Category Archives: 2010.05.29 Bolivia

Random stuff in Potosi

Japan provides a substantial amount of aid for Bolivia.  Apparently one way they help is by providing used automobiles.  All the large trucks, busses, and heavy machinery we say had traces of Japan.  Like this “Town Design” bus from a middle of nowhere town, Nagasu.

Then you have a Korean expatriate school bus from Japan.

Then you have children marching.  I don’t think this march was sponsored by Japan, however.

Tongues.  On mannequins.  Most likely not Japanese imports.



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Hi-ho, hi-ho…

June 16, 2010–Potosi, Bolivia

At 4,090 meters (13,420 ft), Potosi is one of the highest cities in the world.  Due to Spanish exploitation of the silver mines at Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain), in the 17th century Potosi was the richest city in all of Latin America and among the richest in the world.  Operating the mines using unsafe methods and slave labor, this rate of production so damaged the enslaved indian population that a continuous supply of slaves from Africa were brought in to meet demand.  The mines are still in operation as a cooperative today, however, poor conditions mean that most miners will die by 40 years of age.

You can see the headlamp of a miner as he pushes a cart full of ore out of the mine.  The dark, damp, and worst of all dusty mines were hard enough to walk through.  The dust produces silicosis in most of the miners.  Kaori and I were the only people wearing dust masks.

A miner here is pulling ore from a chute into his cart.

The mine is composed of several levels, and moving between levels means climbing up and down narrow chutes as long as 30 meters.  The deeper you go, the hotter and harder to breathe it becomes.  The high altitude adds to the problem.

Workers here repairing broken tools.  They told us of a collapse that killed one of their fathers.

The miners we spoke with were very aware of the dangers that this work entails.  The benefit, however, of being able to provide for an entire extended family with their wage alone, seems to overshadow the certain health problems of the future.  Pay for miners is much, much higher than any other work they might find.

Workers visit the “patron saint” of the mines to ask for higher yield and safety and also to show thanks.  Some say that the statue appears as the devil in an attempt by Spaniards to scare the workers into submission, however, the large phallus of the statue and local legends of Pachamama (Mother Earth) indicate an animistic ideology where subjects hope for “impregnation” of the mountain.

We were in the mountain for less than two hours, we were more than ready to leave when the time came.  The heat and the altitude combined with breathing through masks had taken a toll on us.  Eight hours a day, six days a week?  No way.

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Volcanoes and Cactus-covered Coral Reefs (Uyuni, part 2)

June 15, 2010–Uyuni, Bolivia

Kaori and I woke up early in the morning, well before the sun came up.  We were afraid to miss the sunrise, which we knew would be spectacular after seeing the sunset the night before.  We weren’t prepared for the below zero temperatures, but we put on every available article of clothing and hoped for the best.

Our guide had told us the sun would be up at 7am, but we knew better.  We didn’t, however, know better enough, and we were standing on the salt flat in the pitch-black night at 5:30am, nearly an hour before the sun actually came up.  C-O-L-D.

As the sun reached over the mountains, rare, James flamingoes sprang to life and flew in a big circle around us before returning to their pools, as if on a morning jog to get the blood flowing after a long, cold night.

After returning to our lodge for a quick breakfast, we were off to climb Mt. Tunupa, or Pachamama (mother earth), as it is referred to by the local Aymara people who were so kind to us the night before.

Tunupa, in addition to flamingoes, is also home to mummies.

On our way up the volcano, loosely stacked rock walls defining land possessions stretch more than half way up the volcano.

The crater of Tunupa is beautifully colored.  Green, red, yellow, black…the colors change as the sun passes through the sky.

After wearing out our knees on the way down the mountain, we hoped back into our Landcruiser (for some reason, EVERY jeep on the flats is a Landcruiser) and headed to Isla Incawasi, an island covered in coral fossils (as it was submerged in the ocean before the Andes were formed) and cacti as old as nearly 1000 years.

In the picture below, you can see the bubble-like appearances of the coral fossils that cling to the rock of the island.  Here Kaori is trying a piece of the flat, to find, unexpectedly, that it is very, very salty.  Uyuni.  One of the best things we’ve experienced thus far.

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2,000,000,000 tons of fun (Uyuni, part 1)

June 14, 2010–Uyuni, Bolivia

The Uyuni salt flats are gigantic.  The largest in the world, in fact, at 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 sq mi), it’s the largest salt flat in the world.  Not only is there a ton of salt–2,000,000,000 tons, actually–beneath the 15 meters of salt lie over 50% of the world’s lithium reserves.  The Bolivian government has been working on lithium extraction, opting to not let foreign ventures come in and take over.  Anyhow, the flats are a true marvel.  After the rainy season, the flat dry out, creating strange geometric shapes that stretch for miles and miles under the blue sky.

However, when rain comes after the flat has dried, the salt forms little lumps where the rain drops fell.  After a snow, the flats become perfectly, well, flat–a sight rarely observed in the dry desert winters of Uyuni.

We arrived at the base of Tunupa, a volcano embodying the goddess whose tears and breast milk mixed to make the salt flats, after several hours driving across the flats.  Your sense of distance is impaired by the hallucinogenic white plane, and it almost feels as if you’re driving on a treadmill as you continue towards a mountain that seems close, but are apparently getting no closer.  Flutes, drums and various alcoholic concoctions greeted us.  We happened to show up on the birthday of one of the town elders.  When we arrived at about 4pm, this elder was already inebriated.

After dancing for an hour at the base of the volcano, we headed up to another small village where another party was also taking place.  The simple music produced by an untuned drum and pan flutes kept us in stride for the whole half-hour walk.

We only saw one type of dancing, which continued to what was apparently the same song for half and hour at a time, only to restart after a short break.  reminiscent of a dosy-do type, arm-in-arm dance, it was easy to learn.  Which is good, as the older women didn’t ask if we could dance before they grabbed me with their strong hands and pulled me into the circle.  The dancing was perfect, warming you up just enough to feel comfortable in the cold of the Uyuni dusk, but not hot enough to break a sweat.  I imagine that this is no coincidence.

This old gentleman danced with this fine girl from our group for over an hour.  He did not limit himself to tradition, apparently preferring to be all over the map, with everything from tango-style dips to high-speed waltzes.  His confidence is embodied in his sunglasses, which he wore well after the sun had gone down.

Like small towns and villages all around the world, the future of this village is plagued with uncertainty as young adults leave for work in the nearby cities, often never to return.  Most of the young people we met here had come back for the occasion of this birthday party.  Empty houses and unworked fields dotted the landscape.

I missed sunset, rather I was enjoying as I went round and round the dance circle.  The deep violet shadows of the surrounding mountains stretched farther and farther along the white salt flats, glowing orange in the setting sun.  The mountains were alive with new colors–pink, orange, violet–as the sun started its descent.  I managed to take this picture during the break.  You can see the salt flats glowing bright orange far off in the distance.

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The Pampas, continued


We woke up on our second day to the sound of howler monkies, reminding us of our stay in Tikal.  It really is an amazing sound.


Every tour group has basically the same schedule.  On the second day, you see the sun rise and then you go look for anacondas.  You look for anacondas, apparently, in knee-deep water that smells of sewage because it’s stagnant.  At first you try to stay clean, but once you give that up things are MUCH better.  Your socks will always be one shade more brown than they were before, but brown really is a nice color.


Mike, who happened to be on the bus with us from La Paz and then in the same tour group as us, is pictured here with an anaconda.  He has trouble with the ladies, so he makes do with reptiles.  I was going to hold it, but then I was afraid.


Next on the list is fishing for pirahnas.  Using pieces of steak, we both managed to catch one, but weren’t allowed to eat them.   You’re not supposed to eat them so as to protect the environment, but our guide reminded us that “if you don’t tell anyone, it’s alright.”  True enough.


Next on our action-packed second day is swimming with Amazon dolphins.  The females are a wonderful pink color and the males are a gray color with pink undertones.  There were only a few of us dumb enough to get into the water where we had just fished for pirahnas and where there were several alligators in close range.  I trusted my guide.  After all, “If you don’t tell anyone, it’s alright.”  I could see the dolphins surfacing all around me, interested by the sounds I made.  Quite an experience.


Like that, three days had passed.

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Rurrenabaque–the pampas


Despite leaving La Paz 5 hours late, we arrived only 2 hours late in Rurrenabaque (I think that should frighten me), leaving us with enough time to connect with a tour leaving the same day.  So after 15 hours on a bus, we will spend another 4 in a jeep.  Yes.


Cowboys with a cheek full of coca leaves and a street full of cows.


After arriving at the park, we hopped into a motor boat to take us an hour into the jungle.


My hat.  Sure to be the highlight of the trip.


The amount of wildlife just there, out in the open, was truly surprising.  More visible than any other animal, alligators seemed to appear every five meters, or so.  I began to wonder if they were actually live animals, or just animatronic, placed there to fool unwitting tourists.  Big ones were around 6 meters long.  Big.


Mommy and her babies.  Not a good time to swim.


A black eagle.


As we watched the sun set, our first day came to an end.

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Lapaz – Rurrenabaque

南米旅行のハイライトであるアマゾン川ツアー(2泊3日)に参加するため首都ラパスからバスで20時間かけてルレナバケまで移動。出発の前日にはバスチケットも購入し準備バッチリで当日バスターミナルへ向かい出発時間の11時になったー!!っと言ってもこの国は1度も時間通りに物事が運んだ試しがありません。。。12時、13時が過ぎ気付けば14時半を回ってました。何で遅れるかって? 荷物をバスに詰めてるんです。野菜とか生活用品とかを。早めに詰めれば良いと思うけど、その詰める物が出発時間ギリギリ若しくは出発時間に遅れて持ってくるもんだからこういう事になるんです。なので待ち時間の間可愛い女の子と遊んだりして時間潰してました。

Kaori and I had been looking forward to our trip to the Amazon regions for quite some time.  Stories heard along the way only made the wait unbearable.  So when we showed up at the bus stop on time at 11AM, we were disappointed to hear at 11:30, that the bus would be late (obvious enough, no?).  We the clock struck 12PM, then 1PM and people were still loading anything from potatoes to wheelbarrows, there was nothing to do but laugh.  We finally left at 2:30PM, a delay that leaves one wondering why they even have a schedule.  But there were meat filled pastries (salteñas) to eat and cute little girls to play with, so we didn’t have too much to complain about.

15時前には何とか出発できたんですが、5分後故障。。。マジで?!  おいおい大丈夫ですかい?! 今から20時間もたないでしょ、絶対また壊れるって。”別のバス用意してよ!”って言っても”1時間内には直るから”って。

Then.  Not 5 minutes into the trip the transmission goes out.  Of course, instead of calling another bus, they insist on trying to “fix” it by banging on it with wrenches for an hour, or so.

fixing a bus


THEN, after all the banging and clanking is done, they will call a new bus.  There is an order to things here, you know.  So the new bus gets here and again, the bus must be loaded.  It’s time for more salteñas.

changing buses


So, when the 11 o’clock bus finally hits the road, it’s already working on 6PM.  So much for arriving at 7AM just in time to look for a decent tour company to takes us into the pampas that day…


But the bus was moving, and the landscape was changing…


And then the bus stops.  This time to change the tires.  Why?


Then we stop to put gas in the bus.  You might be prone to thinking that because the bus was called as a backup, they didn’t have time to fuel the bus before departure, but no.  This is how every bus works.  First you load the passengers, then you load random things on top, then you load the fuel.

4度目の正直ってことで、”今度こそ”は無事に出発しました!! 写真は偶然通り掛かったお葬式の様子。

As the saying goes, the fourth time’s a charm.  And we are off again…with this fabulous painting entertaining the drivers behind us.


The bus was scheduled to pass along the road that goes through Coroico and then on to Rurrenabaque, travelling along a section of road known as “Death Road”–not a nice name.  The road sees more than 200 deaths per year, as cars careen off the cliffs that line this narrow road, only really wide enough for one car.  The view is incredible, but each curve has our hearts in our throats.


The crosses lining the road don’t make things any less intense…


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