Down the mines

18 03 2010

Our bus broke down sometime in the night and we had to wait a few hours for another one to arrive from La Paz. The seat numbering was completely different in the new bus but I sat in approximately the same position and no one hassled me for my seat so I guess that’s what everyone else did too.

We arrived in Potosí a lot later than scheduled (around 8am) and I got a taxi in the town centre. Fortunately I’d checked the expected price on wikitravel beforehand and knew that the taxi driver wasn’t cheating me when he offered me a fare to the centre for 10Bs. I headed directly to Koala Den as recommended by many of my fellow travellers (although with Jola’s messed-up Polish accent I was actually looking for somewhere called Kala).

Upon arrival they couldn’t confirm whether I had a room or not but I dumped off my bags and got immediately conscripted into a mine tour – which of course is the main (if not only reason) to go to Potosí.

The mine tours are organised by cooperatives and they make you sign your life away before you do them. I met a (rather square) English couple of vets from Suffolk – Jess and Phil – and an American guy from Alaska called Anthony on the same tour as me. We first went to the miner’s market where we bought some dynamite (freely available), some juice and coca leaves as gifts for the miners. After a quick trip to the refinery we then headed off to the mines proper: they really aren’t pleasant places. We crawled (on hands and knees) through stony tunnels and breathed in all sorts of toxic fumes (including asbestos) for the few hours that we were there. I don’t think I’d ever do it again but the fact that we spent a few hours down there and it was hell and these people spend 8-12 hours a day down there 5-7 days a week is a feat in itself. No wonder they have such a short expected lifespan.

Me in the mines

We also got to sample the 95% alcohol that the miners favour and after that the whiskey too that we got to drink tasted absolutely fantastic.

After the mine tour I wandered around Potosí a bit (not much to see – it’s days as the richest city in the world are long since over) and then went to the mint museum as recommended by Anthony from Alaska. I wasn’t that impressed. And even more annoyed that I paid 20Bs for a photo licence (the same as the entrance fee) when there wasn’t really much worth snapping.

I then headed back to the hostel. The communal area was filled with a Swiss family (replete with small children) and there wasn’t much going on. Eventually I went to the TV room and watched the end of The Departed before heading back to the main area and trying to order a beer. This proved to be a big struggle because the guy behind the reception desk was pissed as a fart and although he’d clearly had a lot of cerveza himself, the idea that someone else might want one seemed to elude him.

Once I’d finally got my beer I headed back to the TV room and watched American Beauty with some of the other guys there. There didn’t seem to be anything more interesting in the DVD collection. Whilst there yet another member of the hostel staff (also completely inebriated) asked one of the girls if she wanted some Bolivian. She didn’t seem to understand until I pointed out that he was Bolivian and he was basically asking her if she wanted a piece of him.

Outside on the street it was much the same problem. A load of drunk dipsomaniacs offered me some of their drink but not knowing actually what it was (it was probably the 95% alcohol given their demeanour). It seems that there is not much else to do in Potosí except to get paralytic (which wasn’t an option for me due to the drunk hostel staff). After American Beauty finished I went off to bed to update my blog; disturbed only the sound of the doorbell trying to summon the unconscious hostel staff to let people in.

The End of the Road

15 03 2010

In the morning I went to the bank and, much to my relief, was able to get my card back with only a minimum of fuss. I then met up with the others at their hostel. They were heading up to Witches Market to shop for some souvenirs. I decided to jump on the WiFi at Loki and when I finished I headed back to their dorm only to discover that they’d all gone. At least that’s what Louis told me (they were actually looking for me). After a few fruitless searches around the market I failed to find them and after putting some laundry in I eventually headed back to the Loki bar and hung out there for a bit.

There I met Alex and Naomi from Manchester and chatted to them for a bit. The others eventually turned up back from the market – replete with new bags and hammocks ready for the jungle trip the next day. Thomas joined me for a drink although I think we were all still not 100% right from Saturday night and it was tough going getting the beer down. Thomas was convinced that we were going to party that night though so I headed back to Arthy’s (it has a midnight curfew so I couldn’t stay there another night); said goodbye to Hannah and checked back into the Adventure Brew

La Paz with the buildings on the side of the hills in the background

I didn’t really have time for my free brew that night so after dropping off my stuff I headed back to Loki. Everyone seemed to be missing – off having disco naps or using the Internet. Finally after a few false starts we started drinking again and decided to head on out. For some reason, unbeknowst to all involved, we ended up in Ruta 36 again.

It was there that I decided not to travel to the jungle with the others the next day but to instead head off to Potosí and Sucre on my own. My travels with Jola and co were at an end: I was back travelling independently. After some heartfelt goodbyes I headed off to my hostel. Initially on foot, but realising that I wasn’t anywhere near as savvy in the street layout of La Paz as Hannah I eventually caught a taxi.