Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Of silver mines and dinosaurs

A holiday from a holiday more or less sums up the last few days! Since arriving in Potosi in a massive thunderstorm on the 24th, I haven´t done anything more onerous than walk around. It feels very strange! The biggest town I´ve been in since arriving in South America, Potosi is a great place. Extremely wealthy during colonial times due to the local silver mine, it is extremely lively, with great markets and numerous richly decorated churches. The perfect place for a few days relaxing and sightseeing. Or lying in bed sick in the case of Lisa... somewhere the food or water came with some added bacteria...

The original mine basically comprises the whole of the mountain towering over the town. Whilst much of the silver has now been extracted, several small mines are still active, producing tin and zinc in addition to silver. And it is possible to go down them...

Having the chance to chat to the miners was fascinating and entering the mines was quite an experience. The conditions the miners work in day after day are horribly tough; a couple of hours was more than enough for me! Since I went on a Friday, it was also obligatory to join the miners in shots of Ceibu, the local 96% firewater... I´m not sure whether this had a positive or negative effect! I don´t really like small enclosed spaces underground, and as we descended deeper into the mountain, the tunnels got smaller, the heat, dust and smelly gasses increased, and the lack of oxygen became increasingly apparent. Just trying to help raise a bag of rocks (left) was exhausting! I now have a very healthy respect for anyone that works down a mine - I certainly couldn´t and it was a relief to see the sky again!

From Potosi, we took a side trip to the town of Sucre to the East for a couple of days. At 2,800 metres, it felt postively oxygen-rich after the 4,070m high Potosi! With a fantastic climate and loads of beautiful old colonial buildings, its a wonderful town and a great place to relax and recuperate. Famous for its sausages (delicious) and chocolate (hmm), we could have stayed there for days! It is also the site of thousands of dinosaur footprints - some of which can maybe just about be seen here to the left of the fault on the right.

The scenery around Sucre was again totally different from anything we´ve seen so far in Bolivia, and also stunning - high mountains and altiplano, with deep gorges and then rolling countryside.

Bolivia is truly a beautiful country and I´m really looking forward to getting back on the road again and seeing more of it. We´re now back in Potosi and leave tomorrow for Oruru and La Paz to the north. The road is paved all the way, but that´s about all we know...!!

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