Wednesday, 1 February 2012

On the Road to Sucre

We only spent one night in Uyuni as the town itself is either the end or start point of tours into the Salt Flats which means there’s not much to see but there’s a lot of hawkers harassing you to buy their tours (although they should’ve been able to see from the layer of salt covering all our clothing that we’d already ‘been there, done that’…)

After a quality salteña for breakfast, we took a ‘Diana’s Tours’ bus at 9am the next morning to Potosi.   The bus wasn’t too bad once we had our earplugs in, luckily we had reserved seats as it was crammed full, and after a stop in the middle of nowhere for use of a typical Bolivian toilet, we arrived by 2pm.  We had planned just to stretch our legs and just do a quick tour of Potosi (since we weren’t keen to go into the silver mines) and then catch a taxi onto Sucre.  

Potosi turned out to be a pleasant surprise with some beautiful architecture (there are 32 cathedrals in the main part of town alone) and grand old houses etc.  Fernando and Sarah climbed to the top of the Jesuit church’s bell tower where the tour guide told us the very interesting history of the town.  From the church you have a view over the whole valley, but also of a large, ugly brown/red mountain.  This mountain apparently used to be lush and green but has since turned red due to all the contamination from centuries of mining.  The locals say that the mountain has turned red because of all the bloodshed that the mine has caused.  In the 17th century indigenous boys were sent to the mines at 12 years old and many mothers killed their sons at birth to prevent them from having such a terrible death sentence once they grew up.  Even now the conditions in the mines are terrible and the miners die young, take drugs to survive the conditions, and then usually have to stop work due to lung failure.

Asides from it’s sad history it really was an interesting place to spend the afternoon, but we had to move on quickly and catch our next bus to Sucre.  So we enjoyed a quick lunch and tried to find a cheap taxi to Sucre.  Apparently this no longer exists, and so after unsuccessfully trying to bargain for 30 minutes we decided we’d have to take another bus instead.  This turned out to be the cheaper and more comfy option anyway.
We arrived at 9pm and luckily our hotel, HI Sucre, was walking distance from the bus stop so it wasn't long before we were settled in.  The next morning we explored the town – it amazed us just how different each town we’d visited in Bolivia had been so far.  Sucre was by far the nicest we’d stopped in yet and we passed two welcome slow paced days there. We passed the time by visiting the awesome food market where you can eat for a couple of bucks and get the best fruit salad and yogurt (which Sarah had to enjoy on her own due to the beautiful large mango pieces…).  We hiked up the hill to ‘La Recoleta’ where there are great views over the whole town and also a nice café with all the proceeds going to ‘los niños’. 
Apparently the place to visit on the weekend is the cemetery, which is quite scenic with all the greenery, but most of the town’s population seemed to be there as well.  Not particularly there to mourn a loved one, but rather just as a family day out visiting a place with trees and ice cream vendors which helps to pass the afternoon….
In fact, it turns out that there were so many people around because it was school holidays in Bolivia and it’s of course the time when everyone travels.  Unfortunately this meant for us that all the flights from Sucre to La Paz were booked out for the next 3 days and even after 3 days the prices were much higher than we’d expected due to the peak season.  So, even though we really didn’t want to take an overnight bus in Bolivia, we decided that it was our best option as we didn’t have the time to sit around in Sucre for 3 days, but more so the money for the flights.  The only plus side to taking the bus was that we could keep travelling with The Schatzies as they had already planned to take the same bus.
6569254205_13999aaeb8So it was with a little bit of trepidation that on Sunday night we boarded our bus bound for La Paz.  It was the first time that we’d sat on the top level of the double decker bus as well and about an hour into the trip Dave was really motion sick (thankfully Saskia had even more medication than we were carrying and gave Dave some pills which not only stopped the queasiness but also knocked him out for the rest of the trip…) But asides form that and the cold that seeped into the bus (night-time plus altitude minus heating in bus equals a cold trip) the bus trip was fine and we had a great view of the craziness that is La Paz as we drove down into it early Monday morning.

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