Tupiza

After a six hour bus ride over a dirt road, I made it to Tupiza. Tupiza is a small town in southern Bolivia a few hours from both the Chilian and Argentinian boarder. The town has a friendly feel and the locals were nice.

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I stayed in a little classy hostel near the city center.

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In the afternoon, I took a did a horse tour or the surounding county side.

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The land scape was a mix of Colorado and Utah desert.

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In fact Buth Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where killed in a small village in this area, after a posse from Tupiza hunted the down.

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Yeah, I nees to work on my riding skills, so after the ride, I got some ice cream.

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And watched the sun set.

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Take it easy,

Paul

Ps: No matter how tan you may be, if you see your bolovian guide putting on sun screen and you don’t, you’re screwed.

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Uyuni and the Salar

I left Potosi Tuesday for Uyuni. Uyuni is a small town on the edge of the desert, who’s main perpose is providing a entrance to the Salar or salt flats. The trip from Potosi was quite nice, in total around 5 hrs long but we passed through some nice terrain.

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And here’s where it get interesting. So it seems that every ten years, Bolivia, like most modern countries, does a census.

However Bolivia counts it’s entire population in a single day. And due to the census, every school, business and resteraunt is closed, and no one is allowed out side their house….for the entire day. (gringo protest/rebellion level 4/10)

I happened to be crashing with an Italian in a little hostel off the main plaza when this was going on, and the main consesus among the gringos was “no problem, let’s get hammered tonight, and tommorrow will be a hangover day.” but due to the census bars weren’t allowed to serve alcohol the night before….yeah (gringo protest/rebellion level 7/10)

Fortunately DVDs are cheap down here, so some of us had a good collection of films to keep us busy, however due to the census, the power was also turned off. (gringo protest/rebellion level 9/10)

Wednestday night the census was finally over and life returned to somewhat normal. Thursday morning I caught a tour to the salt flats. The first stop was the train cementary.

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They had a large collection of old stream engines. Most of the cool componates had been removed, but it was still cool to check out the old engineering.

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After the train cementary, we made our way through herds of wild llamas the salt flats.

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Once a large lake, the Salar is the largest salt flat in the world. The salt veries from 3ft-24ft thick.

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Some of the salt gets harvested fo table salt.

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Some is cut into blocks and used to make houses.

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We traveled 40 miles to the center of the flat to the catus island.

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The island lives up to its name, and has lots of catuses.

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These catuses only grow 4cm a year, which puts several of them almost 1,000 years old.

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Overall, a very cool place, the contrast of white and blue made one feel like they were in another world.

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Take it easy, Paul Ps: I saw this old truck, though it was cool.

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The Silver Mines of Potosi

Today I toured the silver mines of Potosi. While the natives knew of the silver they didn’t extract it. When the spanish arived, they started mining the ore. Potosi was built around the silver mines. Being in the desert, the spanish imported many of the resources for the town, creating a very expensive place to live. For over two centuries Potosi was the richest town in the americas. The silver from the mines funded the spanish empire.

However the working conditions in the mines are harsh. It is estimated 2 million indians and slaves died in the mines under the spanish rule. The early miners worked by candle light, with no ventalation, drilling by hand and breaking the rock with black powder.

However the rich silver ore ran out in the early 1900s and the town, so now they mine two things: zinc, which they mine by the ton, and silver, a third the quality of the origonal, which they mine by kilo.

Conditions are still hard in the mines, temperatures can be as high as 110°F silicone and abestus dust coat the inside ot the galleries. Much of the work is done by hand, cave ins are frequent. However if you are working with a team that hits a silver vein, it can be quite lucrative, and even for a beginning worker, the pay is desent by bolivian standerds.  however life expectency goes down  mamy workers die in their 40’s. The opperaters of the pneumatic drills usually only last 10yrs after they start drilling, due to dust. 

However as with most blue collar jobs, there was a real pride among the workers. The tough work in dangerious conditions, finding ore, living by sweat and luck, makes the culture of the miner. And it was this bravado tgat seames to bring them back to the mines.

The tour started in a wearhouse in Potosi, where we recieved our safety briefing (listen to your guide) and some mining pants and jackets. Because of the high temps in the mines many miners wear “less” clothing, as this guide demonstrates.

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The guides reminded me of rafting/high adventure guides- a mix of crazy and machismo, with a dose of devil-may-care.

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Of course only authorised personel are allowed inside a working mine, so we stopped at the miners market and baught “gifts” for the miners, to keep everyone happy. 

Since the miners work 8-10hrs without a lunch break. Some of the popular gifts are sodas or coco leaves- the stuff they make cocain out of. Coco leaves are chewed like tobacoo and help with the altitude, give energy and are a hunger surpresser.

Our guide worked for two years in the mines and was great help at picking out the gifts. Here he is showing us how to put a blasting cap in a stick of dynamite.

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I opted to go extreme, and got the miners some dynomite.

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No I.D. Checks or anything, she didn’t even ask for my passport number. I simply handed over the money, and she handed over the dynamite. The little bag of pink stuff is amonium nitrite. 

After the miners market, we headed up the mountaine to the mine.

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The entrance.

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The inside of the mine veries from place to place. In the old parts the walls and cieling are supported my stacked stone. In the newer sections, they use timbers, other places they have only a loose rock cieling. The passages very from over 6ft to just over 3ft.

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Most of the ore is cut on lower levels the haules by hand up and out the front, usually wifted with a hand winch.

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Along the way we met several miners

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They tranport ore in little trolly carts, pushed by hand on set of tracks, Each trolly holds around a ton of ore.

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We passed by this alter for the mineral god or under groung devil. The miners give gifts to it in exchange for good fortune in mining.

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With the high temperatures amd toxic dust, it made for a slightly closterphobic expirience. So it was nice to finally exit the mines.

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We also visited the ore refinery. The ore first is crushed. Then with the addition arsnic, and copper oxide, the silver is roughly extracted, then exported for $40 a kilo to other cuntries where it is turned into pure silver.

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The final product.

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It is interesting seeing how demand for for a product on one side of the world can effect a persons life on the other side.

Take it easy,

Paul

Ps: No matter how cool it is to buy dynamite, after one has baught some. One must then figuare out what to do next.
Aditional note: nothing makes one feel dumber then walking around with a random stick of dynamite in one’s pocket.

The Silver Mines of Potosi

Today I toured the silver mines of Potosi.

Before the spanish arived, the natives knew of silver in the mountains but they didn’t extract it. When the spanish arived, they started mining the ore. Potosi was built around the silver mines. Being in the desert, the spanish imported many of the resources for the town, creating a very expensive place to live. For over two centuries Potosi was the richest town in the americas, and the silver from the mines funded the spanish empire.

However the working conditions in the mines are harsh. It is estimated 2 million indians and slaves died in the mines under the spanish rule. The early miners worked by candle light, with no ventalation, drilling by hand and breaking the rock with black powder.

However the rich silver ore ran out in the early 1900s and the town, so now they mine two things: zinc, which they mine by the ton, and silver, a third the quality of the first ore, which they mine by kilo.

Conditions are still hard in the mines, temperatures can be as high as 110°F silicone and abestus dust coat the inside ot the galleries. Much of the work is done by hand, cave ins are frequent. However if you are working with a team that hits a silver vein, it can be quite lucrative, and even for a beginning worker, the pay is desent by bolivian standerds.  however life expectency goes down  mamy workers die in their 40’s. The opperaters of the pneumatic drills usually only last 10yrs after they start drilling, due to dust. 

However as with most blue collar jobs, there was a real pride among the workers. The tough work in dangerious conditions, finding ore, living by sweat and luck, makes the culture of the miner. And it was this bravado tgat seames to bring them back to the mines.

The tour started in a wearhouse in Potosi, where we recieved our safety briefing (listen to your guide) and some mining pants and jackets. Because of the high temps in the mines many miners wear “less” clothing, as this guide demonstrates.

image

The guides reminded me of rafting/high adventure guides- a mix of crazy and machismo, with a dose of devil-may-care.

image

Of course only authorised personel are allowed inside a working mine, so we stopped at the miners market and baught “gifts” for the miners, to keep everyone happy. 

Since the miners work 8-10hrs without a lunch break. Some of the popular gifts are sodas or coco leaves- the stuff they make cocain out of. Coco leaves are chewed like tobacoo and help with the altitude, give energy and are a hunger surpresser.

Our guide worked for two years in the mines and was great help at picking out the gifts. Here he is showing us how to put a blasting cap in a stick of dynamite.

image

I opted to go extreme, and got the miners some dynomite.

image

No I.D. Checks or anything, she didn’t even ask for my passport number. I simply handed over the money, and she handed over the dynamite. The little bag of pink stuff is amonium nitrite. 

After the miners market, we headed up the mountaine to the mine.

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The entrance.

image

The inside of the mine veries from place to place. In the old parts the walls and cieling are supported my stacked stone. In the newer sections, they use timbers, other places they have only a loose rock cieling. The passages very from over 6ft to just over 3ft.

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Most of the ore is cut on lower levels the haules by hand up and out the front, usually wifted with a hand winch.

image

Along the way we met several miners

image

They tranport ore in little trolly carts, pushed by hand on set of tracks, Each trolly holds around a ton of ore.

image

We passed by this alter for the mineral god or under groung devil. The miners give gifts to it in exchange for good fortune in mining.

image

With the high temperatures amd toxic dust, it made for a slightly closterphobic expirience. So it was nice to finally exit the mines.

image

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We also visited the ore refinery. The ore first is crushed. Then with the addition arsnic, and copper oxide, the silver is roughly extracted, then exported for $40 a kilo to other cuntries where it is turned into pure silver.

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The final product.

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It is interesting seeing how demand for for a product on one side of the world can effect a persons life on the other side.

Take it easy,

Paul

Ps: No matter how cool it is to buy dynamite, after one has baught some. One must then figuare out what to do next.
Aditional note: nothing makes one feel dumber then walking around with a random stick of dynamite in one’s pocket.

La Cumbre

I made it to the deadliest road in the world. La Cumbre was the only road from the jungle to La Paz. Up until 6yrs ago, when the government opened a new road. This road claimed up to 130 lives anualy, earning the reputaion as the deadliest road in the world. Since the opening of the new road, the number of deaths dropped. Though at one point, our guide pulled us over and pointed out a car that ran off the road 4 months ago, killing everyone inside.

The road starts at 15,400ft and ends at 3,000ft over the course of 30 miles.

We got to the head of the trail around 9am. Setup the bikes, and started down the road.

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The first part of the road was paved, and we shared it with semis, bus and an assortment of other vehicules, I guess the begining if the road is technically a Bolivian interstate. But it made for a great ride.

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After 7 miles down the interstate. We jumped on to the old road. The old road veries in a lot in terms of width and rockieness and the cliff along it added to the excitement.

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Fortunately the bike I was riding was of good quality.

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We saw some cool water falls along the way.

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And the views were pretty good too.

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I met some friendly locals.

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Towards the end of the ride, the trail widend out and a nice barrier of trees sepperated the road from the cliff. Which made for great high speed mountain biking.

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The road ended in a little valley and being at 3,000ft the weather was tropical.

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Over all the death road was awesome, and im still alive.

Paul 1- Death Road 0

Take it easy,

Paul

Ps: No matter how cool a party might be, it’s not a party until police in riot gear show up.

Puno

Tuesday I took a 8hr bus from Cusco, and headed south to Puno.

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Puno is a small town on the edge of lake Titicaca. It is a great place to island hop around the lake, as well as prep for Bolivia.  the city sit on the hills around the lake.

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Wednestday I hung around the city and saw the lake.

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Through out the morning i saw trucks full of police wearing riot gear. I figuared there must be some type of political protest. Nope, just a soccer game.  I managed to find a ticket, and after a very long line, made it into the game.

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The officials were letting the game go rough, with no pitty for injury. At one point a player was layed out on the ground after getting kicked in the face, the ref just walked over and made some hand motions that said “get up sucker, and play.”

Even in the stands, the police were pretty passive. A fight broke out beside me, and the police just broke up the fight, sepperated the guys  by 20ft,  and then left them alone.

Over all Puno is an interesting place, but after 2days, i need to move on.

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Take it easy,

Paul

Ps: Just because it says ice cream, and looks like ice cream, doesn’t mean it’s real ice cream. Darn you lying pictures!

Waxing Eloquent: Unknown Stars.

Last night i was taking a 8hr bus from cusco down to Punyo. The terrain changed from high desert, to highland mountains. As it went dark, we topped out on a plane 50 miles wide an 70miles long. low level mountains surounded us on three sides. I was completely dark with only the headlights of the bus illuminating the road ahead and an ocassional farm house passed by. Lighning flashed over the far mountains, but over the valley hung only stars.

While in Ecuador I could see Orions belt and even the big dipper. But this far south, all the stars were strange, and none I knew.

The engine of the bus rumbled on, the mountain air blew clean and new.

I travel under unknown stars, through the dark I journey on. Come on hill, come on valley, Road, open before me. I’am a stranger among you, but here I stand. Come on.