Sucre, Potosi Mines, and fascinating Salt Flats
15.11.2009 - 30.11.2009 15 °C
Sucre is the official capital of Bolivia and we were drawn here by many great reports from other backpackers. And rightly so, Sucre is a small stunning white washed colonial city with beautiful parks and structures. The residents are happy and friendly, the city is small and walkable, the food cheap and good. We were lucky to find a wonderful small hostel with a warm sociable hostess/manager. Roxanna would organize communal diners, pick nicks in the countryside, and even outings for the kids. Wasi Masi hostel was one of our favourite places to stay on our trip and because of her social organization we met lots of wonderful travelers such as Robin and Jake from Seattle, Washington.
As recommended by a fellow backpacker and friend we visited the Nanta organization for children in Sucre, in hopes of volunteering for the foreseeable future. Everyday we played with the kids and waited for the coordinator of volunteers but we did not cross her path at the correct time. Those kids were truly precious and deserving of so much more than their circumstances. During our stay in Sucre I received an email from a lady named Jody who was running a library/kids program in Banos, Ecuador. She had stumbled across my blog and invited us to come volunteer as a family at their organization called Arte Del Mundo.
As things weren’t working out at Nanta for a volunteer position with the kids I made the decision to fly back to Ecuador from Bolivia but only after spending another few weeks in this exciting and interesting country. Although we really wanted to keep moving south into Argentina I knew that it would break our budget and the flights out of there would be quite expensive. Arg., Chile, Uruguay and Brazil would have to wait for another trip and a bigger budget. The kids and I were excited to revisit Ecuador and especially the fun mountain town of Banos.
From Sucre we taxied with our new Seattle friends to Potosi, a town famous for wretched mines with cruel human conditions. Potosi is also the highest city in the world and a UNESCO site but had a rather sad vibe, maybe it was the rain but I think it was the coca addicted residents who lives were always dependent on the mines that surround the city. We all took the eye opening claustrophobic mine tour and when it was over breathed a sigh of relief. There is a famous documentary on these mines called “the Devil’s Miner” and I have always meant to borrow it from the library, I am looking forward to watching it after this experience.
The following day we missed the day long bus ride to Tupiza by minutes. So unexpectedly we had a day to wonder around Potosi and change our minds about this town. We ate in friendly restaurants and had coffee at the only art studio in Potosi. Art and colour is what this city could use alot of. Although Jake, Robin and ourselves specifically bought tickets for the first class bus line choosing the best seats, we end up being reshuffled to a dingy bus with the worst seats. Our friends were both over 6 feet tall and yet they ended up with no leg room at all, I felt bad for them and no negotiating seemed to change our circumstances.
It was a rough ride and we were happy to reach Tupiza although our bus arrived at 5:30am. The surrounding countryside here was startling with red jagged sandy hoodoo structures, peaks and ridges. Bone dry but stunning formations everywhere.
I found a good tour company for the 5 of us to explore the Salar de Ayuni otherwise known as Salt Flats.
What are the Salt Flats? Salar de Uyuni (or Salar de Tunupa) is the world's largest salt flat at 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 sq mi). It is located in the Potosí and Oruro departments in southwest Bolivia, near the crest of the Andes, and is elevated 3,656 meters (11,990 ft) above the mean sea level. The Salar was formed as a result of transformations between several prehistoric lakes. It is covered by a few meters of salt crust, which has an extraordinary flatness with the average altitude variations within one meter over the entire area of the Salar. The crust serves as a source of salt and covers a pool of brine, which is exceptionally rich in lithium. It contains 50 to 70% of the world's lithium reserves, but that lithium is not being extracted yet. The large area, clear skies and exceptional surface flatness make the Salar an ideal object for calibrating the altimeters of the Earth observation satellites. The Salar serves as the major transport route across the Bolivian Altiplano and is a major breeding ground for several species of pink flamingos.
We took a 4 day jeep tour with a wonderful guide and his sister Alicia as our cook. After this tour it was sadly time to say goodbye to Jake and Robin as they headed to Argentina and we to other parts of Bolivia.