Chapter 31::Table of Contents::Chapter 33

Chapter 32
Potosi

Thurs MAR 22,

N was up at 7 trying to relieve himself of plugged guts.

I laid in bed ’til the maid knocked on the door at 7:15. The maids call us “jovenes” I’m not sure exactly what that means but it’s rather funny because we’re certainly older than they are. We ate breakfast and got our stuff all put back together.

The “chofer” came for us at 7:45. We hadn’t been let down this time. He took us to the bus station. We checked our packs and sat in the cafeteria drinking coffee. The bus departures were announced over a loud speaker in completely unintelligible Spanish. The bus left on time and we settled back for the ride.

3 hours into the ride the bus stopped in a little town all decorated up with paper streamers across the streets and big arches of flowers and flags over the entrance and exit to the town. When we stopped I got out and took a couple shots of the colorful flowers & flags. N found out they were celebrating the arrival of potable water. The town was small and out in the middle of no where so I don’t know where the good water come from. Certainly not from the muddy river nearby. The “bus boy” changed a tire in the back that had a big bulge in it and we were back on the road.

The next stop was a lunch stop in a town not 30 miles from Potosi. We got out and had an almuerzo at the rest. nearby. They charged 15 pesos each for the lunch and 15p for a beer. That was too much for a beer. It should have been 10. I paid the lady with a 100p bill and she brought me 65p change. So I left a 5p tip figuring we owed her 10 for the beer. We were waited on by a cute little lady. When the bus got going, she got on with us to go to Potosi. No sooner had the bus started up than she got a nose-bleed. Another lady attempted to cure it by pouring cold water on her head & neck. Why that should work I don’t know but the bleeding stopped.

We arrived in Pot. without further incident. The ride took 6 hrs. We collected our packs and started walking up the hill towards town from the bus station. We’d gone about 3 blocks and spotted an alojamiento. They didn’t have rooms with only 2 beds and we didn’t want a room with 3 for fear they’d put someone else in with us. As we were walking out, a little girl (5 or 6) told us there was another place around the corner. They had rooms for 2. The fellow at the desk looked over our passports more closely than any police officer. Duly registered, we headed up the hill to the center of town.

We found the main square and walked around it once looking for the Tourist Office. Not finding it we stopped and asked a police man. “Up there” he said, pointing up the hill. A civilian standing next to him said “No, it’s down there 1/2 block in the building with the 2 flags.” We saw which one he meant, 90o from the cop’s directions. After a bit of discussion between them they finally agreed that it was indeed over there 1/2 block. We thanked them and walked off. “2nd floor” the fellow called after us. There was indeed a Tourist office on the 2nd floor, but it was an administrative Office, not an info. Office. The lady told us we had to go back up the hill another block or so. The cop had been right in the 1st place. Up the hill to the Office we went. We got a little guide book of Pot. Before we left the lady told us if any museos were closed, to come back and let them know so they could advise others. “They’re supposed to tell us” I thought.

We strolled around a little more and found the market. We decided to buy goods and make our own dinner. We got the fix-ins for tuna salad and walked back down to our res. There was a shop on the corner that sold alcohol. I went in to buy some pop. As soon as I walked in the door a little kid, son of the guy behind the counter, I assumed, walked up to me and whacked me on the calf with a stick. He laughed. I went over and looked at the pop selection. He came up and whacked me again. "You’re chasing away paying customers, kid" I bought 2 bottles. 3p for the pop, 10p for the bottle. They also had big bags of coca leaves. Huge garbage bags filled with the stuff. The miners eat a lot. Back at the res. we mixed up the tuna and ate a good dinner.

We began discussing all that had happened to us in Sucre. On the bus I had considered writing a short story about our misadventures. N & I chewed some leaves and began putting down details of Characters, Places, Events, and Themes. We finished Characters, and then got into a long talk about taking more excursions into the country side. N feels as tho we’re taking it easy going from city to city by bus. I didn’t deny it, but somehow felt as tho he was blaming me personally. Chewing the leaves put me in a strange frame of mind, plus being tired. We finally decided that we would try to get away from busses all the time, take more trucks, even if we don’t arrive on time and maybe have to camp or walk a little more

FRI MAR 23.

 Awoke and had a homemade breakfast of left over tuna salad.

We decided to take a walk around town taking pix. N wanted to find the statue of the miner we drove by yesterday coming into town on the bus. We tried to follow our little tour guide but the names of the streets in the book didn’t correspond to the actual street names. We found the statue anyway and took a couple photos. Then we took several pix of political slogans and ads painted on the walls of buildings. Very colorful. We took a couple more pix of the outside of a church.

By the time we got to the Casa de Moneda (Mint) it was closed. We walked up thru the plaza debating what to do next. N had forgotten to look up the name of the fellow who was administrator of the mint who also was a friend of his Uncle Gaston. Thus he didn’t really feel like going to the mint until he got that fellow’s name. This left us the rest of the afternoon to figure out what to do. We photo’d some balconies near the plaza and took a walk along the “mall” to try and find the “Casa de Tres Portales”. We read the map wrong and took a wrong turn but eventually found the place. It was impossible to photograph. The 3 doors were too wide spread and the street too narrow to get them all into the frame. So we wandered back down the street looking at all the ads for movies.

We finally pulled into a little rest. and had lunch. There we debated what to do for the afternoon. We decided to go see a movie. A double feature. The 1st one was a Terrence Hill “The Magnificent One” western. The 2nd was 007’s Goldfinger. The theaters here have reserved seats so we bought tickets for the very 1st row. The guy behind the window didn’t believe it. But no, we want the 1st row. It was a mistake. We wound up moving back to the 4th row so our necks wouldn’t cramp up. But the 4th row seats were short lived. The show was a complete sell out so we were forced to move back to our 1st row neck benders. At least we could hear. The crowd was noisy and didn’t have to listen anyway, all they had to do was read the sub titles.

After the movies we went to the market to buy goods for dinner. This morn we got some alcohol for the stove so tonight we could cook. We bought veggies, bread, jam, and a can of saisi, a kind of beef stew. We walked around the market looking for fresh meat. Here you can buy everything from hooves to horns, from lips to tails, and everything in between. The only thing not sold is the moo (or oink, or baaaa) Whole unidentifiable pieces of cow interior on display. We decided to leave the entrails to the natives and settled for some nice tame sausages.

We came back to the res. and noticed that the Sauna just down the street was open. We put off dinner and went for a nice hot steam. It wasn’t as classy a place as the one in Sucre, but there was a choice of wet or dry heat, a small cold bath for cooling off, and luke warm showers. After the sauna we came back and made up a dinner of sausage and veggies. Then we got back into our Sucre short story. Tonite we did Places, and began on Themes. This led to a long talk about Photography, traveling in general, and my desire to go back to the states. Perhaps Leslie will come and join N if I go back, he told me. If we make the Bol. Con. it will be much easier for both of us.

SAT MAR 24,

Awoke and made a breakfast of sausage sandwiches.

Our little stove works fine for frying these things. If we fill it full of fuel there doesn’t seem to be much that it can’t do. After breakfast we headed for downtown.

We walked up the hill and noticed that the church we took photos of thru the gate yesterday, today had the gate open. We walked in and started taking some more photos of the flowers and rustic exterior. This completed to our satisfaction, we walked up to the Casa de Moneda. We got there about 10:30, bought our tickets, and found out that the friend of N’s uncle didn’t work there anymore. On the walls along the entrance were a couple plaques dedicated to him. We later found out he’d died 3 yrs. ago.

Above the archway leading into the main courtyard was a big ceramic head of Bacchus with grapes in a wreath around his head and a big cheezy smile on his face. This was very incongruous with the rest of the austere brick building. We were directed upstairs to a gallery of colonial religious paintings. I’ve had my fill of these. I wanted to take a shot of one painting but just as I had taken a meter reading, a cop came over and told me it was strictly prohibited to take pix.

As we walked out of the gallery we picked up a tour. The Spanish speaking guide led us downstairs to a display room filled with coin dies and coins. Having had something to do with coin dies it was interesting to see these. Most were old and obviously cut by hand. The newer ones were tooled by machine. In the next room was the real interesting part. There were 3 big wooden machines [1] with cogs and gears, all completely made of wood, that were used to form the silver into strips to later be stamped out as coins. [2] The whole device was powered by one giant gear turned at first by mules, but later, as progress moved on, by Negroes.

This place once housed several hundred Negro slaves. We were shown places on the wood floor where the wood had been worn in a depression in the shape of a human foot. Year after year, someone standing working in the same spot had worn the wood away. I wanted to take a photo of the big wooden gears but as soon as I got the camera ready, a guard walked thru again. I later asked him if I could take a pic of the machine. He said “go ahead”. Evidently it’s just the cheezy paintings you can’t photograph.

The next room had some of the smelting equipment and other miscellany on display. Originally the coin dies were held in a vise, and the strips of silver were laid across the top. Then the silver was hit with a big mallet imprinting the coin. If you had a 10 peso piece, for example, and bought something for 5p, your coin was merely cut in half. Also on display was a big strong box with 12 latches, all turned by one mighty key. It still worked, and had more weird shaped moving parts than a swiss cuckoo clock.

The next rooms had more smelting equip, a big brick oven, tongs for carrying the silver ingots, and other devices of unknown function. There was a room filled with various rocks, a mineralogical exhibit. And one room contained an uncleaned roof to show how the smoke from the fires had stained the bricks. A couple more rooms contained various religious treasures taken from a church in town when it was converted to a school. Then we went back upstairs and saw some more assorted machines. Various ancient typewriters, a couple old carriages, and several gear and belt driven devices of uncertain function. Another room contained artifacts from Bolivia’s war with Chile (Argentina?) in the early 1900’s. Rifles, cannons, pistols, flags, and patriotic paintings. Another room contained archaeological items, pots, skulls, and another example of “ancient Incan hieroglyphs”.

From there we went to a different and more modern room that contained steam powered coin presses. This “modern” mint predated the 1st U.S. mint in Philly. Then upstairs for a display of colonial furniture with a card table that opened up into a chess/backgammon board all made from inlaid wood. I could take pix here, too, and did of one silver end table and the card table. Then into the last display room, “modern art”. A small display of paintings and sculpture. The most noteworthy piece was a statue of a semi nude lady, sitting with a frog on her knee. Evidently she was trying to turn it into a handsome prince. We walked back down to the main courtyard, took another photo of Bacchus, and walked out.

By now it was noon. We went up to the park and sat around there watching the nubile young school girls on parade. 3 of them sat down next to us and began to talk. They were 15 yrs old. “Oh, to be 16 again” N said. “I was young once” I said, “I wasn’t good at it”.

From the park we walked over to the Plaza del Minero to see the statue of the Revolutionary Miner, with an air hammer in one hand and a rifle in the other. Along the way we took several pix. of the colonial streets, goods on display in little shops, and native women in colorful costumes.

It had clouded over and along the way began to rain. Closer inspection revealed it wasn’t rain, but hail or snow. Snow in Potosi. It didn’t stick and only came down for a few minutes. We made it to the plaza and took many pictures of the colorful buildings, the bizarrely painted walls, and the colorful Indian ladies.

While walking back to the hotel we noticed a doorway painted with splotches of various colors. We both stopped to photo it and along came the proprietor, drunk as a skunk. He talked our ears off. I finally just walked away, but he grabbed N by the arm and hauled him into the shop. N couldn’t or wouldn’t leave, so I had to come back and just about drag him away.

By the time we got to the market it had started to really rain and we were hungry. We looked all over for a place to eat but nobody was open. Finally we found a place near the market that had salteñas. We pulled in there for 3 each, a dark beer, and oogled the everpresent semi-nude posters on the walls. Whether it’s drug store, restaurant, or gas station, there’s at least one exposed tit on the wall. Very distracting. After our salteñas it stopped raining long enough for us to make it back to the hotel.

The prospect of a rainy afternoon was not appealing, so N went to the corner, bought a bottle of rotgut Singani and 2 bottles of soda, and came back to drink and play chess all afternoon. About 3/4 of the way thru the bottle we stopped to make a dinner of rice, veggies, and our canned saisi.

After dinner we finished the bottle and laid around talking about friends left behind. I expressed desire to see Dudley, Jeff, Ed, Doc, & Hector, Fred & Spazz again. N said most of his friends were married and he had no real desire to see them in the near future. It’s just the opposite for me, very few of my good friends are married or moved away. We wound up our conversation talking about women and the lack there of. No pot, no ladies, no friends, traveling is great fun.

SUN MAR 25,

Awoke late and only slightly hung over.

It was a nice brite day so we got our cameras and headed out along the railroad tracks to photo the town and folks some more. We turned up from the RR and found ourselves in the midst of a very colorful Indian market. Sun. must be market day in Potosi. We photo’d for a while in the market, taking shots of things like piles of various colored peppers, plastic items, and natives with the Cerro Rico in the background. We got thru this market and found ourselves back up by the other “main” market.

About this time we were getting hungry but it turned out to be a little too late for lunch. We walked all over looking for a place to eat but nobody was open. We wound up going back to the Indian market and having a good but tough Asado there. After filling our bellies and feeling better, we walked back to the main market to buy goods for dinner. Along the way the string holding N’s camera on the strap broke. Only his quick reaction kept the camera from falling to the ground. Originally he had little triangular pieces like the ones on mine, but these bent and one broke in Baños. So he put in little lengths of our nylon rope. These were now proving equally fragile. I gave him the ring from my key ring to use until he could buy something more durable.

At the market we bought some more chorizos, bread, avas, jelly, and looked all over for little rings for the camera. We could only find big ones, attached to fobs, for 15P. Too much. So we walked back to the hotel. There he cannibalized 2 “D” rings from his green bag and bent them with the pliers into non-breakable pieces that should work better than even the little triangles.

We decided to take a short hike up to the hill outside of town. With freshly loaded and supported cameras we headed out again. We went by way of the bus station to check on busses on Tuesday for Camargo. N had picked up a bit of a cold walking in the rain and sleet yesterday and now was not so gung-ho to truck it to Camargo. At the station we found out that busses don’t go to Camargo on Tues., only Mon, Thurs & Sat. This left us with some question as to when & how we would leave Pot-o-si. We deferred decisions until later and headed up the hill.

N was chewing on his rapidly dwindling bag of leaves given by Leslie in Tarabuco. We got to the top of the 1st hill and started taking pix of the Cerro off in the distance and the mossed or lichened-over rocks closer to the lens. Very colorful. We walked along the ridge up to a little stone shelter at the tallest point. The rocks around these hills are very interesting. The geology is sedimentary but the layers run more vertical than horizontal. Certain layers are softer and have worn away, leaving ridges of harder rocks running along the contours of the hills in stripes. Certain outcroppings run counter to this rule and leave an interesting contrast to the rock-scape.

From the shelter we walked down and back up along an old stone wall. N busied himself taking a still life of 2 goat’s horns he found. The sun had gone behind the clouds now moving in, so I sat in another rock shelter at the top of this hill, shielded from the wind, watching the world go by. When the sun came back out so did I. I walked back down to a field near the stone wall and took a couple shots of the sun shining thru the plants. It was almost sunset and the clouds were winning the battle against the sun, so we walked back to town.

Once at the hotel we bought some more pop and started cooking up the chorizos. These weren’t as lean as the 1st batch and began to stick to the pan. We wound up scrambling them all up and trying to cook out all the grease. They were half grease and it took a long time to cook it all away. We cooked up another batch of veggies and, with left over rice, had an acceptable meal.

We still hadn’t decided whether to get up early tomorrow and go to the mine, leaving Camargo to be reached by truck on Tues., or to get up early tomorrow and see if we could buy a bus ticket and skip the mine. The mine don’t thrill me too much, plus I’m just about done with Potosi. We’ve taken a lot of good shots here and it feels good to get out and photo again. N feels more or less the same, so chances are we’ll take the bus and skip the mine.


[1] Each of 4 parts

[2] The whole thing was imported from Spain, the only one of its kind in the world.

Chapter 31::Table of Contents::Chapter 33