Potosí; Sucre; Santa Cruz
13.04.2015 - 19.04.2015
Well, it is now less than a week until I fly back to Blighty and I must say I'm looking forward to getting back. Since Uyuni my appetite for organising anything and sightseeing has diminished considerably and I've really taken it easy since then. An added bonus of this approach is that there is not much to write about, so my last few blogs should be mercifully short.
The England cricket team are out in the West Indies at the moment, and as I had intended to round off my time away by seeing one of the test matches, I had booked my flight home from the Caribbean island of Trinidad. Now I just had to work out how on earth I was going to get there. It turned out to be cheaper to fly via Rio de Janeiro and Barbados than to take a more direct route - not a bad way to end the eight months.
Anyway, there were a couple more stops to make in Bolivia before my flight to Rio. The first was Potosí, a reasonably pretty city by Bolivian standards but with not a great deal to see aside from the usual tree-lined square. As with a lot of places in Bolivia, the infrastructure was not the greatest and I walked round for an hour trying to find somewhere that had wifi, so atrocious was it in the hostel. Had I wanted some photocopying done I would have been fine - I must have passed 20 shops that had a 'fotocopia' sign outside.
At 9.30pm on my second night there was a power cut and the whole city was plunged into darkness. People were navigating their way around by the lights on their mobile phones. So, not having eaten a load of carrots recently, I went to bed.
Potosí is one of the highest cities in the world at just over 4000m above sea level. It was once also one of the richest due to its proximity to an enormous amount of silver deposits in the Cerro Rico mountain adjacent to the city. An estimated 60,000 tonnes of silver have been extracted and whilst these days it is a lot scarcer, around 10,000 people still work in the mines. Working conditions to this day are so appalling that a miner's life expectancy is mid-forties, due in part to exposure to silicon and asbestos, and five million people are thought to have died in the mines since silver was first discovered there in the mid-16th century. Tours were available to go down a working mine but it sounded claustrophobic, filthy and depressing and I didn't fancy it.
I took a bus to Sucre, the Bolivian capital. Sucre is quite possibly the nicest city in Bolivia (admittedly not saying much given the competition), mainly due to the amount of white colonial buildings, relaxed vibe and general cleanliness. There were however a lot of old lady beggars hanging around the main square with their gnarled hands outstretched. So, Sucre wasn't filthy at all, but there isn't a Sex Pistols album that sounds a bit like Filthy La Paz.
Various activities were on offer such as mountain biking and paragliding which, had it been earlier in my trip, I would have been more inclined to do, but I had no desire to do anything other than lounging around for the time being. I went to Abi's Patio, Sucre's #1 ranked restaurant on TripAdvisor, a couple of times - delicious. My hostel, The Beehive, was full of young good-looking English people. Not much more to say about my three days there.
To get to Rio I had to fly via Santa Cruz in eastern Bolivia and São Paulo in Brazil, so three flights in a day was the plan. It did not go to plan. Sucre airport is situated at the foot of several hills and whenever it's cloudy there are big problems - aeroplanes' navigation systems seemingly aren't clever enough to negotiate hills meaning until the clouds clear nothing happens. On this occasion, nothing happened for seven hours. I got to Santa Cruz but I'd missed my connections and, due to them being with another airline and non-refundable, I fully expected to have to fork out for new flights (£400 according to Skyscanner). But the helpful chap at airline #1 pulled a blinder by phoning up airline #2 for me and rebooking me on the next day's flights free of charge - a great relief.
So, I had a night in Santa Cruz to look forward to. My hostel was full of arrogant Israelis who thought it acceptable to have conversations at 4am in a 16-bed dormitory, leave their stuff all over the floor and generally have no consideration for others.
I wandered into town and found an Irish bar. There I got chatting to a 47-year-old Australian bloke called Mick who was supposedly travelling round South America spending money he'd saved up for his wedding only for his missus to call it off. He was full of beans to say the least - and also, by his own admission, full of cocaine. I spent an entertaining hour or so in his company listening to his tall stories (such as how he scored 23 goals in half a season for Atletico Madrid's youth team before getting badly injured) before making my excuses, leaving him to go off in search of some late night entertainment of one sort or another. Before he went he told me the girl that ended up with me would be the luckiest girl in the world. But he had had an awful lot of cocaine.
There were no excuses from the airline the next day so I arrived in Rio, on schedule, in the early evening. I didn't do much in Rio but I'm sure I can string it out a bit.