Monthly Archives: November 2005

Salt Flats Tour Day 3

November 19, 2005
Day 52

It was still completely dark outside when we got up today at 4:00 AM. Actually, everyone else got up at 4:00, but I just laid in bed for twenty minutes saying, "I hate mornings. I can't believe I'm paying for this." Somehow, we still managed to leave at about 4:30. I couldn't fathom why we would have to get up so early to go and drive all day.

After about an hour of driving, the sun finally came up. We made our first stop at the Michina Geysers, just as the sky was getting very colorful. Seeing the steam shoot out from the ground with lots of colors in the background was amazing. I guess that's why we got up so early. We walked around an area that was full of boiling water and rising smoke. Unfortunately, I could only enjoy myself for about ten minutes because it was probably about -10 Celsius and very windy. My hands were numb by the time were got back into the truck.

After freezing our asses off, we made a short drive to the hot springs of Challviri. The water was only slightly warm, but it felt great after walking near the geysers. We stayed in the are for awhile and had breakfast. This was also the part of the tour where we split up. The hot springs are located in the far southwestern part of Bolivia, just a few miles from Chile. Chris, Katrina, and Jenny all left to go to Chile. Kirsten, Stephie, and I joined Jill and Marie, from France, for the rest of the tour in their truck.

Our last stop before making our way back toward Uyuni was Laguna Verde, the Green Lagoon. It was very calm and highly reflective with Licancabur Mountain in the background. Supposedly, the color of the lagoon was supposed to change at around 10:00 AM when the sun got high enough in the sky, but I couldn't tell. We sat at the lagoon for over an hour and leisurely made our way back. From this point on, there would be no rushing to see everything.

We stopped for the day at about 2:00 in another small town in the middle of nowhere. At least the hotel we stayed at had running water, hot showers, and electricity for two hours per day. We got settled in and relaxed for a few minutes, at which point normally we would eat dinner and go to bed, but it was still the middle of the afternoon, so we had to find something else to do.

Our new guide, a large, fat man with a tough image that could've landed him on the cast of The Soprano's, suggested fishing. We piled ourselves and a bunch of neighborhood kids (making about 15 people in all) into the truck and drove down a long, bumpy road to the river. The kids took off upstream with their net. I thought it was a little unfair to be fishing with a net, but then I remembered that we were fishing for dinner, not for fun.

The rest of us walked with our guide downstream a bit. He had a more familiar looking setup: a shiny lure attached to some fishing line with a bobber. He demonstrated how to throw out the line a few times and guaranteed that there were huge trout in the river. The river was completely free of potential snags except for one tiny little patch of land in the middle, but our guide made a direct hit on about his third cast and left it up to us to get the lure unstuck.

Given that there was only one line for the five of us, and that line was stuck in the river, I quickly got bored and started throwing my Frisbee around with Kirsten. I'm glad I had been fishing before and knew enough to bring something along to stave off the boredom.

The snag was eventually undone, and we continued fishing, playing catch, and sitting around for an hour and a half before giving up. None of us got so much as a nibble. I figured the kids upstream probably caught all of the fish in their net, leaving none for us. To my surprise, however, they also left empty-handed. I guess fishing with a net isn't unfair after all.

I thought our dinner was going to be a plate with rice around the edge and a trout-shaped empty spot in the middle, but we actually got to eat sausages. I explained to the German girls that not only do we have bratwursts and other sausages in Wisconsin, but we glorify them by dressing people up in sausage costumes and letting them race each other in a baseball stadium. They were slightly amused.

When your day begins at 4:00 AM, it can seem very long by the time it gets dark. Nobody seemed to want to do anything on the last night of our trip, so I took a nice, hot shower and called it a night early again.

The photo album for this entry is here.

Salt Flats Tour Day 2

November 18, 2005
Day 51

We got up early this morning, had a small breakfast, and started driving. Our first stop of the day was Volcan Ollague, an active volcano looming in the distance across the Chilean border. Next, we went to a series of lagoons. Every lagoon we saw was home to hundreds of flamingos. I was very happy to see them because I was told that there would be flamingos on my Islas Ballestas tour, but I didn't see any. Each lagoon seemed more beautiful than the last with their colorful algae, blue skies, and mountains in the background.

After doing a few hours of sightseeing, we stopped for lunch. The area we stopped at was inhabited by dozens of "scrabbits," animals with heads of rabbits and tails of squirrels. I couldn't quite figure out how the scrabbits could survive at nearly 5000 meters without any food in sight, but then I saw some other tourists throwing their leftovers to them. I guess that explained it.

We drove for another hour after lunch through some very bumpy terrain and arrived at the "Arbol de Piedra," or tree of rock. It was a giant rock that barely seemed to be able to stand up on its small base. There were also some other big rocks nearby that provided some much-needed exercise for me when I climbed them after being in a truck for the last two days straight.

Our final stop of the day was at Laguna Colorada, a large lagoon that was part ice, part salt, part mud, and all flamingo terrain. I walked with my group to the Mirador, a lookout point at the top of a hill about halfway across the lagoon, where I was treated to even more spectacular views.

The place we stayed at was not nearly as nice as last night's. There was no running water, the bathroom smelled horribly, it was much colder than last night, and all six of us had to sleep in the same room together. The only consolation was that we had to get up the next day at 4:00 AM, so we basically just ate supper and went to bed very early. One good thing about being at high altitude is that is makes you very sleepy, which comes in handy when there's nothing to do because it's pitch black due to a lack of electricity.

The photo album for this entry is here.

Salt Flats Tour Day 1

November 17, 2005
Day 50

I knew that I was about to start a four-day trip in which I would have no contact with the outside world, so this morning I attempted to use the Internet before I left. I found out that it costs three times as much as normal here, and it is horribly slow. For me, the lack of decent computers with good Internet connections is the most annoying thing about Bolivia. Of course, considering that new computers cost more than the average Bolivian makes in a year, I probably shouldn't complain about it so much.

There was mass confusion when we were supposed to start our tour. The vehicle we were supposed to ride in, an old Toyota Land Cruiser, wasn't there yet. We were told that it was gassing up and would be ready shortly. Also, only Chris, Katrina, and I were at the tour agency, but six of us were supposed to go on the tour. Jenny, an Australian girl who we were supposed to meet last night never showed up and we had no idea where the other two people were, if they even existed.

Eventually, things got straightened out. The Land Cruiser showed up about an hour late (not bad by Bolivian standards). Kirsten and Stephie, from Germany, were combined with our tour group. Jenny also suddenly appeared. She couldn't get on the early bus to Uyuni yesterday because it was full, which explains why we never found her. She signed up at the last minute and we were finally ready to leave at noon, but there was still one more problem (Warning: the next paragraph is rather confusing).

Chris, Katrina, and Jenny all wanted to be dropped off in Chile on the third day of the trip. Kirsten and Stephie had signed up for four days. That left me all alone because I had been talked into returning to Uyuni on the third day in exchange for a discount for the group. One of the tour operators tried to convince me to go back in an over-packed truck with a different group on the third day. Knowing how uncomfortable it would be riding back the entire day with nine people in a Land Cruiser, I said I wouldn't do it. However, I would agree to return on the fourth day because there was more room in the other truck. The agency lady reluctantly agreed. It worked out well for me because I got to go on a four-day tour for the price of three, and I had planned on going for four days originally, anyway.

The first stop on our tour was an old train graveyard near Uyuni. The trains that were left there were steam powered and dated back to the 1880's. The area around Uyuni was perfect for dumping old trains because there was absolutely nothing nearby. The first thing I noticed when I got out of the truck was how bright it was because there was not one cloud in the sky and the ground around the area was white. I'm sure glad I bought a pair of sunglasses in La Paz.

Next, we went to Colchani, a small village on the border of the salt flats. I quickly noticed that there was a salt theme to everything I saw: the museum was made of salt, there were blocks of salt scattered around everywhere, trucks showed up dumping off salt in random locations, and even all of the souvenirs for sale were made of salt. I guess this is to be expected when your town is on the border of the biggest salt lake in the world.

We continued driving to the Salar de Uyuni, which used to be a massive lake, but now is just a huge area of salt several meters deep. We stopped at a collection of salt mounds that the people of Colchani had gathered. They pile the salt into mounds to dry it out completely, after which they transport it to town to make into souvenirs for the tourists. It was one of the strangest landscapes I had ever seen. Almost as far as I could see in every direction was the pure whiteness of salt. The site seemed to be devoid of all living things other than us tourists. Suddenly it occurred to me that it would really suck if our truck broke down here.

We continued driving for another half hour to the Salt Hotel. Located in the middle of the salt flats, the hotel is made entirely out of salt. They no longer allow people to spend the night there, but they do let people enter it and take pictures, provided that they buy something at the gift shop. I bought a Coke and checked the place out. Indeed, everything there was made of salt, including the beds and chairs. Maybe it was a good thing that we weren't going to sleep there.

Our next stop was the Isla Pescado (Fish Island), located almost directly in the middle of the flats. We were told that lunch would be ready in forty minutes, so we should take a walk around the island. The entire island was covered with cacti, but I don't think I saw any animals at all. I wasn't quite sure how anything could live in that environment, without any water or nutrients, but I guess cacti always find a way. Fun fact of the day: the tallest cactus on the island was 12.03 meters high. Since cacti only grow one centimeter per year, it was 1203 years old.

We had llama burgers, rice, tomatoes, cucumbers, and Coke for lunch, and began a long drive across the rest of the salt flats. The "road" was really just an area that other people had obviously driven on before. At one point, our guide, who was also our driver and cook, reached down to grab his water and drifted about ten yards off the path. I got a little scared, but the ground was so hard that it didn't matter. If he had wanted, he could have just turned on the cruise control and gone to sleep for a few hours. That's what I would've done, anyway.

We finally arrived at our stopping point for the day at 6:30 PM. It was a tiny town a few miles outside the salt flat. The hotel we stayed in was a surprisingly cozy place. There was only electricity from 7 till 9 PM, but the rooms were clean, there was running water, and a gas-powered shower was available for a small price. Our group was the only one in the hotel, so it was very quiet. We ate a nice chicken and rice supper, and considering that the electricity had been cut off and we had to rely on candle power, we went to bed rather early at about 10:00.

The photo album for this entry is here.

Traveling to the Desert

November 16, 2005
Day 49

After eating another American breakfast I hopped on a bus to Uyuni along with Chris and Katrina from Australia, whom I had met yesterday. The ride was a long six hours through the middle of the desert. None of the roads along the way were paved, but the ride still wasn't bad because we descended all the way down to 3500 meters (11,500 feet). The altitude in Uyuni is a picnic after spending time in Potosí, the highest city in the world.

When we finally got to Uyuni, we only had a few hours before the tour companies closed, so we began looking for a good deal on a tour of the nearby salt flats. After getting quotes from two different companies, we stumbled upon an agency that gave independent analysis of all 46 tour agencies in town. The company provided a great service to travelers, but I don't think they'll be in business much longer, considering that they don't charge anything. We looked at several recommendations and complaints, and decided that it didn't really matter which company we went with. They all offered basically the same tour, and if there weren't enough people on our trip, we would be combined with another company anyway.

We decided to go back to the second agency we talked to, and the bargaining process began. I wanted to do four-day tour, but the others wanted to be dropped off in Chile after three days. The tour agency employee convinced me that the forth day would be a waste of time and that I should return after three days. I convinced her that she should lower the price for us all if I skip my fourth day. I think we got a good deal for the trip in the end, considering that we paid much less than anyone had quoted us for.

After booking our tickets, we went out for a long pizza dinner. I wanted to get some rest before the big trip, so I ended up going to bed early. Uyuni is just a small town in the middle of the desert, so there isn't much to do there anyway, other than talk to 46 different tour agencies about trips into the salt flats.

Potosí­ Mines

November 15, 2005
Day 48

Breakfast was included at my hostel, so I took advantage this morning. I have found that there are only two types of breakfast here: continental, which includes bread, butter, and coffee, and American, which also has juice and an egg. My hostel served the American breakfast, which of course made me happy because, being an American, I eat the same thing every morning at home.

The mine tour began right after breakfast. Seven of us rode in a van to a building where we were given our mining attire. Over the top of my regular clothes, I got to wear a black rubber jacket, pants, and boots, along with a hard hat and a battery-operated head lamp. After getting decked out in mining gear, it was time to buy gifts.

Miners love tourists for the simple reason that they bring them presents. What kind of presents do you get for someone who works in a mine all day? Well, dynamite is a good start, but cigarettes, booze, sugary soda, and coca leaves also go a long way.

At the "miner's market," a street lined with shops that sell goods to the miners, our guide explained everything we needed to know about the aforementioned items. The dynamite wouldn't explode on its own, as our guide demonstrated by throwing a stick of it at my feet. It needed to be combined with a fuse and a catalyst, affectionately known as "El Completo," to work properly. The miners obviously use dynamite to blow apart new holes in the mine. It's the most useful tool they use, except when it misfires and kills them. As dangerous as dynamite is, it is legal for anyone to buy and use it in Bolivia. This comes in handy when protesters here want to blow something up to get their point across.

It's far too dusty to attempt to eat food in the mine, so miners drink sugary soda all day for energy. They also chew coca leaves to suppress their appetite. The combination of not eating and doing physical labor all day makes the miners extremely skinny. None of them have an ounce of fat on their bodies. Maybe it will become the next American diet fad.

The cigarettes and booze were needed because after a long week of working in the mine, the miners like to kick back and relax. Two types of alcohol were available: 40% "water" and 95% "good stuff." Generally, the miners only buy the 95% alcohol because several of them can get drunk from one bottle, which costs $1.25.

I bought two "Completos," one for the miners and one for me to blow up later, a set of gloves to keep my hands properly manicured, a bottle of "water," and some coca leaves. Everyone else bought more of the same, and we tourists with no knowledge of pyrotechnics continued to the mine in the van with enough dynamite to blow up a small town.

Before entering the actual mine, we got to see the refining process for the minerals that come out of the mine. First, the large rocks are broken down in a rock crusher. Next, the resulting pebbles are sent through a series of machines that break them down further into a fine dust. Finally, this dust is combined them with several liquids to separate the valuable minerals, which are sold for a profit, from the worthless waste, which is flushed directly into the city's water supply. Seeing that made me feel real good about tonight's dinner.

The whole area was so loud, I couldn't even hear my guide when he explained what each of the machines did. That was probably a good thing, though, because I was too busy guarding my life to listen to any of it anyway. Every step I took through the factory, I came dangerously close to moving blades, belts, and poisonous chemicals. Outside the factory, we had to walk across a narrow ledge. One step to the left and we would've fallen about six feet to the concrete below. One step to the right and we would've fallen into a vat of deadly chemicals. Our guide explained the purpose of these chemicals to us as he stood in the middle them, inches away from certain death. Now I know what passes for "tourism" in Bolivia.

Mixed in with seeing the refining process, we also learned a little more about the mining lifestyle. Our guide was a former miner himself, so he knew a lot about what it meant to work there. He explained that when the mine was opened over 400 years ago, the workers were all African and Native American slaves. They worked without helmets or any other safety gear, and were forced to stay in the mine for up to six months. Every day of their lives, they ate, drank, slept, and worked in the mines. Usually, they died before they were allowed to leave.

Silver used to be the main mineral that was mined, but there isn't much left anymore. Nowadays, iron, copper, and zinc are mined instead. The miners work in small groups and get to keep whatever profits they make for themselves, after the government takes its cut. In exchange for the large amount of money the government makes through taxing the miners, they provide medical benefits to the miners when they get Fibrosis (Black Lung Disease). There is a catch, though: 90% of a miner's lungs have to be blocked before he can receive his benefits. Usually this happens after about ten years of working in the mines, and it means that the miner has about a year to live.

The miners know about the health risks their job brings, so why do they still choose to work in the mines? Money, of course! The average salary in Bolivia is less than 500 boliviano's per month, but most miners make over 2000 boliviano's per month. On top of that, they don't need any special skills, including being able to speak Spanish (many of the miners are Quechua-speaking Indians), to land a job. Mining is an addictive profession in which people try to become rich before they die. The richest person in town was once a miner himself, until he found a huge chunk of silver. Every miner knows about this man and hopes to strike it rich, just like he did.

The facts that the miners work independently and have a small chance of becoming wealthy lead to a lot of fights. When large deposits are discovered, different groups often claim the same stake for themselves. Since the miners all have dynamite at their disposal, the fights can turn deadly. A few years ago, six miners were killed in a dynamite fight. It is a deadly profession in more ways than one.

After several hours of learning about the mining process, we were finally ready to step in, but first we had to wait for some miners to exit riding carts full of rocks. They flew by us like they were on an amusement park ride. We started walking in, but quickly had to jump out of the way as another cart soared passed us. We walked forward again, and I began to wonder how our guide knew that there weren't any more on their way. I hadn't even entered the mine, yet I had already seen many of the dangers that it posed.

When I first entered the mine, I actually thought it wasn't too bad. The tunnel was cool, the ceiling was high, and the air was breathable. After about five minutes of walking, however, the conditions worsened dramatically. The ceiling averaged about five feet high, the air got thicker and hotter, and I could only see the small amount of space that my headlamp covered. The entire place smelled of a noxious odor. I began sweating profusely, coughing uncontrollably, and hitting my head on the ceiling constantly. We had to stop a few times to let more carts pass us, after which we entered the museum.

Yes, there was a museum inside the mine. The first thing on display was "Tio," a devil-like character complete with a bottle of liquor and an erect penis. Tio is the only god the miners pray to, and they do so by leaving offerings of coca leaves and cigarettes at his feet. The rest of the museum was filled with information about the mine. I learned that currently, about 8000 people work there, 1000 of whom are children. The number of workers has increased in recent years because the price of minerals has risen, driving salaries upward. I also found out about the 1942 rebellion, during which several miners asked for higher wages and were subsequently shot by the government. I guess unionizing never caught on in Bolivia.

When we were done visiting the museum, we continued deeper into the bowels of the mine. We had to crawl through a tiny space and shimmy up to a clearing, where we saw a miner emptying large containers of rocks that were sent up a shaft via a pulley system from 65 meters (213 feet) below. Every minute or so, a new container weighing more than 200 kilograms (441 pounds) appeared, the man stood on a narrow ledge, and he tipped the container over into a hole that led directly to one of the carts that exited the mine. This would be his job for three weeks before rotating to a new position within the group. We watched him work for about ten minutes, gave him a large bottle of soda, and continued to our next stop.

We crawled through another tiny space down to the second level and took a break. I inquired about the colorful substance growing on the ceiling and was told that it was a combination of arsenic and other poisons. I guess that would also explain the horrible smell. The miners have to breath that stuff in every day of their short lives.

Next, we had to crawl up a dirt hill to the drilling area. It got so loud and dusty as I neared the top, I didn't know if I could make it all the way up. Finally, I reached the top in a ball of sweat. I frantically tried to get air into my lungs, but it was practically impossible. Doing physical activity at 4100 meters (13,450 feet) in an area polluted with arsenic isn't very conducive to healthy breathing.

Eventually, my breathing slowed and I was able to take in my surroundings. The drill was not water-cooled, and there was no ventilation, so it was horribly hot and dusty in the entire area. I couldn't even see my feet. The drillers wrapped t-shirts around their faces for protection, but I don't think it helped much. They let me do a bit of drilling, but I couldn't handle it for more than a minute or so. Finally, we gave the miners a Completo and some soda, then we crawled back down to the previous area and began our decent to the third level.

This time, there was a ladder on the way down, but it wasn't much better than crawling. "The second rung is dodgy," someone ahead of me said. Sure enough, the second rung was barely attached, but the guy forgot to mention that the third, forth, and fifth rungs were dodgy as well.

When we got to the third level, I learned that we were at the bottom of the same shaft we had previously seen with the guy emptying rocks into carts. Two guys shoveled rocks into a container and sent it up to the top. After a few minutes, a huge cart that had to be pulled by four men showed up and its contents were dumped onto the ground. I was then given the opportunity to shovel the rocks into the container. It was so hot, I got tired rather quickly. I couldn't imagine doing that for a living.

When we were ready to go back up, our guide gave the miners the rest of our gifts, including the liquor. As expected, one of the miners claimed that it was water and slammed down a bunch of it. He then passed it around for us to try. I can definitely confirm that it wasn't water. Several of the other tourists and our guide also drank some of it. Of course, since each of us left our offerings to "Pachamama," or Mother Earth (the Quechua equivalent of leaving "one for my homies"), we didn't actually drink enough to do any major damage.

For the next fifteen minutes or so, we crawled, shimmied, and climbed our way back to the top of the mine. As we approached the exit, I was finally able to breath freely again. The light at the end of the tunnel was the greatest sight I had seen in a long time. I was only in the mine for two hours, but it was enough for me. I couldn't imagine working there for a lifetime.

We still had one task to do before leaving the area: blow up our personal stash of dynamite. Two guides each grabbed a Completo and took a few minutes to rig up the dynamite with the catalyst and fuse. After my guide lit his fuse, he put the dynamite in his mouth and flexed his muscles. After having his fun, the guide took the lit dynamite a safe distance away. Suddenly, I heard two huge explosions and saw the subsequent plumes of smoke. Mining is a dangerous job, one I'm sure glad I don't have to do.

When I finally got back to my hostel, I immediately jumped into the shower. It was one of the greatest showers of my life. I then took my dirty mining clothes directly to the lavanderia. At last, I was clean from the dirt and toxins of the mine. The "tour" was awful, but I'm glad I did it. Ten years from now, when I'm having a bad day sitting at my desk, I'll think to myself, "At least I don't have to work in the mines of Potosí."

At night, I got together with Katrina, an Australian girl from my tour, Chris, her boyfriend, and Guy, from London, who happened to be staying in the same dorm room with us. We went out to a long dinner where many discussions about the mine developed. Chris, Katrina, and I will go to Uyuni tomorrow afternoon to try and book a tour of the the nearby salt flats. They want to do a three-day tour and end in Chile, but I'm not quite ready to leave Bolivia yet, so I'm going to do a four-day tour and end back in Uyuni. Because of the differences in our plans, I don't yet know if we will end up going on the same tour or not.

The photo album for this entry is here.

Three Bolivias, Two Days

November 14, 2005
Day 47

Henry and I bought our bus tickets to Potosi today. The ride started out insignificantly enough, but about an hour into the trip, we suddenly heard a high-pitched noise coming from the front of the bus. I thought one of the belts in the engine was loose, but I should have known better. We had a flat tire. Just like yesterday, the driver put on the spare, but this time he didn't even let us leave the bus. The entire operation was completed in less than ten minutes. It was obvious that he had changed many tires before.

We drove for another hour and had to stop again. I could hardly believe it, but we had another flat! This time, we stopped in a small town where the driver enlisted the help of a mechanic. They patched up the front tire, moved it to the back, and put the spare in front. My new word for a flat tire is a "Bolivia," of which I've experienced three in two days. The Bolivias doubled the length of the ride from 2.5 hours to 5 hours.

As I was walking around looking for a hotel, I saw a familiar face go by on a bus. Lloyd, who I had met in La Paz a week ago, was in town and had just finished his tour of the mines. He had taken a different route through the country, and we happened to cross paths again at that moment. He told me how horrible the conditions in the mine were, which honestly just made me want to go more.

I found a great hostel to stay at. It has huge, comfortable beds, breakfast included, and best of all, real showers. Most hotels here have electric showers, which probably are as dangerous as they sound. With electric showers, the water gets heated via electricity just before it hits your naked body. I have heard countless stories of people being shocked by them. Anyway, this place has safe hot water. It's a splurge for me at $5 per night, but I think the amenities provided make it worthwhile.

Henry, Lloyd, and I wanted to get lunch, so we walked through the city's market, where we found people cooking food. We each got a plate of different stuff to cure our hunger. Later, I used the Internet for a few hours, but I could barely do anything because it was so slow. I think I'll have a difficult time keeping my site up-to-date as long as I'm in Bolivia.

Tomorrow morning, I will go on a tour of the mines. I think I know what to expect: small passageways, filthy air, and generally horrible working conditions. Still, I want to see for myself just how bad it really is. After all, I didn't go on this trip just to see the good stuff. I want to experience it all.

The photo albums for this entry are here, and here.

Tarabuco Sunday Market

November 13, 2005
Day 46

I wanted to stay one more day in Sucre, and the Sunday market seemed like the thing to do. Every Sunday, the entire town of Tarabuco, which is normally about an hour away by bus, turns itself into a massive farmers' market. This morning, I hopped onto a bus to go there, figuring I'd spend most of the day in town.

When we were about halfway there, the bus driver stopped suddenly. He immediately ran out to investigate something. It turned out that we had a flat tire. I had heard stories about the famous flat tires of Bolivia, but this was my first time experiencing one. I guess I had been lucky to that point because flat tires apparently happen all the time here. The driver and his assistant removed the bad tire and replaced it with one that, to my untrained eye, looked even worse. I didn't want to question the driver's knowledge on the subject, though. We drove the rest of the way on our "spare."

The market in Tarabuco seemed interesting until I realized that is was the same thing I had seen in La Paz. Once again, the farmers from the area all scrambled to town trying to sell whatever crops they could. I'm not much of a shopper, so I got bored rather quickly.

When I was walking around, I bumped into several people I had hung out with last week in La Paz. We ate lunch together and walked toward the buses. I found out that they had actually paid for a tour to the market, so they were on a private bus with all tourists. I wasn't sure when the next public bus would leave for Sucre, so I asked the tourist bus driver if he had room for one more, he said "Sure," and we were on our way back.

I sat next to the driver in the front seat, and he immediately began bragging about how fast he could get us back to Sucre. I wasn't sure how serious he was until he slammed on the accelerator. We started catching up to another bus that had started out way ahead of us. After we flew around a corner and a bunch of luggage got thrown into the isle, several people on the bus started yelling at the driver. This only encouraged him more. He went even faster around the next corner, and the bus began to hit the gravel on the left side of the road. We were inches away from sliding off. Everyone on the bus really started freaking out at that point, and the driver finally backed off. It's kind of a shame, too, because we were about to pass the bus in front of us.

When we safely made it to Sucre, the driver stopped for a few minutes at the mirador, a lookout point to the city. He actually had the balls to ask for tips from the passengers, but nobody would give him any. I hadn't paid anything for the ride, so I gave him the last 4 bolivianos I had in pocket change. It cost me 7 bolivianos to get to Tarabuco, so it was actually a good deal for me. We looked at the city from above for a few minutes and continued to the central part of town.

I met a few people for a drink tonight. There wasn't much going on in town because it was Sunday. Tomorrow, I'm going to head to Potosí­ with Henry, from Peru, who has been traveling in generally the same direction as me since Copacabana.

The photo album for this entry is here.

Feeling Better Now

November 12, 2005
Day 45

Last night was very difficult for me. I'll spare you the details, but my condition didn't allow for much sleep. I wasn't sure how much longer my illness would continue, so I broke down and started taking the antibiotics I had brought from home. They took about three hours to kick in, but afterwards I felt as good as new.

In the afternoon, I went to the House of Liberty, which is an important historical building on the city's central square. For several centuries, Sucre was the capital of Bolivia, but over time, most of the government got moved to La Paz. Although it no longer has the power it once had, a pride factor still exists here. The House of Liberty gives a detailed history of the country, its founders, and its presidents. There is a large room that contains a biography of each president of Bolivia. The house is also where Bolivia's Declaration of Independence is. It was interesting to see how many presidents the country has had that only lasted a year or less, and how many weren't elected in a general election.

The other major attraction I had heard about in Sucre was the cemetery, so I walked there next. 90% of Bolivia is catholic, so the cemetery wasn't anything out of the ordinary for me. There were a large number of mourners walking around with flowers, though, so it felt kind of weird being a tourist. I walked past several family tombs and countless graves, decided that I had had enough, and walked back to my hostel.

Tonight I borrowed a guide book for all of South America from my hostel's owner to try to figure out where to go next. As long as I feel better, tomorrow I will go to Tarabuco, a small town nearby, to see the Sunday market. The next day, I'll head to Potosí­ to see the infamous silver mines.

The photo album for this entry is located here.

The Streak Is Broken

November 11, 2005
Day 44

I slept for ten hours last night, but I still was out of it when I woke up. Once again, I had to force myself to eat, and all I had was a piece of bread, coffee, and banana juice. I thought about laying in bed all day, but convinced myself to get up and do something.

Julien and Matthieu wanted to leave later in the day. Illness or not, I would've wanted to stay in Sucre for at least another day. It's a nice little town with a fair amount of stuff to do, and after taking the long bus ride to get here, I needed to relax. This is a big difference I've noticed between myself and most other travelers. Most people I meet either have round the world tickets, or are only in South America for a few months, so they always have deadlines. One would think that a year would be enough time to see the world, but it's not, so most people can't stay anywhere more than two or three nights.

The three of us went to the textiles museum this morning. It was full of garments that have been made by the local people for centuries. A lot of the techniques used were dying for many years before the museum stepped in to try to preserve them. Now, the art of making native clothing is making a big comeback, which has been partially fueled by the price of admission to the museum. I didn't mind paying the entrance fee this time because part of the money went directly to the natives.

I thought the museum was rather interesting at first, but I felt like I had to throw up the whole time, which detracted me from the experience. After about fifteen minutes of browsing, I couldn't take it any more and let loose, so to speak. So much for the vomit counter. As is normally the case, I felt much better afterwards.

After my episode, I returned to look at the exhibits. There was a video of the natives smoking and sheering sheep, which I guess roughly had something to do with textiles. There was also music to listen to on headphones, and a detailed explanation of the meaning of various pieces of clothing. I had no idea that something you wear could be so complicated.

This afternoon, I said goodbye to Julien and Matthieu, who left for Potosi, which is where I'll go in a few days. The Internet cafe across from my hostel was the nicest one I had found so far in the city, so I went there and worked on my website for four hours. I didn't want to venture too far from my hostel because I was still sick. I ate a little bit of chocolate and went to bed early to try and let the food poisoning work its course.

A Much Better Scene

November 10, 2005
Day 43

I was extremely tired after last night's bus ride, but I still thought I should try to eat something, so I went out to breakfast with Julien and Matthieu. All I ordered was bread with butter and jam, but I could barely eat any of it. I wasn't quite sure what was wrong, but I figured I just didn't have an appetite because I hadn't done anything in almost a day other than sit around and ride a bus.

Before returning to the hostel, we walked around town for awhile. It is the complete opposite of La Paz: safe, clean and nice. The town has several large public parks, theaters, colleges, and very little garbage in the streets. As we walked around, we even saw kids riding battery-powered cars, people peacefully watering large public gardens, and even people playing tennis. I can definitely relax here for a few days.

By the time we got back to the hostel, I was so tired, all I could do was sleep for several hours. However, even when I woke up, I still felt run down and a little sick to my stomach. I wasn't hungry at all and I didn't even have enough energy to stand for more than a few minutes. I just felt really out of it.

The biggest attraction in town is seeing the dinosaur tracks, and since Julien and Matthieu were planning on leaving town tomorrow, they wanted to go this afternoon. I didn't want to miss out, so I tagged along. We rode a rickety truck to the edge of town where the tracks were located. After adorning safety helmets, we were told by our guide that the area was mined for cement for about fifty years until dinosaur tracks were discovered. The strange thing was that the tracks were scattered vertically, not horizontally, across a hill. Our guide explained that over millions of years, the ground got pushed up when two tectonic plates smashed together. Most of the tracks we saw had only appeared within the last six months because the entire hill was eroding very rapidly. A few years from now, none of the tracks will likely be there. It was interesting that there were so many tracks (5000 footprints have been found) and that they came from so many different species of dinosaur (332 thus far). However, it was still hard for me to enjoy the experience when I constantly felt like passing out.

When we got back to the hostel, I took a nice long shower and felt a bit better. I started to think about what I had eaten in the last few days, and then I realized what was making me feel sick: the empanadas I ate off the street yesterday. Just picturing them in my head made me want to throw up. Still, I hadn't eaten much of anything all day, so I forced down a small pizza for supper.

On the way back from dinner, I finally found a decent computer for uploading files. I had fallen way behind on my website in the last week because, while Internet cafes are everywhere here, it had been nearly impossible to find one with computers that weren't completely worthless. After a few hours of uploading photos, I returned to the hostel and went to bed early, hoping to feel better tomorrow.

The photo albums for this entry are here and here.