Potosi, Bolivia


There's a crowd of Bolivianos at the Plaza 10 de Noviembre, in front of a yellow-colored government building as I separate myself from Gary, Linda & Helen, three of the other travellers in our GAP Adventures group. We've arrived in this city after a bone-jarring five hours on the rough road from Uyuni and the ladies were hungry. Searching for that recommended restaurant brought us to this Plaza. I skipped on food and decided to explore on my own.

As I weaved myself among the crowd, I asked a local what's the commotion all about. "El Presidente", was all I heard. Shortly, people started to chant "Evo! Evo! Evo!" and a phalanx of security men came out of the door followed by the man this crowd has been waiting for, the President of Bolivia Evo Morales. He waves to the crowd momentarily and goes straight to a waiting SUV and his convoy is gone in a minute. Wow, how often does it happen that I get to see the President of a country I'm visiting?


Considered Bolivia's first indigenous president, Evo Morales sparked some controversy when he nationalized the mining and natural gas industries. He's noted to be cozying up to Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and very recently, has received nuclear-loving Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in La Paz - a visit that truly caught many Bolivianos by surprise. The U.S. government is certainly monitoring Morales' actions, himself a former coca grower, especially since he's bent on resisting U.S. efforts at eradicating coca leaf cultivation - a plant used as a base for cocaine production but remains traditionally used by Andean people to fight off hunger, thirst and altitude sickness.

Placido, our driver during the trip across the Salar, offered me coca leaves to chew, his antidote to drowsiness. It's got bitter taste to it and I couldn't keep it to the side of my mouth like he does. No thanks, I'm better off with Kit Kat chocolate bars.


Potosi, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is located 4,070 meters above sea level that it's widely regarded as the world's highest city. But more than its atmospheric location, Potosi was and is a constant reminder of both the splendour and horror of Spanish colonization. In 1545, silver ore was discovered in the conical mountain Cerro Rico that lords it over Potosi. This discovery led to enormous wealth for the city and the Spanish consquistadores, even bankrolling Spain's own economy for many years. Both indigenous and African slaves were heavily tasked with mining for silver in very poor conditions resulting in millions of deaths.

Silver is hardly extracted these days but the mines, now a cooperative venture among the locals, remain operative which our group will be visiting tomorrow. Anne reminds us that the mines are still in "primitive" conditions so we ought to be prepared to rough it up. I'll be wearing my dirtiest, filthiest clothes for sure.

At Hotel Jerusalem where we're staying, Gary & I finally find some comfort from the cold as the room comes equipped with gas heater. What greets us though as we enter the bathroom is this notice at the back of the door:


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