April 16, 2010

Potosi

Potosi was the major source of Spanish wealth during the colonial era. The mountain in the picture "Cerro Rico" held tons of silver, which was removed by slave labor, and made the city, and Spain extremely rich.  Silver was mined, refined, and minted as 8 Reale coins, (pieces of eight) the original dollar, which became the basis of today's US dollar.

The mines are still open, and can be toured, I passed, the conditions are nearly as primitive, but the mines are operated by 'coopertivo' a cooperative that essentially that allows each miner to mine his own claim and sell the proceeds.  Safety is non-existent, miners still suffer from the usual mining maladies and much reduced lifespan. 


Potosi also claims to be the highest city in the world at just over 4,000 meters.  The height does not bother me much unless I have to pack all my stuff up four flights of stairs to get to my hotel room.  The hotel was very nice, but did not have an elevator, very few hotels do in Bolivia and the rooms are always a few floors up.  The local solution for everything that ails you is mate, tea made from coca leaves.  It looks and tastes like green tea a bit, and is not addictive.  When I was struggling for breath at the top of the stairs the reception lady immediately brought me a cup of mate.

Potosi and Sucre do not resemble any place I have visited to date.  The old part of town is distinctly medieval, narrow streets overhung with balconies, cobblestones, it all looks like it came out of an Anton Pieck illustration (look him up if ya never heard of him), with the exception of the light, which is so very hard this close to the equator.  You would not know that by the temperature, though as Potosi is literally very cool, and requires a sweater and a jacket.

Somewhere in Potosi I ate something that disagreed me and I had a miserable next day to Sucre.  Sucre is considerably lower than Potosi and warmer.  It has the same medieval character as Potosi, and an even greater evidence of past wealth.  Apparently the management preferred Sucre as a place to live over chilly Potosi. 

The statue below is of Antonio Jose de Sucre, the revolutionary leader the city has been named after.  

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