Landing in Sucre was surreal. It was the first time we saw what it was really like to live in Bolivia. The houses are mostly brick and very simple. The roads were dusty and the rivers were brown. The local women walked alongside the road, with huge loads on their backs and children at their feet. Compared to the western world, they have so little. Yet they always seemed content with what they were doing. Whether that was walking for miles or selling peanuts on the side of the road. We made our way to the hostel, which was a cute courtyard with surrounding rooms. We got a two bedroom apartment, so we even had our own kitchen and lounge. Thankfully there were some English shows being played on South American TV.
Katie and I went on a horse trek in Sucre. It was just the two of us and the guide. It was a half day trek and we expected the stock-standard beginners trek. However, it was much more of a glimpse into rural Bolivian life than anything else. Our horses were much skinnier than normal and a little bit crazier too. My horse was afraid of my jacket, which made for a tense start. We climbed up a hill to look at the countryside. On the way down we went past some little farms, which consisted of a brick shed and a handful of cows or sheep nearby. We passed one farm where a young boy, maybe fifteen, was in charge of the cows. As we went by the cows made a run for it and the boy chased after them with a machete the same size as he was.
By this point we weren’t really following a track. We were pushing our way through bramble bushes and my legs were getting ripped apart. After an hour or so we reached a river and proceeded to ride up it. The horses, now very thirsty, loved to be in the river. They splashed about and got each other as wet as possible. Then we came across a section that was quite steep. The guide jumped off his horse and built a little dam for the horses to go up. He walked his horse to the rocks and pulled it up. It made it about half way before it rolled over and freaked out. It thrashed about in the water. The guide tried to help as best as possible and got the horse to the top. The horse was okay, but it was spooked. The other two horses flat out refused to go up after seeing the other horse struggle. They became very jumpy. The guide built a bigger dam and eventually, with some encouragement, the other two horses made it up fairly easily. The horses were all very scared now, so we stopped for a walk at the dam. Whilst there we tried some coca leaves. These are from the plant that makes cocaine, but the leaves are not illegal. Locals chew on the leaves incessantly, as they are a relaxant and very cheap. They are also supposed to help with altitude sickness. So we sat on the dam, looking over the water, and chewed on leaves. They weren’t very nice. It tastes like you imagine eating a leaf would, except your tongue goes numb.
The next day we left Sucre, but we had some spare time in the morning. We decided to go to Parque Cretacico, a dinosaur park. When we arrived we watched a video about when dinosaurs roamed the earth. I noticed in the credits that the landscapes were all filmed in Chile and New Zealand. Not bad for being on the other side of the world. We then saw some fossils and sculptures of what the dinosaurs would have looked like. Then we saw the main attraction, dinosaur tracks in the rocks. Due to volcanic movement, the land had been pushed up and what used to be flat ground, now stood as a wall in front of us. The wall must have been 500m long and 100m high. There were very visible tracks. It was just amazing. The tracks were found by a quarry, which is still operating in the area. Sadly the area is not yet protected. If nothing is done to protect the tracks, it is likely they will erode away.
That afternoon we left for Potosi. It was a three hour drive, so we hired a minivan to drive us there. This cost us about $100NZD total. The drive was through the mountains and was very nice. Potosi is at 4000m, so was the highest we had been. We noticed our lack of breath almost instantly. Just walking a block into town had us all puffing like 80 year old asthmatic smokers. We all had varying levels of altitude sickness. We all had breathlessness and nose bleeds. Ben had an upset stomach and Katie had been vomiting. This made it hard to do anything too strenuous.
We got a taxi to Tarapaya, which was about 20mins out of town, up into the mountains. This was a medium sized lake, filled with warm water. The volcanic activity in the area kept the lake at 30 degrees. We lay in the hot lake, surrounded by the mountains. It was very relaxing. On the way back to Potosi we stopped at a lookout. We climbed roughly four flights of stairs to get to the top. By the time we reached the top, we were all coughing up lungs and my life flashed before my eyes. The altitude just made any form of exercise impossible.
The following day Ben went on a silver mine tour. Katie and I opted out, as Katie was still feeling sick and we had heard horrendous stories about the mine. Ben climbed around the bowels of the mountain with his group. As Ben is over 6 foot and the average Bolivian is less than 5 foot, Ben walked around doubled over. The purpose of the trip is to show what life is like for the miners. They work around twelve hours a shift, and they can’t come out during this time. Many of the miners are drunk, which contributes to the incredibly high death rate. Whilst in there, the tour group blew up dynamite to look for silver. Dynamite is thrown into holes without looking to see if anyone is down there. There isn’t actually much silver left in the mine and the workers earn next to nothing. Geologists have assessed the mine and believe it is on the verge of collapse. Perhaps it’s not a surprise that miners are constantly drunk, when they risks their lives so regularly.
Whilst in Potosi we also went to the Casa de la Moneda Museum. It described in my guide book as being the best museum in South America. It was okay, but wasn’t great. We saw some baby skeletons and some weird rocks. Ben liked the old machines. I don’t think I’ll need to go to any more museums if that is as good as it gets. Then we caught a bus to Uyuni. It was a 5 hour trip in a fairly small bus, with our luggage tied to the roof.