A return to civilisation after a few days in the middle of nowhere always comes as a bit of a shock. A ride from Uyuni to Potosi was about 4 hours which felt like no time at all! Had a bit of a wonder around and visited the mint where the Bolivian coins used to be produced for about 300 years from the 16th century – it remained in operation only until 50 years ago. The actual building is 17th century and colonial, but still stands on the original site of the first mint. It also housed a lot of colonial religious paintings, focusing on the work of Cochabamba-born Melchor Pérez de Holguín and his depictions of ‘Pachamama’ or ‘Mother Earth’ – the Virgin Mary is painted within the mountain where the mine is. ‘Pachamama’ is worshipped by the native people as She supplies the people with fruit from the earth and the weather. Potosi has a reputation for silver production – the mine is the main source of income for the people who live in the city.A trip into the mine was certainly an experience I won’t forget. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the safety of the mine. But I wasn’t phased! The miners work very hard and seem to live off an endless supply of coca leaves – they chew so many in one go – it looks like they have a growth in their cheek! The mine supplies silver and zinc mainly and the miners work for themselves and then sell their takings to external companies who extract the metals from the rock before exporting them. The miners also pay their respects to a male statue inside the mine who is thought to represent masculinity (as only men work in the mine), fertility and a partnership with “Pachamama” to provide the earth with the minerals they can find. Then onto the city of Sucre which is actually named in the constitution as the capital, even though La Paz is where the President resides. It’s such a nice city! I preferred it to La Paz. Went on a walking tour and a hike where we went down some Inca steps and found some Dino tracks! I was also grateful to get some laundry done too at this point. Walking down some Inca steps for a couple of hours was nice – the steps were different to those of the Inca Trail and no way near as bad or steep! Luckily the weather was sunny, but there was a slight wind near the top. It was a bit of a walk cross fields and off the beaten track to reach the dino footprints which were preserved amazingly in prehistoric lava which had dried and formed part of a volcano which had collapsed in on itself to form a crater. It was great to spend more than one night in the same place too. A flight from Sucre back to La Paz caused a bit of fun – the airline put luggage on the wrong plane. It ended up in La Paz but had gone via a different town. So after faffing around, the luggage got delivered to where I was staying the same day. Phew! In La Paz, I did a walking tour and visited the Moon Valley which is a cluster of rocks which has been eroded over time by weather. It went on for ever! The walking tour helped me to understand the development of the city – lots of fights for independence from Spain as well as adhering to traditions e.g. the rituals of the people and what you can find in the witches market to use in the rituals to bless house construction etc. Not sure that I was a fan of the dead llama foetuses….
3 days of stunning scenery and 12 hours in 4X4s gave me an amazing experience I’ll never forget. The contrast in the countryside was immense, and gave me a lot of pause for thought. You could drive forever without seeing any living creature – maybe the odd llama or alpaca. The salt flats were a prehistoric lake which dried up and left the salt along with some coral and cacti. We were lucky to have expert drivers who knew exactly where they were going – the Dakar car rally used to take place on the flats every year but had to be stopped as too many drivers got lost and died, sadly. Climbed onto one of the coral islands (called Incahuasi island) and had a great view from the top. Also did the obligatory photos that everyone does – we even made a little film!Accommodation on the first night was salt beds in a little community called Agencha. And the floors were also salt. This was to help insulation as it was a lot warmer inside than out, and the granules on the floor (although a little tricky to walk on bare foot), did provide good exfoliation for the feet – always looking at the positive!Then off to the desert which was another spectacle in itself. Visited a lot of different places and increased the altitude – got up to 4600m eventually I think. Felt a bit odd on the second night but recovered fairly quickly. There was an abandoned train line – you were surrounded by volcanoes, some still active and shared with Chile – we were at the south of Bolivia at this point. We were taken to a ‘coral army’ as the coral looks like it is standing to attention.The contrast in scenery was amazing. There were deserts, lagoons, salt flats, mountains and flamingos….there was always something to look at so it didn’t seem that the time spent sitting in a 4X4 was too long. Occasionally, the roads were a bit bumpy. But I didn’t let the sore bum get me down!There was also an option to get into some hot springs which I took advantage of as it was freezing in the morning! Also saw ‘The Lost City’ called Qatal and other spectacles. This was a train cemetery which housed trains which were 100 years old.