From Lago Titicaca to Salar Uyuni – the landscapes are just stunning: gushers, salt deserts, volcanoes, colorful lagoons, floating villages as well as Spanish colonial architecture and cemeteries for old American trains will come across your way in Bolivia.
Despite being rich on natural beauties and resources Bolivia still counts as the poorest country in South America – 40% even live in extreme poverty. The main commercial sector is the export of mineral oil, gas and mining products like silver and ore – led by the national energy company. Tourism does not (yet) play a major role for the economy.
Read about why I bought some dynamite, where Salvador Dali got his inspiration from and why I voluntarily spend my 30st birthday in a desert.
From the first day my ex-boyfriend told about Bolivia some years ago I wanted to see Salar Uyuni and Atacama desert. So, I was looking forward to spend an amazing time in this beautiful country – but things first turned out differently.
ISLA DEL SOL, URURO AND SUCRE
Already at Isla del Sol we did not feel very welcome as tourists. We were asked to leave a restaurant after 25 minutes as we would consume too much WIFI with our whatsapp communication.
In Copacabana it was also obviously very unusual that I wanted to have a shower and brush my teeth in my private room at 8 a.m. – as they had to turn on the water. At carnival in Ururo I was asked very rudely how long I consider sitting there to watch the carnival, as it is very narrow. In 2013 Bolivia was elected as the country where tourists feel most unwelcome – in 2015 it was still at place 100. Understand a bit why.
But I also met Bolivians who are different. Juan and Miriam (two modern guys like my age) from La Paz invited me to join there dinner at a lama restaurant.
They were sitting in the bus next to me and were looking for a heavy meal before going to their carnival celebrations.
The carnival in Ururo was a bit like the big parades in Germany – music bands, costumes and dancing girls. Different were the costumes and dance of the indigenous inhabitants of the „Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia“ (with about 50% share Bolivia hast he biggest amount of indigenous inhabitant groups).
By night bus I was finally heading to Sucre to get some positive impact in the most beautiful town in Bolivia. Thanks to carnival all the shops were closed, no busses were running to other towns and as single traveling tourist I was the perfect target for water bombs (no idea where the water was coming from) and colorful sticky confetti spray – of course both thrown out of cars. Actually I was not in the mood for this after the negative experiences I had before.
POTOSI – BEING IN AN ACTIVE SILVER MINE
At Ash Wednesday I could thankfully continue my trip to Potosi – the treasure chamber of Bolivia. I was curious where the Spanish crown got all their silver treasuries from so I took a mine tour. I have never been in an active mine before and for sure you can discuss about the moral aspect of doing this. I did not go to see about the bad conditions but to learn about the general topic. So I booked the tour and we bought some gifts for the workers at the market – lemonade, water, coca-leafs and dynamite.
I could hardly breathe – Potosi is situated at an altitude of 4,100 meters but in the mine it is narrow, dark and dusty. For sure I am too tall for the alleys. The few workers we met down there started mining at the age of 14 and were by far more compact. Our guides told us that all of them suffer from (dust) sickness and will die early. About 12,000 miners are currently working at Cerro Rico – every year about 50 of them are dying before the age of 55.
With the help of hammer, chisel and pick they are carving deep holes into the stone next to the silver lines, put 1/3 of the dynamite in and päng – create an about 1 m wide hole. After a few hours, the miner is coming back and to separate by hand silver and worthless stones. On his back he is carrying 20-30 kg of silver through the narrow alleys out of the mine and selling it to his consortium. The whole day they are just eating coca leafs, as food would get too contaminated in the mine. Before going to the mine they pray to the “Tio” – the god of the miners and bring him gifts like cigarettes and alcohol.
For me it was an impressive experience to be in an active mine – but the guys in Potosi hardly have an other chance to earn money in this area – for about 7 more years there will be enough silver at Cerro Rico. After that they will start mining different minerals at an other mountain.
SALAR UYUNI TO SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA
At my 30st birthday I wanted – like last year with my friends Anne and Ricky in Hong Kong – do something special – but this time at an other continent in Bolivia.
For this reason I booked a tour in a Jeep starting from Uyuni, via the train cemetery, passing the famous salt desert Salar Uyuni and beautiful volcanic landscapes, gushers, deserts and meadows with Picunias and Alpacas to finally arrive in San Pedro de Atacama.
The most beautiful event on my tour was sitting in a natural hot spring at a very dark night (no light pollution), watching the milky way and spotting some shooting stars. What a great birthday present to myself!
As I still got 6 more weeks in South America (my flight to New Zealand is at 15th April in Santiago de Chile) and I want to visit my friend Gui in Brazil, (and planes are super expensive) I will now start some speedy-traveling to have some more time by end of March to loop back to Chile. Looking forward to some „nice“ night busses from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, via Salta in Argentina to Paraguay and Iguazu. Quite a trip – but be more chilled next week 🙂