66 7,970 9:42am 41,839.0 Villa Abecia 48 7,600 10:40am 41,884.0 Las Carrera 28 7,730 11:02am 41,914.0 Imporo 23 8,560 11:45am 41,938.0 Tupiza(arrive) 76 372 931 9,760 2:39pm 42,045.0 Tupiza(leave) 7:55am Oro Ingenio 35 (did not make it) San Vicente 74 (did not make it)

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Market vendor selling coca leaves
Market vendor selling coca leaves
The devils tooth
The devil's tooth
Dried up river bed, heading toward…
Dried up river bed, heading towar…
Outside of Tupiza
Outside of Tupiza
Altiplano around Potosi
Altiplano around Potosi
Lake up above the tree line near P…
Lake up above the tree line near …
Open market outside of Oruro town,…
Open market outside of Oruro town…
Small town outside of La Paz...can…
Small town outside of La Paz...ca…
Altiplano...the walls of a small v…
Altiplano...the walls of a small …
Bag of coca leaves bought at the m…
Bag of coca leaves bought at the …
Bolivian girl/lady standing near t…
Bolivian girl/lady standing near …
One of the many crosses at the edg…
One of the many crosses at the ed…
Wild donkey near Tupiza.
Wild donkey near Tupiza.
Small town market near Tupiza
Small town market near Tupiza
The return back to La Paz from Tup…
The return back to La Paz from Tu…
Taking your life in your hands dri…
Taking your life in your hands dr…
Potosi, Bolivia
Potosi, Bolivia
Returning back via Tupiza superhig…
Returning back via Tupiza superhi…
We have to drive over that bridge?…
We have to drive over that bridge…
1,033 km (642 miles) traveled
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photo by: wilfredoc2009