It's been a while, but here are our last few days before arriving in Santa Cruz to start work with Alalay.
We arrived in Potosi after a six hour bus ride along some pretty interesting roads - luckily for us they were paved (always a novelty in Bolivia) and the scenery was absolutely stunning.
On first appearances Potosi didn't seem to be anything to shout about but our opinion soon changed and I think it may have become our favourite Bolivian city so far! We managed to stay in a hostel that had been highly recommended for its mine tours - Potosi is located beside a huge mineral and silver mine and Antonio (the owner of the hostel) is an ex-miner himself. Originally we were a little dubious about going to the mines as our guide book specifically says it's 'not for the faint hearted' and there is a slight risk of asbestos too - but we thought, what the hell!
We set off in the morning to our first stop, which was the miner's market. Here Antonio explained some of the superstcians and rituals of the mminers. They included sampling coca leaves, of which the miners will get through approx 500-600 a day and have a very distinct flavour - chewing them is supposed to help with the altitude among other things. We also sampled some seriously strong miner's whisky, which is never drunk until a little has been splashed on the floor in offering to each of their idols. Antonio also demonstrated how to use the local dynamite - a minor course in terrorism ensued - and encouraged us to buy gifts for the minors. It's the first and probably the last time we will buy dynamite so freely!
Next stop was the mine, and arriving at the opening ( a small hole with rocks perched precariously over the roof) gave us a bit of a sick feeling. Never-the-less all but two of us entered and began to trudge and crawl along the passageways to the fourth and fifth levels of the mine (there are 16 in total!). As we passed local miners we offered our gifts to them and were surprised to hear that the youngest miners are just 14 years old and have a life expectancy of just 35-40 years as a result of the dust and asbestos.
Scrambling through the passageways while struggling to breathe at such high altitude with so much dust, we found it hard to believe that anybody would choose this work. Although, apparently on a good year the miners can earn as much as highly paid professionals. I'm still not sure it's worth the short life and endless days of darkness. At one point, our guide even warned us against touching any of the walls due to the asbestos crystals growing there - don't worry, we had masks on!
When we reached the deepest part of the mine we were taken into a small cave area where the miners had created two idols. Again, we performed several rituals,including dipping our fingers in alcohol and setting alight to them to give thanks for our hands! Sitting in the pitch black was eery and quite suffocating, so all of us were glad to finally reached the exit and natural light. Experiencing the mines made us all appreciate our jobs back home a lot more!
Our second day in Potosi was spent sight seeing, including a visit to the oldest church in Bolivia, which had amazing views of the city from the roof top. Potosi is made up of pretty winding streets and plazas, so it was nice to wander through them, sampling the local delicacies, of course. And, as time caught up with us, we reluctantly left Potosi to head to our next stop, Sucre.
In typical Lucy and Tim luck, we arrived at our hostel only to be told that the people who should have checked out of our room were ill and the hostel didn't feel they could ask them to leave - great! Luckily they booked us into a much inferior hostel just around the corner but at least we had somewhere to sleep for the night. So, although Sucre seemed to be a pretty city with white colonial buildings and beautiful architecture, we couldn't help having a little bit of a bitter taste in our mouths.
Our stay in Sucre felt really brief, but we were there just long enough to shake off some of the ill feelings and to sample the Bolivian attempt at a full English breakfast. The verdict; toast = tasty, but more like ciabatta; the bacon = surprisingly good; sausage = a bit more like chorizo; and the baked beans = total fail. Overall a tasty brekky but it failed to scratch the itch for a real one.
Our compact camara has unfortunately given up on us. A combination of two months of dust, sand, a little bounce on a glacier and finally two hours of asbestos filled mines were all too much for it. This means that our quantity of photos will decrease as many of the cities we are visiting are not the sort of places you want to stroll around with a shiny new digital SLR.
Waving goodbye to the dogs that followed us since our arrival in Sucre, we embraced our first (and hopefully only) night bus in Bolivia! The less that is said about the journey on small mountain roads, often with sheer drops, overtaking on blind corners and acelerating every time someone tried to over take us, the better. Let's just say that we made it to Santa Cruz, tired but in one piece.
Shortly after our arrival we were dropped off at our hostel, which was to provide us with a haven for the last few days before starting our stint at Alalay - and what a haven! Hammocks around a tropical courtyard, hot showers (a luxury), massive buffet breakfast with fresh tropical fruit, bread, jam, eggs, coffee and juice, and to top it off, a tame pet toucan called Simon. Perfect!
We didn't do too much exploring that weekend but we did visit a couple of local, and slightly intimidating markets that seem to sell everything under the sun, including cameras that still had the holiday photos of the previous owners on them! We also ventured out a far as the 'first ring' of the city to sample some traditional Bolivian food with some other folks we met in the hostel...it was pretty tasty apart from the intestines! We spent a lot of time chilling out and catching up on some much needed reading (even if the crummy detective novels weren't all that inspiring).
Again, after what seemed like the blink of an eye it was Monday morning and we found ourselves being greeted through the gates of the boys welcome house by the cheery faces of some of the occupants. Three weeks later and our work with Alalay continues. We'll update you more soon and upload some photos of the kids too, but for now we are busy painting an entire cabin (10 rooms) for the younger girls to move into, so that it feels more like home. There are just four of us working on it at the moment (two of which are currently suffering from Bolivian belly) and paint is very expensive, so any donations would be more than welcome. Anne has already got us going, so thanks!
Lots of love to everyone
x x x