Tupiza - Copacabana (28/05/16 - 06/07/16)

Tupiza – La Paz

Leaving Tupiza with a nice clean truck we were further treated to an actual sealed highway and apart from an unfortunate encounter with corrupt policemen it was an easy cruise through to Potosi, a drab mining town which was once home to the Spanish colonial mint. Dominated by Cerro de Potosi a mountain described as being made of silver and gradually being eroded away by a huge silver mine operational since the sixteenth century, sadly with a grim history with regards to survival rates among its labour force which included conscripted indigenous labourers and imported african slaves!

In the lovely colonial town of Sucre we met several other travellers in a cosy central hostal and settled in for a couple of relaxing days. Unfortunately the couple of days turned into a couple of weeks due to both of us developing the illness which was circulating the hostal, luckily it wasn't all bad and we explored the city and fabulous local market on good days! The basilica on the edge of the Plaza still has a huge bell with an equally huge crack in it making for a dull thud rather than a ring, we later learned that Sucre was the location of the initial push for liberation from Spain and this actual bell was rung to begin the Bolivian independence movement in 1809 and was rung until it cracked!

En route to La Paz we deviated down a long bumpy track to the insignificant little village of La Higuera, it was here that Che Guevara formed his last guerrilla army while attempting to assist with a Bolivian revolution and where he was eventually captured and executed by the Bolivian army. The village has obviously created interest over the years and attempted to cater to the tourist traffic but since has deteriorated into a poor and shabby relic but with an impressive statue of Che in the square.

La Paz impressions

Driving into La Paz from the southeast is awesome, arriving in the sprawling city of El Alto which sits on the plateau above our first view of La Paz itself was a birds-eye view as it lies over 500m below in a kind of bowl created by the surrounding mountains with its peripheries climbing up the slopes in every direction. We wound down a series of incredibly steep and narrow streets with housing becoming noticeably more affluent as we descended into the central city and tried to locate our accommodation but seemed to run into a protest march in every direction, these occur most days and cause incredible congestion but are apparently encouraged by the government.

While getting some repairs on the truck and a few extra days due another bout of upset stomachs we explored the city daily traveling up two of the three Telefericos (gondolas) to El Alto, exploring the huge outdoor market there and also the various markets that line many of the inner city streets including the witches market with their stalls packed with potions, powders and plants, dried frogs, turtles and snakes and the creepy baby llama foetuses which are placed under new houses for good fortune! The tourists are certainly well catered for with several streets jam packed with souvenirs, varying quality craft products and plentiful tour operators offering unending tour options.

We loved this fascinating colourful city with its crazy mix of contrasts between modern and traditional, the local Aymara people in their bright traditional dress complete with black top hats, the drumming and artillery accompanying the marches, the fabulous modern transport system provided by the telefericos and the chaotic markets where “everything” is available, sadly what wasn't to love was the pollution, fumes threatened to choke much of the time and for the sake of our lungs we departed for our next adventures in Peru.