It’s been almost a month since our arrival to Bolivia. Surprisingly our last week in the country looked pretty well planed. We wanted to visit two towns – Sucre and Potosi. Final stretch will be a tour through Uyuni salt flats after which we’ll end up at the chilean border.
We started from Oruro (we got there from our trip to Sajama national park, more about it in other post) where we took a night bus from the new bus terminal (they have tasty and cheap burgers in the restaurant near the entrance to the termianl – only 7 bolivianos). There were only two companies going to Sucre (most of them were going to Potosi), prices and departing times were simillar, we paid 70 bolivianos per person for “cama” bus (bed bus). It was quite comfortable especially after previous journey in minibuses. We arrived to Sucre early in the morning around 7 AM. Because bus terminal was not far from the center (2km) we decided to walk there. In less than 30 minutes we were at the main square – “Plaza 25 de mayo”.
After short break on the bench it was time to look for some breakfast. At eight o’clock in the morning most of the restaurants were closed. At least we had a chance to check the prices. Cheapest breakfasts were for 30 bolivianos (good old continental one), after an hour of walking around we decided to pay that amount of money as we were really hungry.
We ended up in a restaurant with breakfast for 34 bolivianos (we usually had lunch for 15 or less). I forget the name but it was next to the Imaynalla hostel. We were hoping that we’ll be able to recharge our phones a little and look on the internet for accomodation prices. Sadly there was power outage at the moment so instead of staring into the phones we had to talk with each other. We managed to do that for next 20 minutes at that point electricity was back and we found out that there won’t be cheap bedroom for two in this town.
After breakfast we went to look for hostel. Instead of booking online we usually walk around town, enter buldings with “hospedaje” or “alojamiento” signs and ask for price. This strategy usually works well and provides cheaper accomodation than the one offered on the internet. Thirty minutes later we met a guy who asked us what are we looking for (we probably looked very lost), we told him that we are looking for accomodation and he recommended us one hostel not far from main square.
The name was “Celtic Cross”. We found it in less than five minutes, knocked on the door and entered. Smiling guy told us that they have only beds in dormitory available for 40 bolivianos per person. We did not want to search for accomodation any more and decided to stay (I can probably manage one night with someone snoring in the room). Hostel was quite nice and clean, dorm room was for eight people (four bunk beds and some lockers).
We unpacked, took a shower (in cold water) and went out to explore the town. At first we wanted to skip Sucre completely but many people we met told us to stop there for few days. Because it is most beautiful town in Bolivia with lot of museums and other things to see. We read that it is a best town to be if you want to learn Spanish as there are many language schools (they offered private lessons in our hostel too). Anyway we did not do much there, no museums, no spanish lessons. We walked around central plaza looked at beautiful buildings and relaxed. For dinner we went to the Chifa & Thai, which was recommended as a best asian cuisine in town (they also do lunch menus for 25 bolivianos, which is quite cheap for Sucre).
Sucre was nice but not very interesting, so we decided to shorten our visit to one night only and go to Potosi instead. We went back to bust terminal and 25 bolivianos (per person) got us a ticket. We visited restaurant at the bus station – La Economica. I have to say, it was one of the best bolivian dishes I had so far (big plate of meat, pasta and paprica / aji sauce, it was also cheap 10 bolivianos only).
Potosi – miners town
Journey to Potosi was much longer than I expected. It took roughly six hours to get there. It wasn’t very welcoming as edges of town looked quite bad compared to Sucre. Getting from new bus terminal to center was little bit difficult as it is far from center. We needed to catch a colectivo bus, there were many passing by but non had a “center” written on it. Bus drivers wern’t too keen to stop for two tourists with big bagpacks. We asked one lady what to do and which bus to take and few minutes after we boarded a bus (F) for one boliviano and got to the center. Once we got there everything changed. Main plaza was really nice and not so scary any more.
In iOverlander app we found some hotels we wanted to try. First (and nearest) was La Casona. Price was ok – 40 bolivianost per person for a night in private room with shared bathroom. On top of that they were offering mine tours (main reason why we visited the town) and laundry service. We arrived quite late. But the gentleman at the reception was awesome. He told us that we can bring our dirty clothes and they will be ready tomorrow at noon (we paid 10 bolivioanos per kilo).
One thing sorted we asked about tour to the mines. Price was 100 bolivianos per person (70 with spanish guide) and minibus was leaving at nine o’clock in the morning. We accepted the offered tour as we did not want to walk around town and look for other options. From what we read on the internet cost was pretty much the same everywhere.
Night out in town
All the “hard work” done we went out for a little while. We needed to stock up on water, snacks and wanted to explore the town little bit. It was getting dark but town felt safe. Streets around main square looked much nicer than the ones in Sucre (at least for me). Also prices were more friendly. At one of the stalls we bought chicken milanesa in bread with fries. It was delicious and cheap (around 7 bolivianos). Instead of paper tray or some wrapping paper they put it into plastic bag. Ecology in Bolivia is not a big thing.
With full stomach we continued our town exploration. There were lot of christmas lights at the cathedral and all over the main square. It was getting cold (Potosi is located at quite a high altitude) so we decided to stop for a coffee and then head back to hotel. At the coffee shop we met an old friend, girl who hiked with us ToroToro canyon and Vergel waterfall. We had a quick chat, drank good coffee (for 2.50 pesos) and went back to hotel. It was just around the corner. We were very tired and went to bed immediately. It took a little bit of time to warm up as heating was off in the hotel, they only turn it on during winter times. It was another thing quite common in Bolivia.
Preparing for the adventure
Next morning was quite hectic, we had to get ready for mine exploration. We were able to leave our stuff at the hotel (they had special secure room for lugage). We had a quick breakfast (very simple – bread, jam, coffee and bananas but it was included in hotel price). Shortly after we finished last piece of banana our guide was here.
There were six of us waiting for a tour. Instead of going out of the hotel and boarding minibus we were directed in the oposit direction. At the back of the hotel was a storage room full of equipment. First of all we had to put on trousers and jacket to keep us clear. After that there were proper mining helmets and lights (not just your average headlamp which last for few hours but something fancier with external – and large – battery). Last bit was a sack for our water and snacks. Properly dressed we walked through the hotel (for the amusement of other guests) and boarded the minibus.
Are we really going to buy a dynamite?
First stop was a market where we bought some presents for miners. Coca leaves, juice and 90% alcohol proved to be most popular. One of the couples chose to buy a dynamite, fuse and some kind of explosive powder. All for twenty bolivianos. We were told that all that stuff is freely (and legaly) available in Potosi.
We hopped back into the vehicle and were on our way to the mountain. We’ve been told that all the mines in this mountain belong to local people and not to big / global mining companies. Our first bag with coca and alcohol was given to the lady who was (probably) selling tickets to the mines. After ten minutes (we used that time to take silly pictures with minig equipment laying around) our guide appeared again and we were ready to go to the tunnels. He told us that since it is Sunday we probably won’t meet any miners (and right he was).
Into the mines
Shortly after entering the mine we stopped at the “El Tio” statue. It is some kind of deity who takes care of miners. They are offering him coca leaves, cigarets and alcohol. Our guide did the same and asked him to keep us alive. It probably works because all of us made it out in one peace.
Mine tunnels were quite small, I almost had to crawl at some places. Construction supporting ceiling looked like it remembers (much) better times but when asked about it, our guide told us that it is safe and that there were no accidents in these mines in very long time. Our guide was talking a lot and it was even possible to understand him most of the time. Sadly, he spent quite a lot of time on political issues instead of mining stories. We did not learn much about the mining process and its history but a lot more about wealth distribution in Bolivia and even about bolivian president Evo Morales.
Once we got out it was time to return to hotel. Our dirty clothes were not dirty any more, so we packed them up, thanked hotel manager and went out. After quick lunch it was time to head to the bus station, there are only few buses going to Uyuni (our final Bolivian destination) every day.
We wanted to catch a colectivo to get to bus terminal. It turned out to be a quite a big problem as finding out which ones are going to bus terminal was almost impossible. Once we identified them there was another problem – make them stop (as there are no bus stops, you just wave at them and hope that driver will notice you). Few buses just drove by ignoring us. We were getting nervous as Uyuni bus departure was uncomfortably close. In the end we were lucky and one bus stopped, it was even going to the terminal. There was a lady offering tickets for a bus to Uyuni (for 35 bolivianos), we bought them and boarded the bus. It was another long ride (and not very comfortable) but in the end we arrived to Uyuni. What happend there will be in another post.