After a short flight to Amsterdam, about 11 hours from Amsterdam to Lima, 6 hours of waiting in Lima airport, 1 hour waiting inside the plane and a couple of more hours flight, I arrived in La Paz, Bolivia 2 am local time. A taxi drive through empty streets brought me to the hotel I had booked, which in fact was closed, but I managed to wake up the night porter and got myself to bed. La Paz is about 3600m a.s.l so I took it very easy the next days, both to recover from jet lag and to prevent high altitude sickness. So I took a lot of rest, drank my mate de coca, and used some time to look around in La Paz. I got a bit headache, and had a little heavy breathing, but in fact it got better when I got outside La Paz, even if I ascended to a higher altitude with about 400 m. I guess this is due to that La Paz is placed in a valley going down from the high plateau (altiplano), with a lot of polluting traffic which give the body even less oxygen than in the high plateau itself.
Most of the long distance buses in Bolivia is night buses. So also with the bus from La Paz to Potosi. Most of the bus companies have quite good buses, and some are excellent. I chose a bus with “beds” which means seat more or less like the first class seats in long distance planes. Maybe a bit lack of space for a long legged European like me, but I slept well and had a very good trip.
Many, many years ago I read about the mines of Potosi in a book of the Uruguayan historian and writer Eduardo Galeano called “Open veins of Latin America”. I read about the Cerro Rico (rich mountain) the richest silver mines in history, where the Spanish took out or stole silver enough to build a bridge from Potosi, across the Atlantic Ocean and to Madrid (this is not my words). They first tried with slaves from Africa to work in the mines, but they could not make this hard work in these altitude and relative cold temperatures, so they started to enslave the indigenous people both around Potosi and from other parts of the Andes. While the people living there when the Spanish came was mostly Aymaras, you will today also find a big Quechua-speaking population in Potosi, descendants from slaves from the Peruvian parts of Andes. But the life of a miner was – and is – short. They worked – and work – 24 hours a day, with nothing else than the chewing of coca leaves as food. Lots of people have died in and of the mines. Eduardo Galeano writes that after a while the name of the mountain – in Aymara – changed from the “rich mountain” to “ the mountain that eats people”.
The silver from Potosi paid, to a large extent, the industrialization of England and thereby also much of the rest of Europe. Ships loaded with silver sometimes went on Spanish ships directly to England as payments of the industrialized goods which the Spanish aristocracy bought a lot of in these years. Today there is almost no silver left in the mines of Potosi, but the town still live of mining. But today they take out what is left there, which mostly is sink Thinking of what amount of riches and wealth Potosi has created on another continent, it is quite a contrast to see the poverty in this city today. The miners work with just hand tools (and dynamite, but the holes for the dynamite is made with hammer and chisel), life expectancy for a miner is about 10 years after starting to work in the mine. A miner might earn about $35 for 14 days, those working outside earn less I think.
Well, I guess you have figured out that I have had a special interest for Potosi, and finally I have also been there, not only read about it. The tour to and in the mines included some playing with dynamite, saying hello to Supay (El Tio in spanish, which means uncle but is hardly the original meaning or source of the name El Tio, it is a bit more complicated), and the day I was there was the day they sacrifice lamas to Pachamama (Mother Earth). The lamas in the pics are already dead, and their blood is thrown over the entrance of the mine and other places that need the blessing of Pachamama. If you think Supay reminds of a familiar guy from the christian myths, it is not coincidental, there is also a story behind that. I can tell more to those who are interested, or you can google for more info.
Another night bus, this time not quite the same standard, but fair buses. You can't say the same about the road though. While it is paved road on the altiplano from La Paz to Potosi, the road from Potosi to Tarija is a dust road, and what we call a wash board road in Norway. Also a night bus, but not too easy to sleep.
Tarija is the capitol of the wine district in Bolivia and of course I had to see some of the vineyards and bodegas. They consist of both some industrial bodegas and a lot of traditional bodegas. In my opinion the industrial wine production of Bolivia can be compared to their more famous neighbours in Chile and Argentina. In the traditional ones they make more sweet wines (but not only that), and the locals mostly prefer the sweet wines I was told.
There is a lot of beautiful nature around the city, and for those who like trekking and hiking, Tarija has a lot to offer. The so called “Inca trail” which is a road built buy the Incas in pre-Colombian time, is believed to have gone from the north west parts of Argentina to somewhere in the Colombian Andes, through La Paz, Cusco in Peru and Quito in Ecuador (if this does not tell you anything, then look on the map). The first part, if you go from south to north, which is still visible and in good condition, is just outside Tarija. I did a one day trip along this beautiful road here, together with a guide and a French couple, Aurora and Simon.
The Inca trail El Choro
One of the better preserved parts of the Inca trail starts at Cumbre not far from the La Paz, in the deserted landscape at 4900m and descends to about 1300m at El Chairo, about an hours drive from Coroico. This is a 3-4 days trip, I made it in 3 days. You won't really need a guide on this trip, it is impossible to get lost, but I took one for safety reasons. I had no one who wanted to go at the same time as me, and as one of the hiking rules is in Norway: Never walk alone! It turned out to be the best, my guide, Milton, was a very nice guy and we had a great time together. We also met some other groups on our way.
The first day we descended to about 2800m, and in the afternoon we had our dinner and put up our tents at Challapampa, one of the tambos (a place that offered shelter and lodging for the travellers on the road) along the road. In pre-Colombian times these roads had a messenger or post system. The chasquis were postmen that would service an average of 10-15km of the road (the distance depending on the land and challenges) and there was always a running mail man at his post. In these days it is estimated that news from Quito in Ecuador reached Cusco in Peru in 6-7 days, which is less than a letter sent by mail takes today!
Well, enough of that, you can find more about this if you google the Inca trail I guess. The next day was a lot up and down, which also included to go up the so-called Cuesta del Diablo, which means Devils Hill or Slope. I think I was a bit better fit for this than Milton, because he got completely exhausted after this. We were supposed to stop at a tambo called Bella Vista, but here the lady in charge had taken a visit to La Paz so it was all closed. In stead we had to go on to Sandillani, a place where a Japanese settled down 50 years ago and have made himself a beautiful Japanese garden where you can camp with a spectacular view of the valley hundreds of meters below (800m or so). At this place there is also some sort of a hostel or inn, where you can get a bed in a dormitory (which I gladly paid 25bs - $4 -for in stead of another night in tent). But first we had a good meal and some beers after the hardest part of the trail – and the longest day of trekking.
The next day started with a visit to the Japanese garden, and the old Japanese told us the story about how he came there, showed us maps drawn by hand of all the countries in the world with points to where his visitors in these years came from. He also had a huge amount of postcards from all over the world (which reminds me that I must send him one when I get home), and about 15 from Norway, among them one from Stavanger and one from Sand in Ryfylke, about 3 hours drive from Stavanger.
After saying goodbye to the Japanese, we descended down to El Chairo at about 1300m, from where we hired a mini bus to Coroico. I would have loved to stay at Coroico, but had a bus ticket from La Paz to Arequipa in Peru the next day and had to leave short after we arrived there.
Jo Jenseg Web-album by Jo Jenseg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Norway License.
Based on a work at picasaweb.google.com.