Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Holiday in Potosi

After a short 3 day holiday break in Potosi we began to wonder why anybody
would choose to live in such an inhospitable place where it can get so cold
and where its hard to go about simple daily living because of the altitude.
However, many people do live in this bustling city, which ranks as the
highest in the world being situated at a height of 4100m above sea level.

Potosi is nothing to what it once was. In its early days it was one of the
largest and wealthiest cities in the world equal to the size of London,
which is hard to believe when you see what remains today. So what made it
so successful – silver – discovered in Cerro Rico (rich mountain) that lies
south of the city. Sadly like in so many situations great wealth was
achieved at the expense of millions of lives of both the indigenous
populations and African slaves brought in to work in the mines and

Mining in Cerro Rico still continues today using primitive techniques,
however it is no longer silver that is mined but tin and other metals. None
of which bring much income to the city, so today all that remains of the
great wealth that there once was is in the fine churches.

It was quite a difference from our familiar city of Sucre with houses all
painted different colours and narrow cobbled streets which sounds quite
pretty until you see how much rubbish there is and how run down many of the
building are.

There were however two redeeming features to our visit, the first was a much
welcome visit to the thermal pools, which was lovely we all enjoyed several
hours just floating and splashing about in the warm water. The second was
the festival of San Bartolome, which happened to coincide with our visit.
This consisted of a parade that continued for two days with different groups
from all over the country all dressed up in bright gaudy costumes doing
their traditional dances. We were amazed by how much energy some of these
dancers had as the dances were full on, but we weren't too surprised to
discover that many of them would have been either drinking alcohol from
early in the morning or chewing on coca leaves.

It was good to have taken time out of our familiar routine and surroundings
and to explore somewhere different and new, however I think we were all glad
to get back to the lower altitude and warmer climate of Sucre.

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