We had just over a week in Bolivia, not really enough time to see it properly, but enough time to bike the Death Road, see the world’s highest and biggest salt flat, and explore the depths of a dangerous silver mine.
We had a few days in La Paz, a bustling city with lots of outdoor markets and beautiful squares. Luke and I did the walking tour which started off at the square opposite the San Pedro prison. This prison was made famous in the 90’s when a British inmate arrested for drug trafficking started doing tours and even allowed tourists to spend the night in his room. Our walking tour guides advised against this these days as tourists have been raped as well as forced to pay large amounts of money to get out of San Pedro. If you’re curious about this story check out Marching Powder, it’s a fascinating book.
Another highlight of La Paz was the witches market, still used regularly by the local people. A llama foetus buried under your house will bring good luck, and there was an array of different love potions for sale.
From La Paz I decided to bike the Coroico Road, also known as the Death Road. Luke wanted to but wisely decided that the 60km of bumpy track would be bad for his hand. It was a scary experience, but so much fun once I got more confident on the bike.
After La Paz we drove to Potosi, the highest city in the world at 4090 metres (13,400 ft). The town sits in the shadow of Cerro Rico (rich mountain) which is the main reason the town exists. Huge amounts of silver were discovered here, supplying Spain with fabulous wealth at huge cost to the miners. Today miners are still bringing out silver, along with other minerals, and the conditions are probably somewhat better.
Luke and I took a tour into the mine, first buying gifts for the miners of coca leaves, 90% alcohol, and dynamite. The miners now work independently and only get paid for what they bring out. The mine was damp and cold, but as we got further in it became hot and stuffy and the air smelled of sulphur. Added to the decreased oxygen of being at high altitude all made it a rather unpleasant experience and I did not envy the miners their job in the slightest.
Our last stop in Bolivia was Uyuni, a town on the edge of the world’s largest salt flat (10,582 square km). It was an amazing experience to drive out onto the salt, seeing nothing in any direction but a sea of white and mountains in the distance.
We had lunch on a cactus island and finished off the day at a train graveyard where ledgend has it one of the trains was robbed by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Overall it was a great day, well worth a trip. We’ve felt the same about Bolivia.