Tuesday, February 07, 2006


Is a town that I won`t be going to, but languages are a funny thing, huh? That one is especially for Timmy and his NZ Halloween costume/mild obsession.

I say, Bolivia, give me adventure, and Bolivia does not shy away from the challenge!

But first, an "adventure" that is worth remembering from Argentina if only to avoid repeating it. Picture the scene, a dark bus ride back to Salta, hunger coming on strong, and a to-go-bag of assorted meats from the asado lunch we had had that day. The first bight comes out fine, the steak that I had expected to find. The second, reaching in for what I thought was the same piece of meat turned out to be less successful. The consistency wasn`t right, and judging by my facial expression my travel companion informed me without delay that I was eating a kidney. There is a reason we don`t eat "riñones" very often to ever in the States, and I now am privy to why.

I left off last time as I was about to head out to the salt flats of Uyuni. The whole thing was completely flooded with about 6 inches of water which turned it into an amazing mirror that reflected the sky perfectly for miles so much so that it could not be discerned where one began and the other ended. Good company of 4 Argentines and 3 Chileans made it especially fun, and I had my first (of now many) llama steak which was very tasty. Over lunch (in a hotel completely built of salt, including the stools and table at which we ate) it was fun to listen in on their political conversation which mostly stuck to the policies of Latin America, only stopping to spit on the States once or twice. One of the Argentines is currently exploring all parts of Europe by living for a while, then moving to see another, and the other three I ended up travelling with for the next three days.

As I`m trying to cut some time as I move through Bolivia, I got on a bus after the tour was over and we embarked on a bumpy, dark journey through a pounding rain storm. Finally, about an hour into it the bus came to a stop and seeing as the door to the driver (and the way out of the bus) was locked, we all sat in the pitch black stuffy bus wondering what had happened. A few minutes later we were told that the river was too high to cross and we were going to wait it out. I got out of the bus, and checking out the river with a fellow passenger joked that we were better off white water rafting to Potosì. We then agreed that this was actually true. The river was high, a full blown raging river 50 feet across and busting a good pace. Bolivia, once again answers the call to adventure. An hour or so later the river had subsided a bit and the rain had all but quit, so the driver turned the headlights on, locked us in our floating casket (to people screaming, at least open the curtains!) and we forded the river that turned us so that we were heading downstream before we reached the other side. Yes Bolivia! During the wait I tried to teach the woman next to me to play chess; this isn`t really significant other than me learning that it is never fun to teach someone how to play chess, then suggest their moves against you as you don`t want to beat a complete stranger in 5 moves.

We arrived to Potosì, the world`s highest city (one of many of Bolivia`s "world`s highest," which consequently is 3 times higher than "mile high" Denver) at the cheery hour of 3:30am when the drunks rule the streets of this mining town. One of the more amiable ones recognized me as "hermanito" (little brother) and tried unsuccessfully to guide me to my hostel. The others just yelled at the police while embracing each other for stability. Carajo!

Up bright and early the next morning just in time to join a tour for the prime attraction of Potosì, the mines! Potosì was once the largest city in South America as it`s Cerro Rico (Rich Hill) was loaded with silver, and still today remain zinc, tin, other minerals, lots of toxic gasses and asbestos! "Vale un Potosì" is the famous expression in Spain. Back when the Spaniards were on the scene, they actually had the Indians working in the mines for 6 months at a time (as in, without coming out once for sunlight). Needless to say, thousands died, and still today the working conditions are bleak, at best. The average life duration of a miner after entering the mines is 10 years due to accidents, or if that doesn`t get you, the pneumonia (somehow associated with silicon or silicosis, someone clear this up for me?) does. I met a miner who was 17.

The group got together, donned our jumpsuits, boots and helmets (no masks, unfortunately) and headed to the street market for the last bit of preparation. The miner`s market is where the tourists going into the mines, and the miners buy the essentials for mining. Coca leaves with your choice of catalyst, assorted soft drinks, 96% alcohol (to drink), whiskey, and last, but surely not least, dynamite. Yes it`s true, anyone can go and buy a stick of dynamite, a fuse and detonator for $1.25. We got one and before going into the mine our guide, an ex-miner himself, gave us a demonstration of it`s power. We lit the fuse and ran...a minute later a thunderous boom was followed by a mushroom cloudish ring rising into the sky. No joke, it was pretty cool.

After all of the mining troubles in the federally and state regulated mines of my home state as of late, it was a bit daunting to go into these mines which were regulated by....no one. Interesting tour, however, getting to know the amazing culture these guys share, climbing the rickety ladders to get access to recently blown out shafts (the same ladders they hustle down after they light 15 sticks of dynamite then...run), getting to know a new array of toxic gasses, discovering a white, cotton candy like stuff that I analyzed with wonder and tried to smell to see what it was--only to find out later that it was asbestos--at least I didn`t taste it!

After the tour and another llama steak, I headed out with a fellow yank to a crater/hot spring about 30 minutes out of town. Beautiful mountains and colorful rocks surrounding the volcano, a really stellar setting. He had read that people had drowned in the middle of the bubbling crater as a suction was created by the volcano below. Even after asking the man kindly collecting our five bolivianos at the crater whether or not there was any danger, he refused to give us any warning. The other people there, who ended up being acquaintances from Buenos Aires confirmed that they also had heard that the middle could be dangerous. And at 4,000meters it is no doubt that a swimmer should find himself short of breath.

That night I checked out the markets and was surprised to find that fancy cakes were sold all over the streets as if it was an everyday thing to have a huge, decadent cake (I guess it is?). So I got to thinking, and Katherine(by the way you are now the only sibling without a blog, geez, dork), what do you think about a Bolivian street wedding cake? I think it`ll only get better with time to baste in my backpack for the next few months. Let me know.

The next day I visited the Casa de Moneda where many of the famous spanish silver coins were made then somehow found their way either into a ship-wreck or a museum somewhere. After that, it was off with my 40-something porteño friends to Sucre, where I stayed for about a half an hour before I headed to Cochabamba...only again to find another form of transportation to Villa Tunari, where I now find myself. I`ve heard so much of this place from different people, so I had to come. It is an animal reserve, where people I`ve met have come and volunteered (two weeks minimum, which I was planning to do until the time ran short). The volunteer activities include walking pumas and jaguars through the jungle, and playing with monkeys. Pretty cool, and when I showed up today I saw that another person I had met while in Argentina is currently volunteering. Although I didn`t spot any of the big cats, I had a fun afternoon with monkeys jumping all over me, taking naps in my lap, unzipping my pockets and stealing my stuff, crawling into a whole in my shirt, and peeing on me. Cute little guys.

So the highlight of my night was getting bitten by a dog then to be told by the owner that it is because it has some word I didn`t understand. Hoping it wasn`t "rabies," I soon deduced that the little thing had just had a litter. All smiles! Please, don`t worry about my ankle.

I head out tomorrow morning bright and early to La Paz...


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