Mountains of silver, hearts of gold.

Ok so we hailed the bus 100 m from the bus station or not so, (they will stop anywhere here), we found some random seats and I spent the rest of the journey trying not to be sick, luckily I managed to find a plastic bag which seemed to stem the nausea enough for me to keep a child in front entertained for half the journey.

When we arrived in Potosi, I was still not great and after two attempts at getting to our hostel by taxi (the first guy broke down) we finally arrived all set to relax and sleep. Unfortunately we got a sinking feeling when we arrived, it was the top place in Potosi- but for loud solo travellers it seemed and we got a room that stank of petrol (we assumed it was off our bags initially as the taxis were not in the best condition). At that point we didn’t really care, we were so tired we just ate the last of our snacks for dinner and fell asleep.

The following morning Gav wasn’t great, maybe the altitude or something else but the next day and a half we did very little, mostly food runs.

The funny thing about staying somewhere at high altitude when you are not used to it is the unexpected differences. Yes you experience headaches, nausea etc but you get over that in a day or two. What takes a bit longer to get used to is the effect of lack of oxygen, even packing your rucksack leaves you needing to sit down for 5 minutes to get some energy back. I frequently forgot about this and on the food runs for Gav which involved going to two shops, I’d dart up the hill at my usual speed only to run out of steam halfway up and have to stop to catch my breath. Crazy!

In addition to the Semana Santa play going on we also saw a student demo one morning while we were having breakfast. This would not be our last one in Bolivia, more on that later.

Due to being ill when we arrived we ended up extending at our place and after the day out and about we arrived back at the hostel only to be asked could we move rooms…to a dorm. Eh no. The room was ½ the size of the one we were in with four beds. So we went looking for somewhere else. Round the corner was an ok rated place but cheaper and with breakfast but the reviews all said it had no hot water. Its cold here we need hot water which was why we didn’t choose it the first time. The room was nice, with a balcony and en-suite but annoyingly the internet would not allow laptops to connect.

The following morning we had our tour of the mines of Cerro Rico booked through the hostel. I ended up going alone, whether altitude or something else Gav was still incredibly poorly and at 8.30 am I headed off alone for the tour. We were led to a room at the back of the hostel, given wellies, over pants, an over jacket, a waterproof drawstring sack bag for our stuff and a hard-hat with headtorch attached to a waist belt.

We were bundled into a minibus and whisked away to the local miners market where you could buy amongst other things Dynamite! (It is only legal to buy dynamite at this market in Bolivia for the sole use in the mine).

Other notable things the miners do not eat when they are in the mine and chewing the leaves staves off the hunger. As I mentioned above, Friday was a big party as most of the miners finished work for the weekend. (there were a small number that also worked on Saturday). Until recently women were not allowed in the mine as they were thought to bring bad luck, they are superstitious but the younger miners don’t mind. Though they are not allowed to work there officially before 18 years old, some teenagers still work there. Our guides had worked 5 and 7 years there before becoming guides.

As we were led into the mine down the tracks, quite quickly the roof height dropped and you had to dodge broken beams overhead and compressed air pipes as well not slip on the rails or in the mud. I was wearing my facemask and the further we went into the mine the harder it was to breathe.

It is worth noting that this is still a dangerous place to work and many tourists who come here do not go on the tours as they do not think that the miners benefit from them. They are supposed to get a percentage of your ticket price but there is no way to tell if this is being done.

Gav did make it into the mine the following day as he was feeling better(ish). He ended up having to push the cart on the tracks into the mountain and back out again. He described it as like being on a really dangerous rollercoaster as you had to hang on to the back as it careened around corners ducking to avoid beams and jumping off when it derailed. It was easier to push when full than empty but he enjoyed it and arrived back wrecked! The explosion in the above video was from his trip as my phone had run out of space (typical!).

The last place to visit was the San Francisco Convent. It was founded in 1547 by Fray Gaspar de Valverde and it the oldest monastery in Bolivia. It was demolished in 1707 and reconstructed over 19 years. . The statue of Jesus that graces the altar features hair that is said to grow miraculously. They have to trim it occasionally  apparently. Also the bodies that were buried in the crypt had to be moved on public health concerns due to the river that flows under the centre of Potosi (including under the cathedral) that brought potable water close to the bodies of rotting corpses. There is only bones present now. There were great views from the roof.

After five nights here it was time to move on, our next stop would be the Bolivian capital Sucre. As we were whisked away by taxi to the bus station we decided we quite liked Bolivia. I really wish our Spanish was better though, you can feel the locals really want to interact with you but are afraid you won’t understand them. They are very sweet too, the guy from this taxi gave us a 10 centavos coin (1p/1c) for luck which I still have in my handbag now almost 4 months later.

Next stop the chocolate capital of Sucre….

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