Welcome to the highest city in the world and I am NOT talking about Amsterdam. Potosi, Bolivia sits at 13,420 ft! For all you mathematically/geographically challenged individuals, Mt. Whitney is 14,495 ft. That means the entire city of Potosi is well on it´s way to climbing the highest mountain in the lower United States.
I could feel the increase in elevation during our tour of the salt flats. We actually passed through a point that was 15,748 ft high. Now I am not sure if it was the altitude itself, the fact that I had drunk the night before, was low on sleep, had too much coffee, didn´t eat, was sitting in the back seat of an SUV on a bumpy dirt road, or the cheek full of coca leaves? But there was something surreal about being that high above sea level.
Potosi had been on our mind a couple of weeks prior to our arrival. Not in the traditional we read about it in Lonley Planet sense, but rather we had been drinking their beer for the last 17 days. A cheap pilsner on par with consuming your own urine, but getting the job done none the less. Potosi is a fairly small town, but with a lively communal vibe in the center square. The only problem is once the sun dips out of sight it is quickly realized why the locals dawn snow jackets and the gringos run for their hostel.
The high electricity bill in Potosi (thus no heaters supplied) and little sympathy for the shivering tourists creates an early bed time or a night of heavy drinking (or both!) for those looking to stay some what warm. The cold cement, old wood, and lack of heater in our hostel had us stacking the blankets on our bed half a foot high and practicing smoke rings with our breath as we waited for sleep to come.
The town is well-known for its large and unsafe mine operation where the miner is responsible for his own equipment (buying/using) and therefore safety as well. There are tours that take you down into the mine, stopping by for coca leaves and 95 percent alcohol as a gift to the unfortunate miners. The warnings of inhaling dangerous chemicals, explosions, and other hazards (such as miners that spend all day drinking and playing with dynamite) were enough to make us skip the mine and put a good documentary about it on our “to see” list. (The Devil´s Miner)
Two quick days and long nights found us on our way to Sucre. Apparently there was a bus strike that we weren´t made aware of until our driver stopped two miles outside of town and informed us we needed to walk the remainder of our trip.
The accommodation situation couldn´t have worked out any better. We booked a double room with a shared bathroom (which was alright) but mumbled something about wanting a matrimonial room. Beatriz, the owner was happy to up sell us. She had a guest house with full availability. We took the master bedroom and were fortunate enough not to be joined the entire seven days we were there.
I know what you’re wondering. Just what is it about Sucre that encouraged us to stay so long? Well before you put it on your top ten must see places of the world I should explain that to get to Santa Cruz (our next destination) it takes 15 to 25 hours on a dirt road in a Bolivian bus. Ten hours difference, that is a pretty big disparity. An overnight bus in Bolivia is stressful enough. Take one that has no clear ending in sight and I bet you wish you took the 35 minute $45 flight like we did. The only problem with taking a plane is there are only three companies that run the route, one of which went bankrupt two weeks ago. Leaving the other two jacking up their rates and quickly filling up everyday. Thus leaving us to sit in Sucre and wait for a seat on the next available flight.
Seven days to explore a city. Seven days to take full advantage of everything Sucre has to offer. Seven days to sit on our ass and act like you have a place to call home again. Our time was mostly spent lounging around the house, cooking meals for ourselves, and enjoying being left the fuck alone. We did manage to see the worlds largest collection of dinosaur tracks which was good for an hours worth of mild entertainment.
The quick flight to Santa Cruz dropped us down to 1,300 feet and enabled us to do simple things like brush our teeth and take a shit without gasping for breath. The constant runny nose cleared up and the mosquito bites came back , the battle for the blankets replaced with the debate about the angle of the fan, and the fear of being out when the sun sets is now a concern for mid day heat. The truth is, we couldn´t be happier! There is something about warm weather, palm trees, and sun-tanned skin that makes you feel like you are on vacation! (even when you are already on vacation),
Even the locals seem to adjust with the climate change. The women lose the traditional dresses, little top hats, and about two hundred pounds. No more lugging around babies in a blanket on their back. It´s daisy dukes, designer sunglasses, and cell phones. The guys have their hair styled, jewelry blinging, and rides pimped out. Ok, I made that last one up. Their rides are still piles of shit. But it was refreshing to see the youth of Bolivia expressing their own sense of culture and to get a small emulated taste of home.
It seems if you want to find western culture in Bolivia, you need to follow John Candy´s lead and head your wagons east.
Our month in Bolivia ended with just one night in Santa Cruz, followed by an extremely bumpy, 16 hour train ride to the borer town of Quijarro. From there we walked across the border into Brazil. Because we waited around so long in Sucre, Sally ended up overstaying her visa in Bolivia by two days. Luckily you pay about $6 for the mistake and they send you on your way.