Saturday, January 17, 2009

Bolivia trip pt. 1

I have now traveled around Bolivia with Rotary, and have quite the tales to tell. This is only the first half of the past ten days that I have been traveling. As I left off, I was in Sucre on the 10th with my family. They had to catch their flight back to Santa Cruz, so my new found uncle Freddy and I drove them to the airport. We saw them off (along with my duffle bag of chocolate presents), and then hung around the airport till all the exchange students arrived about 20 minutes later. We decided to meet up in the hostel, and I went to grab all my things from the hotel in preparation for my trip.

In Sucre, we didn't exactly do anything exciting since I had already seen every possible tourist attraction within 15kms of the city. We walked all the way up to the Recoleta lookout point at the top of the city, and then ventured into the museum/convent for a tour (I sat outside with Ethan, since we'd both seen it before). We also went to La Casa de la Libertad (explains Bolivia's path to liberty), which almost no one seemed interested in.. at least I had an excuse! We were allowed freetime in the evening, and even went out until 2am (even though no one goes to the ONE club until after 130am).

The next morning, we were off to Tarabuco, a pueblito outside of Sucre (about 1.5 hr drive). There isn't a lot there, but they are famous for their indigenous artwork (mostly their textiles). We wandered around, bought a bunch of touristy things, had lunch and drove back to Sucre. We also were joined by two new exchange students, Eva from Germany (living in Sucre) and Danielle from California (living in Oruro). Ethan, the other exchange student from Sucre couldn't come because his club was making him pay all $900 USD for the trip, which pretty much makes the decision for anyone. You could travel by yourself for a lot cheaper. There are also four exchange students in Cochabamba, but they had their own trip at a different time than ours.

We spent most of the evening on a bus to Potosí, which claims to be the highest city in the world, then waited HOURS before we got to eat. I was starving and ordered pasta, even against the warnings of how the altitude and a heavy meal would make me sick. I was actually fine, although I DID take my altitude sickness pills. In the morning we went into the silver mines (where at the moment, they are mining zinc). I've always known that I was claustrophobic (in spaces where I can't turn around), but I must've psyched myself out because the whole trip was spent trying to prevent myself from hyperventilating. We also got to test some dynamite when we got outside with our guides' supervision.

Afterwards, we went to a convent, Santa Theresa, a convent from the 1600s for rich families to send their daughters. Apparently it was law to send your second-born child either into the clergy or to become a nun. This specific convent was very high class, where the girls were sent at age 15 with a dowry of 2000 dollars of the time, to stay for the rest of their life. They were commited to a life of silence, and to never see the outside world. They had two maids that lived with them their whole life, cleaning for them and even burrying them when they died. The whole tour was amazingly interesting, and the convent was beautifully conserved. We then drove the whole night to Uyuni, arriving at our hostel in the middle of the night (about a 6-8 hr drive).

Waking up bright and early, we drove out to the salar de Uyuni, otherwise known as the salt flats. When you get out there it is absolutely unreal. I can't even explain what it was like. Only the pictures can give you a a small idea of what it was like to be out there. After quite a drive out there, we stopped at an island that appeared to float on the horizon, called la isla del pescado (island of fish). Covered in cacti, it was quite the sight after only seeing blindingly white salt. We had an amazingly huge lunch (which consisted of llama meat for the non-vegs). Then we drove back, getting to ride on the top of the car for a while... burning the faces off half of the exchangers. Afterwards, we drove to a train cemetary to check out the rusten engines and back to Uyuni to take the bus back to Potosí.

As like before, the bus was supposed to be a 6-8 hour ride. It ended up being a 12 hour bus ride. The windows didn't open, there were a good four or five cholitas sleeping in the aisles which made it impossible to navigate in the bus. We stopped multiple times, for hours at a time. First to fix the bus, and then to wait out the rain which makes the road almost impossible to drive on. We arrived around four in the morning, absolutely uncomfortable and grumpy that we had to wake up early the next morning.

Five hours later, we were up (without breakfast, since we decided to sleep in) and out in Potosí to see the first place where they started to make silver money, la Casa de la Moneda. It was an interesting tour, and they showed us everything from the first train bringing in the silver, to the machines that were turned by horsepower to flatten the silver to make coins. Afterwards we went out to see some of the little artisan shops around town... and then it started to rain. It started so suddenly, and heavily. Then it started to hail. Not softly either. It was so painful that we were running down the streets. Some of us got separated from the rest of the group, couldn't find our way back to the hotel and opted for a taxi to take us through the flooding streets.

We then drove all the way back to Sucre, to pack up our things and hop on a flight to La Paz, the second half of the journey!

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