From Sucre we stopped over briefly in Potosi, the highest city in the world. It’s next to a mountain that had so much silver in it that it almost single-handedly bankrolled the Spanish empire for a couple of hundred years. Mining still goes on but mainly for tin. We decided not to go on a mine tour as the mining practices have not changed much in the last 3 centuries and being trapped in a tiny dark tunnel at 4,000 metres didn’t seem like that much fun. But we visited a museum of the Spanish royal mint which was touted as the finest museum in South America in the Lonely Planet and a Carmelite Convent. The former failed to live up to it’s hype but the latter was surprisingly fascinating, aided by an excellent tour guide.
From Potosi we continued south to Tupiza, famous for it’s association with the deaths of Butch Cassidy and the Sun Dance kid. Here we started a 4 day tour of the Bolivan altiplano, culminating in a visit to the largest salt flats in the world.
We managed to avoid the crowds by doing the tour from South to North rather than the other way round and fortunately we landed an excellent tour guide/mechanic and cook. Crucially we also got on really well with the other couple on the tour, pretty important considering we were spending upwards of 7 hours a day in a jeep with them!
We were up before dawn most days in order to see the sun rise over an abandoned, ghost ridden town or the salt flats themselves. I do not have the vocabulary to describe the amazing scenery from the searingly white salt flats to a smoking volcano to brightly coloured lakes filled with sulphur and other natural minerals. We bathed in hot springs, climbed huge rock formations, felt light headed at 5,000 metres above sea level, watched the drivers change punctured tires unbelievably quickly, and ate amazing food (including llama) somehow cooked in the boot of the truck. We saw flocks of flamingos, herds of llamas, ancient mines from hundreds of years ago and modern geothermal energy experiments. For the first 2 nights we slept in basic rooms in tiny hamlets where the local boys demonstrated their lung capacities by playing football 4 km above sea level and the entrepreneurially minded girls sold overpriced friendship braclets to the tourists. On the final night we stayed in a lovely hostel made of salt which even had hot water!
It was an amazing experience, straight away leapfrogging into the top 2 or 3 things we’ve done on this trip. The photos don’t do it justice but hopefully give some idea of some of the things we saw.
Back in Tupiza, we decided to recreate the exploits of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (the horseriding bit not the bank robbing bit) and hired a guy and some horses and galloped off into the sunset. Well sort of. Luckily for us we didn’t have to do much other than hang on as the horses knew the exact route and where they were supposed to stop so we could admire the scenery and where they were supposed to trot and canter and try and make us fall off. Claire seemed to enjoy this a bit too much and keeps on talking about getting a horse and keeping it in the carpark behind the flat in Camden…I remain unconvinced.