Travel to Uyuni and Potosi, Bolivia

Standing alone for the first time in four days we both looked like our dogs had just died. Sarah needed to take a moment and have a bit of a fit as we were both looking forward to staying in a nice little town when we finished our arduous adventure and the stark realization that we were in an arm pit of a village was chilling. We walked down the street past several dead dogs (or dogs that don’t move and shudder in the heat on the side or middle of the road). We asked around about where the bus station was as we were supposedly dropped off at the terminal. We soon found out that the bus station was actually a simple doorway into a large room full of couches and a small make shift desk. We purchased our ticket for the following day from a lady wearing fake Channel sunglasses and a Minnie Mouse t-shirt. We walked around town with our guidebook in hand trying to find the HI hostel. We finally found the hostel and found out that they would not have hot water for showers until the following day. We stormed out of there on the brink of tears. We walked around a corner and saw a sign for a hotel, rang the bell and stepped in. We were greeted by a short little girl who looked no older than 11 years old. She was apparently working the ¨desk¨ today. We were ever so happy when she said they had hot water for showers so we agreed to the price of the room and threw our things on our beds. Our shower was yet again in the same stall as the toilet and sink. I had the first shower with great success. The water smells funny hear for some reason and makes your skin and hair really starchy even when using premium conditioners! Sarah jumped in the shower next and I could not help but laugh when she got electrocuted. We were using the ghetto Bolivian shower system where electrical cords are jammed into a thick shower head. Her hand and arm was numb and buzzing for several minutes.

We quickly dressed and stepped into the afternoon sun with smiles on our freshly cleaned faces. We walked to the town’s huge indoor market where we saw many heinous items for sale. I saw bugs buzzing around whole chickens sitting on cement and cheese with bee´s buzzing about. Upon entering the meat section I heaved. Down a small alley we could see entire Llamas with their skins removed. An entire bloody corpse lying on the cement, how raw! We walked into a little shop and bought a few things for our trip on the bus the following day. Along the street on our walk to dinner we saw a perfect example of Bolivian street life; street vendors wheeling around their little carts selling freshly squeezed orange juice or apple milk puree. Several vendors selling baked goods and many little dilapidated huts selling corn, grilled steak and potatoes in little plastic bags. Everything is consumed in small transparent garbage bags here: from meat and potatoes to a ¨glass of juice¨. It is rather funny to see people walking around town drinking from a straw out of a garbage bag. At 5pm we witnessed a rather hurting marching band parade as we were sorting through a selection of Alpaca woolen products. We passed by a huge statue of a terrifying woman who looked like she was running and screaming at the same time. The statue was made of random metallic products. Everything from horse shoes to thick chains. As we headed towards the cities military base we passed by what looked like a GI Joe figurine statue of green plastic soldiers. Overhead we were jolted by several dogs running along the roof above barking their hearts out at us.

We arrived at Minuteman Pizza with a bit of difficulty. We soon found out that the restaurant is located in the back of a hotel. The cute little restaurant was fantastic! It was hyped as the best place to eat in town in our guide. The owner is from Boston and married a Bolivian woman, decided to move here with her and open up a traditional Boston Pizzeria. The place is packed with gringos by 6pm so we were glad we arrived just before they opened at 5pm. My mouth dropped when I glanced at the various fresh baked goods on the counter. I ordered a slice of moist Death by Chocolate Cake and a huge chocolate chip cookie. We ordered a large pepperoni, tomato and caramelized onion pizza with a thin and delectable crust. This was the perfect place to eat after four days of camp food. The owner of the restaurant had a great shirt on with the slogan ¨3670 meters: Pizza with an Altitude.¨ We chatted over dinner about how the most sensible plan in life would be to work at home in the western world for a few years and make a ton of money. Then move to South America, with bags of Canadian cash and live like a king or queen for the rest of your life. We both checked out the bathroom before heading back to our hostel for the evening. The restroom was full of hilarious photocopies from a book. Chapters of interest ¨How to report a UFO sighting, or How to survive a volcanic eruption.¨ We walked back down the pitch black streets passed several local street side grills. I rubbed my lips and we soon both realized that we had burnt and chapped our lips in the sun today. After a good dose of lip conditioner we were fast asleep.

We walked right to the bus ¨station¨ in the morning and were greeted with the chitter chatter of French tourists. I watched several cute little local girls and boys as they skipped to school with their Disney themed backpacks. Our bus drove up to the side walk and we all had to take a gulp. This was the most run down bus I have ever taken in my life. The front window was smashed in, the seats were covered in crumbs and random odors and smears were apparent. The seats were slammed together and clearly designed for the short Bolivian stature. The six hour drive to Potosi would be the most ridiculous and memorable drive of my life. As the bus filled up with passengers I´d say about 80 percent of them were gringos. A family of four indigenous people hobbled onto the bus and plumped themselves right behind me on the back bench. The grandmother was no more than four feet tall and had one tooth in her mouth if she was lucky. The family pushed through the aisle, throwing huge bags and buckets in the aisle so no one could move into their seat. I had to pinch myself as I kept thinking ¨where on earth am I? Is this for real?¨ Another National Geographic moment. People were still standing in the aisles waiting to be seated when the bus took off down the rocky road uphill. A huge commotion started as four French and German passengers were standing in the aisle with their tickets trying to tell the Bolivian family that they were in their seats. The Bolivians went wild chattering and flailing their hands. The mother (who I now refer to as snaggle tooth as she had one large tooth jetting out of her gums) sat on my lap for over thirty minutes. She smelled atrocious (they don´t shower to often here) and I think I felt her fart on my lap several times. She soon switched places with her husband who ended up standing directly beside me for the six hour bus ride. His hands gripped my seat cover and pulled my hair throughout the journey. His crotch was in my face during the duration of the trip. Claustrophobic’s beware.

Back to the German and French passengers: They ended up having to sit on buckets as well as stand in the aisle for the entire journey! Sarah and I both stared at each other in disbelief and decided that we would always arrive to our bus early in order to ensure we actually got our seat. The drive was hot, stuffy, uncomfortable and long. Not to mention we were driving on dirt roads that criss crossed every few minutes across the mountain range. I have never seen a straight road or highway in this country. I am positive they do not exist. The little girl behind us (who refused to give up her seat to the 22 year old German girl) started to scream at the top of her lungs. Sarah looked over to me and said ¨You know what that means, time for an iPod.¨ She was right on the money. When in a chaotic space it is best to practice escapism. Half way through the trip my head was spinning as we seemed to be driving in a circle up a mountain for hours on end. My feet also went numb from the rattling vibrations of the floor bellow my feet.

We arrived at Potosi with our bodies safe and wits in tact. The city is made up of hundreds of sand coloured houses and apartments built into the mountain side cliff faces. We hopped off the bus and stretched our legs. Sarah and I laughed at the credo written on the side of the bus, ¨Safety, Comfort and Elegance.¨ These were apparently the three pillars of the company. False advertising is all I gotta say. The city was hot and we soon found out that we had to wait around for two hours for the next bus to our final destination, Sucre. Potosi is somewhat of a famous little city. Claims to fame include being a UNESCO world heritage site. The world’s highest city at 4060 meters. And the world’s most lucrative silver ore deposits. It was incredibly hard to walk around town as the altitude was like nothing we had ever experienced. I had to stop on the road every few minutes to catch my breath. Potosi grew into the largest and wealthiest city in Latin America, underwriting the Spanish economy for over two centuries. It is said that the city at one point had streets paved with silver. Millions of indigenous people and imported African slaves were conscripted to work in the mines in the most appalling conditions. Apparently millions of deaths occurred in these small, unventilated shafts. Today people come to Potosi to enjoy the altitude sickness and take tours of the abandoned mines (the silver has now been depleted). The guide says to be wary of the the mine tours if you are claustrophobic or asthmatic. They also hint that you should wear grubby cloths as you exit the mine entirely filthy. Not my cup of tea.

We walked back to the bus station and I got a little grumpy over the fact that every Pringles flavor can be purchased in South America except Salt and Vinegar (my favorite). Along the main street across from the bus terminal were many little ladies selling random street foods. Baked goods, greasy doughnuts, fresh juice, grilled Llama and potatoes. We hopped on our next bus which would be another three or so hours (our entire travel day ran from 10am until 9pm). I plugged myself into my iPod for the majority of the trip. I stared out the window as the sun set and the full moon bobbed across the mountain peaks in the distance. I thought it a bit odd that I spotted several huge bonfires along the roadside and the landscape beyond. It seems like the locals here light huge fires and huddle around them to keep warm during the evening. It is really beautiful to stare at a full moon casting its white light onto the desert bellow as sparkling red light dots itself through the landscape as families keep warm.

We drove into Sucre, the countries cultural capital (and the location where the Constitution was signed) at 9pm. The city has a much lower altitude and the buildings at night are somewhat romantic as their lights twinkle across the rolling hill horizon. After getting off the bus Sarah had a bit of an issue with getting her bag. She had misplaced her baggage ticket and the man refused to give her her bag. She explained to him that she didn´t know where it was and he rudely called her a liar. After much commotion she ended up grabbing her bag and running. We hailed a taxi and hopped in, soon feeling a wave of embarrassment. It seems like our hostel was actually a block down the road (a hop skip and a jump even). We stepped out onto the sidewalk and pushed through the glass doors of the hotel to be greeted by the front desk man who was wearing a tie and suit. After an arduous day of hectic travel we were ever so glad to plop into bed.



Leave a reply