Last Day in Potosi is a Holiday - Bad for Tourists

Trip Start Jan 08, 2014
Trip End Jan 25, 2014

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Where I stayed
Overnight bus from Potosi to La Paz
What I did
Iglesia de la Merced
colonial casas

Flag of Bolivia  ,
Wednesday, January 22, 2014

We had a 9:30 am start after leaving our bags downstairs in the hostel.  We headed to the Museo-Etnoindcomentario via the Mercado Artisanal but the museum wasn't there or we just couldn't find it.  Later we found out from our tour guide that it was behind one of the university buildings.

Astrid had wanted me to be tour guide today.  I seem to have struck out with my first choice of the ethnographic museum.  My second objective was the church of San Francisco but I doubted that we (or I should say, I) could get there by 11 am from where we were.  I am afraid that I was pessimistic about my own speed being adequate to the task.  We even stopped at an unscheduled church on the way.  I had mentioned wanting to see San Lorenzo and Astrid saw some towers a few blocks over, so we detoured to check it out.  It did turn out to be San Lorenzo and there was a mass...the priest yelled to Astrid that no photos were allowed.  I really liked the facade with the little faces carved into the stone.  Now it was around 10:30 am - with hills to go up - and I seriously doubted we could make it to San Francisco in time, but we did!  Or at least, we approached it by 11 am.  We started walking around it to see if any doors were open since the main door seemed to be closed.  I think someone had told us or a guidebook said that there were tours at 11 am.  But it was not open. 

Astrid had suspected it might be a holiday today when the pedestrian street was practically deserted at 9:30 am when we started out.  It appeared that there definitely was something going on.  I suggested we try to explore the colonial casas since we could only view the exteriors anyway.  However, the first one on the map we really couldn't ID except that Astrid said they usually had ornate portals and we did see one such portal.  Then, Astrid thought we might be better off booking a tour so we found a tourist office open and booked a tour for 2:30 that afternoon - with an English-speaking guide.

When we returned to the main plaza, Plaza de Armas, there was a celebration with speeches, music and dancing, but unfortunately we just caught the end of it.  We then retired to the Cafe la Plata for coffee, hot chocolate and lunch to kill time during the siesta hours.  It turns out that today is Plurinational State Foundation Day.  This either happened 2-5 years ago or the holiday was created recently (2010) - different people told us different things.

We had the tour of the casas, homes built for the Silver mine owners and other elite of Potosi, and churches with Ronald, whose gradmother was Quechua and so he speaks three languages:  Spanish, Quechua, and English.  He has wanted to learn French but has found it difficult to learn on his own.  He was quite informative about the different wealthy men who lived in Potosi (and one widow) who owned the colonial casas.  One of the men hid his wealth somewhere and people have looked for it ever since he died.  Some think it is buried in some cave and whoever goes there and tries to dig it up with die.  Another man got paranoid that his money was disappearing and he became so depressed that he hung himself from the balcony of his house...and supposedly his money started falling down from where he was hanging.  The story about the woman is much nicer.  Well, almost.  Her husband died so she prepared a feast and invited the poor neighbors and workmen to take part.  From that day on, the first days in November, people put out food for the poor as a remembrance of their dear departed ones. 

Ronald also mentioned a few things about the mines - namely how the miners died very young because of the dangers and the exposure to toxic chemicals like mercury.  He also said that the miners' widows ended up getting jobs at the mines, but not in the mines, so that they could support their families after the husband/father died.  It might have been fun to visit the mines, but crawling around tunnels didn't sound like that much fun.  We didn't seem to have time to squeeze in the mining museum.  Funny thing, I hardly saw any silver jewelry around.  Ronald said some silver is still mined but it is much harder and costlier to extract.  Potosi is now pretty poor compared to its heyday.  We ended up in the market area at the end of the tour and Ronald helped me try to find a soccer shirt for Theo.  I almost had one, but the man in the store wanted me to buy all 12 shirts and wouldn't sell me just one.

After the tour, we went to the vegetarian restaurant above the tourist office that Ronald recommended as having good Bolivian dishes.  The food was good but not spectacular - the portions, however, were HUGE!  Astrid had a big bowl of quinoa soup and then was served with a HUGE amount of vegetarian lasagna.  I took before and after photos I think - or at least one - they weren't that different - she barely made a dent in it.  I went non-vegetarian and tried llama a la plancha with french fries.  Then I had fruit in yogurt for dessert as part of the set menu.  I was overstuffed.

On the way back to the hostel, we visited the Iglesia de la Merced bell tower which had a fine view of the city - not quite dusk though.  There was a tiny cafe up there next to the bells and a walkway over the roof so you could look out in all directions.  Luckily they only ring the bells once a week so we weren't deafened in the attempt to get a nice view.  Actually, I am not sure I heard any bells ringing at any time we were in Potosi.  Probably most are special event bells.  We were hoping to get a peek at the church interior that was closed before.  The woman caretaker said it would be opening for a mass in a few minutes but we waited and nothing happened so we left without seeing the interior.

We went back to the hostel to wait for our 8 pm taxi to the bus station.  Astrid went off to use the internet down the street and got carried away so she didn't return until after 8 pm by which time both the hostel manager and I began to have panic attacks.

When Astrid and I got to the bus station and Astrid checked the window where she bought the tickets, she was told that our bus had broken down and we were switched to another bus that would be leaving 1/2 hour later.  We were supposed to wait at the baggage check counter but no one was there so Astrid became concerned.  Eventually some young women came and started processing some people's bags but told us to wait...I think the others were on an earlier bus.  By the time they got to our bus, 4 or 5 people had pushed in front of us.  I guess the British queuing model does not hold here.  Finally we got on.  Sometime in between Astrid found out that, even though the ticket seller assured Astrid that there was a toilet on this bus, the toilet is locked because of abuse.  There would be one 15 minute rest stop after 3 hours and then 7 hours more without a stop before we got to La Paz.  I made a few trips to the banos and used up quite a few boliviano coins.  We also had to pay 2 bolivianos each for use of the station and had to show the receipt to get on the bus.

For me this bus ride was less comfortable than the last one even though the seats were the same semi-reclining seats:  the backs recline farther than plane seats and there is a footrest of sorts but it doesn't really raise your feet much off the floor.  This time there were no pillows and no blankets.  I had my down jacket and vest, hat and gloves so I don't think I was that cold.  I think it was the idea of no toilet that was somewhat distressing.  But amidst tossing, turning and twitchy feet, I survived the night!

We really couldn't see the spectacular sight of La Paz in the valley bowl as we started the descent into the city (of La Paz).  I read that a second city that is on the rim of the bowl is actually bigger than La Paz and this is where the poorer people live.  From the station we got a taxi to the hostel.  Astrid remarked that we could have walked and I replied that I wasn't sure I would have wanted to.  It would have been a fair distance and up some hills, even though La Paz is not at as high an altitude as Potosi.

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