Saturday, December 11, 2004

Week 24 - Uyuni to Sucre, Bolivia

December 4-10, 2004

Saturday to Sunday – UYUNI, BOLIVIA

Visited one of the most amazing things I have ever seen in my life. The Salar de Uyuni is HUGE. As soon as I can find an accurate area, I will give a comparison to someplace most people you can have an idea of its size.

Before seeing it with my own eyes, I saw photos and it was described to me by others who have experienced it. However, it is something that you have to see for yourself to be able to fully grasp it. Picture Lake Superior completely frozen over, while being totally flat – calm, yet the temperature is hot rather than cold. The whole time I was riding in this 4x4 Toyota Land Cruiser, I kept expecting to see ice houses for fishing.

To add to this very bizarre setting, we visited a hotel built of salt, in the middle of the salf flat...the center of nowhere...

Absolutely everything was of salt – tables, walls, beds, chairs, etc...

Even stranger yet, we came to Isla Pescado (Fish Island), an island shaped like a fish and filled with cactuses.

These cacti grow 1cm per year. There is one that is over 1,200 years old and is 12m (over 39ft) tall. Notice me on the left side to get an idea of its height...

This building structure is made around the cactus and the door is made from cactus planks…

We also visited a small village, Colchane, of 600 people. All of them, including the children, work in the salt business – gathering, processing, bagging, etc. Each 1kg bag of salt is sold for 20 centavos – equal to less than 3 pennies. They work long hard hours for very very very little pay.

xxxxx find link for colchane xxxxx

Before the salt is brought to the processing area, it is collected and dried on the flats...

One would think this was Calumet on a sunny winter day, but it is salt...the same kind you put in your food...

The entire adventure was absolutely beyond words!

After we returned from the salt flats, we were pleasantly surprised by our German friend, Claudia. We spent the evening with her. It was so awesome to see her as always – yet this will indeed be our last encounter as we will soon be arriving to Brasil and she will be travelling to Chile. We have been fortunate to have been travelling in the same countries for quite some time. We were met up in 4 different countries 6 different times.

On Sunday, all public transportation, bars, and the selling of liquor were closed for elections. It is a common practice in Latin America. It is also mandatory here and in many Latin American countries unlike in the United States.

We visited the train cemetery again. So cool!!! Check out the images...

Monday to Tuesday – POTOSI, BOLIVIA

After a six hour bus ride from Uyuni on all dirt roads, we arrived to Potosi with a population 120,000 and an altitude of 4,070m (13,353ft). It is the highest town of its size in the world. By the early 17th century, it was the largest city in all of the Americas.

In Potosi, we came across two dry-cleaners that were named the same as our good friend, E. Grimm, who is the nicest guy ever for allowing us to host our 3,500 photos on his personal server...Thanks so much Mr. Grimm!! You are the best!

Potosi is a true mining town – probably like Calumet, Michigan over 100 years ago. Here we visited one of the 250 mines located in Cerro Rico (Rich Hill) that extracts 80% zinc and 20% silver. The mine was very interesting yet quite sad. The working conditions were poor. Equipment is limited and most work is done by hand.

The highest paid workers, “the drillers”, earn $6.25 a day. The “trammers” make $3.75 per day. Children, “drill boys”, were also found working the mines – very sad. Mining has been going on here before the Spaniards arrived in the 1500`s – over 500 years!



When the Spaniards did arrive, they enslaved the natives to work in the mines – the mines that originally belonged to the natives. The slaves were forced to stay inside the mines for up to six months at a time, working 20 hours and only resting four hours a day…everyday! Upon returning to the surface after many months underground, many turned blind as a result of the exposure to sunlight.

The Spaniards also created an icon originally used to keep the miners working. This statue is a mixture between Catholic and indigenous beliefs. It is still worshipped today. Each mine in Potosi has at least one Tio (Uncle) that the miners visit very often, if not daily, to ask for luck and safety while working. It is treated as a saint figure but is shaped like a devil to represent the fact that it is underground. But, it is not a negative thing at all. They feel that this Tio protects the underworld, as the mines are, and God takes care of the world above. When they visit El Tio, they offer gifts such as cigarettes, alcohol, and coca leaves – to pay respect and ask for protection.

Workers use a lot of coca leaves. They chew on them, like chewing tobacco, to maintain energy and to suppress the appetite so they can work longer and harder. People here use coca leaves like coffee is used in the United States. Coca leaves in Bolivia (and Peru) are not illegal, however, cocaine is. Do note that coca leaves are not the same thing as cocaine – even though they come from the same plant. Coca is also commonly used here in the form of a tea. It is very good for dealing with high altitudes (nausea, headaches, etc.).

This tour was a time machine...very cool in many ways, yet sad, depending on how you look at it. The people have jobs, but the conditions are poor and children work. Click for a bit more information on Potosi and the mines.

Wednesday to Friday – SUCRE, BOLIVIA

After a nice stay in Potosi, we took a three hour bus ride to Sucre, Bolivia’s capital. This town of 130,000 is very pretty. Here, like in all cities we have visited in Bolivia, most of the indigenous dress traditionally. Women wear skirts of many layers, have their long hair braided, and wear hats. So pretty.

Here is a photo where you can see typical braids...these women were marching in a parade supporting the sale of coca leaves in Bolivia - a sign read, "Coca is Not Cocaine."

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Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Chile Map and Route

To track the route, follow the blue line...

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