I stumbled across a Tinku parade
It was really tough to leave Sucre
, it was my chill out place in Bolivia and I felt as though I could have easily spent two weeks there, taking Spanish classes, induldging in the cafe culture, no wonder they say it's Bolivia's most beautiful city.
Anyway onto Potosi
, I felt like 2 days were more than enough (I had three), I think part of that feeling though is down to my hostel not being as nice as the one in Sucre (neither were the people), the weather was bitterly cold day and night and I managed to get a nasty virus and lost my voice (I eventually caved to antibiotics).
The trip to get to Potosi was my first day trip on a bus and the scenery certaintly didn't disappoint with rugged mountain backdrops and knife edge precipices.
The bus journey itself was eventful; it started with a girl who was on the wrong bus sitting in my seat (a local kindly pointed this out for me), then when I finally got my seat I was sitting next to a slightly deranged old man who kept talking to himself who then proceeded to be evicted by a lady and her son. He then protested he'd bought the ticket in Santa Cruz and held the bus up by convincing the bus driver he had luggage in the hold, the bus ended up leaving him standing in the middle of the road empty handed, I could only deduce he was a bit nuts. As a result we arrived in Potosi half an hour late (still pretty good by South American standards) and a quick taxi ride later to my hostel I was out cruising the streets trying to satisy the rumbling beast in my belly.
Before that could be satisfied I stumbled across a festival and parade going through the streets (I think it was some kind of Tinku) and took some amazing shots of the local school/college kids dressed up in what can only be descibed as demonic costumes.
I was glad though I'd caught it. I then went to the National Mint museum after lunch at Cafe Grumpy (really called Cafe de la Plaza, service is less than friendly), where I managed to get an English speaking guide with a Danish couple. He was really informative and told us about the history of producing silver coins in Potosi, the first coins were stamped with a 'P' and were known as Potosi's. The silver from Potosi for a large period of time provided Spains wealth and if one of the ships didn't make it to Spain it put a serious dent in Spains economy, one such ship didn't make it and was wrecked off the coast of South America and the treasure was discovered by the Americans in the last 100 years or so, their token gesture to the museum was to return a solitary coin. In not into religious art but an anoymous work produced in the 18th Century entitled 'La Virgen del Cerro' really interested me; it depicts the mountain of Cerro Rico as the Earth Mother and tells the story of how a local man found silver on the mountain.
He remembered the legend of Huayan Copa who was told in a booming voice (Potojsi is a Quechan word for thunder) not to dig in the mountain as the metal was meant for others and passed the information onto the Spanish, no doubt for a tidy profit! At the end of the tour and frozen death I went to warm up with a few hot chocolates at Cafe Grumpy (why I don't know) then dinner on my own, I treated myself to King Prawns and Langoustines for an earth shattering £8! Having not met anyone in my room and with no voice to talk with it was a pretty early night. When I did meet them they were ok, just pretty clicky as they were travelling together so Sunday I went out on my own again and and in the afternoon took a guided tour of the Convent of Santa Teresa. Although the guide spoke both English and Spanish most of the group were Spanish speakers so her English explanations were a bit brief, I didn't mind though as it was good practice.
Monday ended up being really frenetic as when I went to book my bus ticket I was told there were no morning services running (I found out later this was a total fib, don't you just hate it when that happens?) so I had to take an overnight bus later that day in order to make my tour in Tupiza
on time. I then had to dash back to the hostel and pack and check before a mad dash for lunch before my mine tour. The mine tour was my best experience in Potosi and definitely one of my best experiences in Bolivia, it's one of the few times I can apply the words 'cool' and 'unnerving' in the same sentence. The tour company I used, Koala Tours, were really professional, we had all of the necessary gear, a guide who spoke amazing English and really looked after us all.
Door knocker to National Mint.
I think when you are doing something potentially dangerous a well-recommended company is essential, trying to save a few Bolivianos here and there in this instance is just stupid.
After the visit I had even more respect for the miners who work long hours (sometimes even 24hr days) in primitive conditions and can only earn what they take home themselves as the mines are cooperatives. At altitude it was really hard work in the mine as conditions were hot and dusty and there were a few points we had to crawl for a few metres which I really didn't enjoy. The first time this happened I had to stop for a while as I was freaking out, the only way to overcome is to think positively and not think about where you are too much. Needless to say getting back out into the fresh air was an amazing relief and I'll never complain about smog in London again! Outside we also had another fun treat with some dynamite explosions set off by the guides; you're waiting in anticipation then 'BOOM!' It's like a punch in the chest, good fun though.
Inside the main courtyard at the National Mint
Our guide even let us take photos with the fuse burning (it was a 2-minute fuse) and we also got some hilarious shots of him; one in particular was just brilliant, him cupping two live bags of explosive next to his family jewels - vascetomy Bolivian style!
After the tour (my group were lovely, wish I stayed where they'd all been staying), i grabbed some quick street food, checked the net briefly before catching a cab to the station.