Saturday, 24 March 2012

Cities that nearly touch the sky

Day 30-32     Cities that nearly touch the sky (Potosi and La Paz)

Potosi is the highest city in the world at a little over 4000m. The route there took us through beautiful mountain landscapes which in parts were notably greener with huge cacti (like in cowboy cartoons) and some trees, although it was mostly scrub land! We even passed some marshy land that was lush with green grass and had cows on it - the first I have seen for a while! Mind you, it wasn't that green as there were sand dunes behind!

When we got to Potosi I had a wander around town. We went up the tower of one of the old churches and had a good view over the town. It is a nice place with clear evidence of its wealthy past. Potosi was founded by the Spanish when silver was found there. At some point, it was apparently the richest city in the world. Most of the silver has gone now - the vast majority went to Spain in the 16th,17th and 18th centuries.  There is still some silver there - about 8 years ago a miner who had worked there for over 30 years found a 6m seam of pure silver and is now the richest man in Potosi!


The Old Mint

The next morning a few of us decided to go on a tour of the Old Mint. The mint in Potosi was one of the most important in the world and they made silver coins for the Spanish until Bolivia won its independence. They then made Bolivian Coins until the 1970s.

The Bolivian women are very interesting - a high proportion stil wear the tradional out fits with pleated skirts and bowler or other hats.  I did not like to take photos of them, but still managed to sneak a few!

In the afternoon 4 of us went on a tour of the mine which still operates, even though there is very little silver there, there are many other minerals such as lead, zinc and tin. We had been warned that the conditions were pretty bad, but it was worse than I had imagined!
Going down the tunnel

Preparing to go in

With El Tio

In colonial times, the Spanish used the indigenous peoples to work in the mines as slaves. T ensure they worked hard they taught them about the devil and put a statue of the devil in the mine to remind them to work hard. The peole, however, worked out that the devil was the enemy of Catholics and so they came to see him as a friend believing that he would determine whether they would make good finds.  Apparently, they miners still give gifts to El Tio (uncle) every Friday to ensure their next week is successful!

The miners also worship Pachu Mama - mother earth who owns the mine and looks after their health; and then of course, they worship God and Jesus
Miner at work

Whew - made it out!
Entrance to the mine behind us!

That night we took a night bus to La Paz. Bolivian buses are built for short Bolivians and so this was rather less comfortable than the Argentinian night buses we had taken before!  We drove through the night, and then I awoke early to hear lots of busy talking. It turned out there was a road block, with burning tyres becasue there was a demonstration against a recent 50% rise in bus fares. The bus stopped and we had to get off. We ended up walking about 8 or 10km (estimates vary) (more than 2 hours) through the demonstrations and road blocks carrying our luggage. there was no danger to us as the demonstration was against the bus companies and people smiled as we went through, though they seemed amused at our inconvenience!  I noticed that many of the women were just sitting in groups chatting and were spinning wool or knitting while they talked!   We managed to meet up with our transfer that was supposed to take us from the bus station to our hotel and got there safely.  It was tiring to walk that far with our luggage, but quite an adventure and quite a welcome to La Paz!
Walking through the road block
Women coming to the demonstration
More demonstrators
Walking through the demonstrators

Once we were fed and showered I ventured out onto the streets of La Paz.  The witches market was near our hotel - they sell herbs, potions, incantations and other more dodgy things (dried llama foetuses) to solve problems!! 
Witches Market
A few of us also went up to Killi Killi, a look out point over the city.  La Paz is the highest capital city in the world at about 3600m.  It sits in a bowl and is built up the steep sides of the mountains. It is surrounded by hills and mountains, inlcuding a snow covered one that is over 6000m high (which you can see shrouded in cloud in the photo below). 
View from Killi Killi

La Paz is a very busy crazy sort of city - there are buses and cars everywhere, the pavements are quite broken up so you have to watch your feet in order not to fall over and crossing roads is challenging!  Having said that it also has some quite attractive squares and grand colonial buildings. It has a good feel about it!

Main government building


Watching the world go by

No comments:

Post a Comment