A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about sucre

Trains, (Salt)Plains and automobiles (well 4x4´s)

sunny 20 °C

So after leaving Cusco, we headed to the town of Puno, which is nestled on the shore of Lake Titicaca. We didn´t really have time to explore Puno, other than a local bakery. For those of you that know of my dietary delictation, this was not an opportunity to be missed and a large piece of cheesecake was gratifyingly ingested.

The next day we hopped on a boat to go and visit the Uros islands out on the lake. This is basically a collection of small man made islands, constructed from reeds and inhabitated by several different families. They live and work on these tiny floating isles and also pause to entertain curious tourists about their lifestyle. The cynic in me couldn´t help but wonder if, when all the tourists had gone home, they all got into their speed boats and headed back to the mainland.

Meet the Uros People - (Colour coordination hasn´t reached them yet)
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We ventured a further 3 hours out into the vast expanse that is Lake Titicaca until we reached Amantani Island, which was to be our home for the night. No hotels here, we were divided up amongst the locals to stay within their homes and experience a bit of island life. This involved us all dressing up in the evening in traditional wear, and attempting to dance to some of the local music. My apparal consisted of a large blanket with a hole in it, otherwise known as a poncho, and a traditonal peruvian wool hat complete with dangling tassles. I thought I looked quite fetching, which was confirmed by the father at my homestay, when he offered to find me a local mountain girl. At least I think he said girl, or was it goat.....?

Amantani Island, a paradise to behold (even if it was freezing!)
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The following day we headed back to the mainland and then passed over the Bolivian border leaving Peru in our wake. Peru is a country of many contradictions, stunning landscapes and rubbish plumbing! I leave with many fond memories (and a couple of unpleasant, bottom related ones too).

Our first travels through Bolivia required a river crossing. The bus was loaded onto something resembling a raft, while we all had to be ushered onto smaller boats for the crossing. It didn´t help that one of them was called Titanic. Apparently, they used to allow passengers to stay on the bus while it crossed until an incident where the raft sank killing several people on the bus!

Precarious? No, it´s just the Bolivian way of doing things
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Onto La Paz then, one of the highest cities in the world. Sadly that´s one of the few claims to fame it has. Virtually all of its colonial past has been demolished, such is the thirst for building space here. The whole city seems to sit within a bowl shaped valley and every available piece of land has been used. It´s not what you´d call a pretty city, but there is a certain charm about its rawness. Political strife is also very evident, with industrial action occurring on a daily basis by one faction or another. I experienced this first hand during a tour of the city when some of the locals decided to blockade the main route out of the city. Growing pains perhaps, of a city, and a country, trying to embrace change.

La Paz - A park would be nice
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No, still no space in this direction either!
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Somehow these buildings have survived demolition, shocking isn´t it?
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From La Paz we took an overnight train to the town of Uyuni. Whilst waiting to board I notice some carriages being loaded with unused coffins. I wasn´t sure if that was just effective planning, or whether it was an even cheaper ticket than we had.....

Ultra Economy Class?
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The train arrived into Uyuni at 2.30am, on a dark, chilly and drizzling morning. It was just like being back at home! We walked the short distance to the hotel only to discover that our trip to the salt flats was leaving at 10.30 later that morning. Sleep would have to be secondary to "the tour". Who needs sleep anyway.......zzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Unbelievably, heavy rain had destroyed the initial itinerary, so we headed in the opposite direction to our planned trip. Just outside Uyuni we visited a steam train cemetery. An array of steam trains in various states of decay were lined up, almost as if they were ready to make one last journey. They had orignally been sent over from Britain in the 19th century, when we still led the world in ´something´, with the slightly odd circumstance that no coal deposits exisited in Bolivia, so the fuel had to be shipped over as well. Can´t help thinking a clever salesman had struck that deal......

All aboard the ghost train to, well, nowhere
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British Engineering at its finest - Not sure about the quality control on this particular model
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From here we set off into the Bolivian desert to look at some rocks. Not just any rocks, but some which had been left over when the Andes were formed. Well, the tour guide was trying to inject some enthusiam about the whole rock gazing experience.

Rocks, more rocks and a snowy rock in the background
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Onward further still to a lake which, we were promised, would be full of Flamingoes..............

I can barely see the lake it´s so crowded!
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So day one hadn´t exactly been a day of magnificent wonders. It didn´t help that our hovel of a hostel for the night wasn´t brimming with amenities either. Still it´s all part of the travelling experience I suppose. You need some inferior trips to appreciate the better ones.

Day two did finally see us set off to the salt flats. A vast expanse of umm, salt, that was up to 10m in depth at some points. The only living things out here were the locals, who are allowed to collect and sell the salt, and a large number of 4x4 vehicles containing tourists.

Salty workers plying their trade
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2x4x4 (but there´s only 8 wheels)
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Salt as far as the eye can see - but not a chip shop in sight
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The following day we head to the town of Potosi. The day we arrive there is traffic chaos in the centre of town due to the impending football match between the local team and the "Flamengos" from Brazil. Apparently football is popular in this part of the world, and some of our group decide to go and spectate and soak up the atmosphere from the 30,000 strong crowd. Not being a particular fan of football, in any part of the world, I decided to do something more interesting, such as darn my socks or stare at a wall.............

Potosi is famous, or should that be infamous, for its mining. The Spanish exploited the local workers for the rich silver deposits here which once made the town the wealthiest in South America. The Cerrano Rico mine is known as "the mountain that eats men" which is appropriate given that, in its 450 year history, it has claimed a staggering 8 million lives. Sadly that number continues to increment with regular accidents and lung silicosis very prevalent. The life expectancy of a miner is around 45 years old. If you think that´s shocking, then you won´t believe that children also work in the mines, some as young as 10 years old. It would be easy to condemn the Bolivian government for this, but economic hardship is a very acute problem here and real life takes precedence over idealism. There are opportunities to do a ´tour´of a working mine. However, as already experienced in Bolivia, Health & Safety are foreign concepts in this country and there is a real and present risk that something could go awry during the ´tour´. The mines are run by miners´ co-operatives, so you are expected to purchase a gift for them. Their preferred gifts are not money or food, no they prefer something more eminently practical such as dynamite! That´s right, it´s perfectly legal for you to buy someone some dynamite here. The conditions the miners endure are no better than a 100 years ago, so I decided to give this trip a miss. I don´t need to see men working themselves into an early grave to appreciate how arduous their jobs are and I don´t think I could have coped with seeing young children in the same environment. Sometimes, just sometimes, you realise how lucky you are to have been born in a country where such hardships don´t ever enter your consciousness. If you want a glimpse of their lives there is a very powerful documentary about a 14 year old boy who works in a mine at The Devil´s Miner

I am now in the city of Sucre, the capital city of Bolivia. What a breath of fresh air this place is. It has successfully retained its colonial architecture and has parks and greenery which give the city a distinctly european feel. There is still an internal political struggle in Bolivia, with a slow creep of powers shifting from Sucre to La Paz. The latest incumbent changed the Bolivan constitution 4 years ago and attempted to make La Paz the official capital, unsuccessfully. Given my experience of both cities I can´t understand why they would want to make La Paz the capital. Surely you would want a capital city to represent the best of your country, which La Paz definitely isn´t. In fact Sucre is so markedly different to most other places I´ve been to in Boliva it sometimes feels like I´m no longer in the same country.

Government building, but no politicians to fill it anymore
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The Triffids are coming! (City view of Sucre)
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A city tour proved to be very informative and I particualrly enjoyed a trip to some of the back alleys of the city where we were told the rebels used to gather for secret meetings to plot their next attack against the Spanish. When the Spanish eventually tracked them down they were executed and their bones were used as aggregrate in the prison walls and streets as a visible reminder to others of what they may face. Fragments of these bones are still visible and it´s quite a chilling reminder of the gruesome end these men encountered. On the lighter side side, the streets where they used to gather are all named after cats, such as "Calle Gato Blanco" (White Cat Street) as a reminder of the quiet and stealth like way they used to move during the night, (right up to their brutal murder that is!).

At the next stroke/ray of light it will be 10 am "beep, beep, beep"
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In the afternoon I couldn´t resist the opportunity to go quad biking. The size of my "bike" was more akin to a small car, which gave me a little too much confidence at times. We spent 3 hours charging around on bumpy dusty tracks with a beautiful backdrop of distant mountains, the city and at one point, the rather precariously placed runway of Sucre airport.

My baby - Note the speakers in the storage box. Well you gotta have some tunes
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It´s Wacky races time, just call me Sergeant Blast!
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Sucre airport - Is that subsidence, or poor design?
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I will be flying out from that very airport tomorrow, to the town of Santa Cruz and my last stop in Bolivia. Then its the final leg of my journey into Brazil. Don´t be too sad, there´s still time for a couple more blogs yet!

Posted by esotericmind 04:49 Archived in Bolivia Tagged islands lake island la de titicaca potosí puno paz uros uyuni salar amantani sucre Comments (5)

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