As Bolivia’s ‘second’ capital (which I’m convinced is only so that La Paz can claim the ‘highest capital city in the world’ title), Sucre is a cool-drink-on-a-hot-day of a refreshing change from the north of the country – clean streets, trees, flowers, pretty buildings, fresh food, café culture and… wait for it… actual sociable hostels! The Beehive where we stayed also has an environmental and social conscience, making local women integral to their business.
To get to Sucre we took a very easy 30-minute flight from Cochabamba over the Torotoro landscape, only marred by the unspeakably revolting stagnant sewerage smell pervading ALL ‘fresh’ air around and inside the airport in Cochabamba, from a nearby highly-polluted river, causing a suffocating nausea I don’t think I’ve ever experienced before! Thank goodness they pumped clean air into the plane. I don’t know how or why local people live with it.
Sucre also has the zebra characters that started in La Paz; super-friendly people light-heartedly dancing in front of the traffic to remind them what zebra crossings are for! 🙂 I took a relaxing few days to just chill out after a number of very early starts.
Poor polluted Potosí
This is the highest city in the world at over 4,000m above sea level, but the thing that makes it difficult to be here is the poor air quality due to the mines, reducing oxygen levels even further, which meant headache for me. The city has mostly unfinished buildings like La Paz, but here it seems calmly in keeping with the bleak environment around. The 3 hour bus to get here had provided more intimacy with the long-unwashed armpits and clothes of locals, who were wider than the space allocated to them, than anyone would want – so bad you start to taste it on your tongue. I know people who refer to ‘the great unwashed’ on UK public transport: they have no idea! With a closer look, the centre of Potosí has attractive and colourful colonial buildings.
When silver was found here hundreds of years ago, this became one of the wealthiest cities on Earth. Neither Ariane nor I wanted to visit the silver mines in Cerro Rico (‘Rich Hill’) upon which Potosí’s founding deep wealth was famously based: Our visit wouldn’t stop the thousands of men and children having to work in the horrendous conditions, and it would be pretty unpleasant, noxious, claustrophobic and dangerous. The only reason I might have visited is to bring their working conditions to the attention of people reading this, but plenty of others have done grand jobs before me, such as this post or the 2005 film ‘The Devil’s Miner’ (which I haven’t seen). No, I don’t think there’s an easy tourist solution to this city’s enduring dependency on poor-return mining.
Instead we just went to the Casa de la Moneda, a museum about how the original vast haul of silver from the mines was made into rough-shaped coins and shipped off to Spain: ‘pieces of eight’! It was halloween, and after dark there were little kids in all kinds of crazy costumes giving the place an eerie feel…
Potosí also features at the end of the interesting music video for Naughty Boy’s La La La, which is all set in Bolivia.
The ultimate destination in Bolivia is the salt flats, the Salar de Uyuni, and I’d been told by various travellers to start the tour in Tupiza, much more attractive than Uyuni and ‘Butch and Sundance’ country, so that was my next destination with Ariane. The modern, clean-looking bus company we chose for this journey subcontracted out to a dodgy-looking old local one instead – don’t assume anything in Bolivia!
From high and cold back down to hot again: The effects on our bodies of repeatedly changing altitude meant there was little to do in Tupiza the next day but sit by the pool and use the (awful) wifi of a hotel we hadn’t paid to stay in. Ok… this day felt like I was on holiday. The sunburn I got was comeuppance!
At sunset at a mirador (lookout point) above the town, I bumped into a girl from London, Kelly, for the 6th time since Ecuador! The cemetery was crowded with locals performing their annual ‘day of the dead’ rituals and celebrations for November 2nd.