Uyuni to Sucre

After thawing out in Tonito’s Hotel, the following morning we head off to the car wash to blast off the salt picked up crossing the salar. After washing we dry the the car with a wash leather, though the back section, which is in the shade, is covered by a film of ice before we can get to it. Our water pipes have now been frozen for 48 hours. By eleven o’clock we’re on the road, the heater turned up to maximum.

Avant de quitter Uyuni, passage obligé par le lavage pour se débarrasser de la croûte de sel dessus, dessous. Une couche de glace se forme illico. Nous reprenons la route, tuyauterie toujours gelée, chauffage à fond et direction Potosi.

The Puacayo mine
The Pulacayo mine

The Pulacayo mine is a silver mine just to the east of Uyuni. It was started in the 17th century. In later times it was acquired by the Bolivian tin magnate, Simon Patino, who built a golf course here to appease his workers. His grandson, Jaime Ortiz-Patino, also had a fondness of golf courses. In the early 1980s he bought the Valderrama golf club in Sotogrande, southern Spain.

The road from Uyuni climbs slowly up to the mining city of Potosi, which at over 4000 metres claims to be higher than Llhasa in Tibet. Potosi is a hilly, claustrophobic town where the smell of exhaust sticks in your throat. There is a pretty plaza and some stunning colonial architecture. The city was founded in 1545 and at one time was the largest and wealthiest city in the Americas. The cause of this wealth was the ‘Cerro Rico’ (Rich Mountain) which, during the boom years seemed to contain inexhaustible supplies of silver. So many indigenous workers died in the Cerro Rico that the Spanish imported millions of African slaves. Today most of the mining operations on the Cerro Rico are in the hands of local cooperatives. The working conditions are shocking. Life expectancy for a miner working here is 45 years.

En chemin, nous traversons le village minier de Pulacayo.  Une coopérative minière est toujours en activité mais l’extraction de l’argent date du 17e S. Elle fut achetée par un certain Simon Patino qui construisit un terrain de golf pour ses ingénieurs! Il n’y en a plus de trace  et on se demande où il a bien pû le mettre. Ce ne sont que des collines désertiques. Bizaremment James a rencontré un descendant en Andalousie, Jaime Ortiz Patino, propriétaire du terrain de golf La Valderrama à Sotogrande.

La route récemment bitumée-au joie- est magnifique et monte jusqu’aux 4000m de Potosi, soit disant plus haute que Llhasa au Tibet…? Son Cerro Rico, La Montagne Riche, ainsi nommée par les conquistadors a enrichie l’Espagne et a  causé la  mort d’un million d’indiens. A court de main d’œuvre, les espagnols ont importé quantité d’esclaves africains. La mine fonctionne toujours, c’est un monstre qui se visite mais nous n’avons pas le cœur au voyeurisme. Les conditions de travail sont épouvantables, l´espérance  de vie d’un mineur est de 45 ans.

La ville s’étale sur de hautes collines et, comme à La Paz, on suffoque dans les ruelles trop étroites. Il y a une quantité impressionnante de bâtiments coloniaux magnifiques, protégés par le sceau de l’Unesco. c’est trop haut, c’est trop froid, nous partons pour Sucre.

Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain), Potosi
Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain), Potosi
Potosi cake stall
Potosi cake stall

From Potosi we now descend (thankfully) towards Sucre and the Amazon basin.

On vous rapporte une part de gâteau? choisissez votre couleur.

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'Larry' the llama
‘Larry’ the llama

Sucre sits at 2700 metres. It is warm. I can wear a T-shirt in the evening. In the centre of Sucre we park in the garden of Don Alberto and Dona Felicidad. Don Alberto is a professor of mechanics (retired). His hobby is rewinding electrical motors. In his ‘potting shed’ at the bottom of the garden he teaches students from the local university. Next week he is on a lecture circuit of Bolivia.

Having reached warmer temps our pipes have finally defrosted. The only problem remaining is the calc the ice has dislodged, and is now blocking the non-potable water tap. Using a combination of juju and improbable practices we managed to clear it. Here’s how it was done:

Stage 1: Flick the tap on and off until becoming increasingly annoyed with the lack of water flow, at the same time mentally constructing a poisonous letter to the manufacturer about how useless their taps are. Wait sixty seconds.

Stage 2: Fitter number 1 (Christine) removes the spout and pokes a kebab skewer as far as it will go and waggles it about. Wait thirty seconds.

Stage 3: Fitter number 2 (James) puts his lips round the spout, forming a perfect seal and then blows until red dots swim in front of his eyes and his ears pop. Wait thirty seconds (holding on to the basin to steady yourself).

Stage 4: switch on tap and watch the renewed flow of water, at the same time enjoying the sound of the pump singing like a canary.

SUCRE – LA VILLE BLANCHE

Nous campons dans le jardin de Don Alberto et Doña Felicidad. Un havre de paix en plein centre ville. À 2700 mètres d’altitude, ici le ciel est bleu toute l’année. Nous ressortons les tongs, -et la serviette bleue!- paradis trouvé, et nous nous posons une semaine…….

Don Alberto's garden, Sucre
Don Alberto’s Garden, Sucre
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