We arrived at Potosi late last night and had only managed a dark taxi ride to the hostel – never a good way to judge a place – so this morning with a good breakfast in us we head out.
I think it’s fair to say that up until this point the populated areas of Bolivia we had seen had not been that enticing. Uyuni is a very poor town with dilapidated and half built structures and people (understandably) fed up with the stream of ‘gringos’ that just pass through. Then the bus to Potosi was of a different standard to the luxury ones we had used in Argentina and Chile, there were significantly more people on the bus that it officially seated and it all felt a bit crazy.
We step out of the door and make the short 2 block walk to the main square in relatively nice weather and the colonial charm and traditional looking populous make an immediatly positive impression. This is more like the Bolivia I remember from my last visit 10 years ago.
Dominating the skyline is Cerro Rico. A huge mountain over 5000m high that contains the infamous silver mine that made the city the richest in South America for a time when it provided almost endless wealth for the Spanish. It is absolutely stunning to look at, in fact it is a smaller mountain with a larger one almost symmetrically located behind it, and the outlines of both are lit at night.
There isn’t that much to do in Potosi and it’s biggest attraction is to visit the mines themselves. The mine’s main wealth has been long stripped away but local Bolivian miners still work there ‘eeking’ out a living from the remaining silver.
Apparently the working conditions that you can see are almost inhuman and accidents are common place injuring and killing the miners on a frequent basis. We both decide that this feels too voyeuristic and choose to avoid the tour.
Due to the wealth from the mine in its pomp, Potosi has a large selection of impressive churches and buildings and we take a tour of the San Francisco Convent and Temple.
For 30 Bolivianos (£2.60) we get a private tour including a visit to the roof top view point. This is a literal description as you walk along the roof of the building with some unimpressive hand railing to the view point – scary but worth it (see the pictures) as it gives an unrivaled view of the mountain and city.
The tour guide is great (and clearly not bothered by the roof top as she runs in heels to take our photo) and with Niki’s translations we learn a lot about the structure (oldest church in Bolivia when originally built in 1547 though some of it was rebuilt after floods in 1727).
A bit of a walk admiring further buildings and people watching (Bolivians, especially the ladies have a unique look) and we find a Trip Advisor recommendation for lunch.
We think it’s a pizzeria when we walk in (and we still believe it is in the evening). So far in Bolivia, the cheese and ham “Spam” phenomenon has been replaced by chicken and rice “Spam” having had it for 4 meals already, so a pizza is just what we fancy.
Clearly at lunch time the menu is different and a set menu is delivered to us without discussion or introduction.
A plate of ham cubes and potatoes with a ‘smidge’ of mayo topped with slice of tomato was plonked in front of us without a word.
Unidentified soup followed – mainly vegetables with a bone of meat in the middle (from what animal I have no idea).
For our main course we have the luxury of an option…..chicken or a Milanese (of unclear animal origin, even after consumption) served with rice and vegetables.
The final course was a small bowl of yoghurt. We think banana, but wouldn’t bet on it.
And the price for this 4 course feast with a drink each? £3.82 in total. Not including the £0.17 “tip” we gave to the out of tune busker that thrust the head of his guitar (with a money bag attached) over our table during the meal. Niki barely stiffled her laughter at his performance.
Perhaps not the greatest culinary experience so far but certainly a cultural one – we were the only “gringos” in there and the place was packed with Bolivians having a hearty midday lunch.
After a bit more wandering we head back to the accommodation and catch up with the world and blitz a few blog entries that have been waiting for a Wifi connection (the Salar de Uyuni is stunning but doesn’t have internet access).
Over email we arrange to meet our German friend Philipp (from Valparaiso and the Salt Flats in places) for a drink in the evening.
We go to Bar 4060 (named after it’s height above sea level – I had mistakenly told Niki that Potosi was lower and our altitude weariness would be gone today) to enjoy a few drinks and eat Pique Macho – a regional specialty that apparently was made up by a drunk man after his wife refused to cook for him. Basically it is beef, chicken, chorizo, chips, cheese, egg, peppers, eggs and a spicy gravy – one serving is easily enough to share. As weird as it sounds, it tastes wonderful.
We discuss our different salt flat experience (private v group) and our day in Potosi, which despite the relatively compact nature and limited attractions we appear to have had totally different days and have ideas for what to do tomorrow.
Feeling a little full and still lethargic from the altitude we head home relatively early night.