In Search of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Tupiza Travel Blog› entry 1 of 3 › view all entries
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".
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.