It’s all winding down now. I’ve basically not taken my camera out in the last couple of weeks (I’ve stolen a couple of pics from Rav instead), done very little of note, generally been getting ready for the end. It’s strange, after such an action packed trip, to be ending with a bit of a fizzle, but that’s not to say it hasn’t been a good time for our last few cities. We’ve just got to enjoy some Bolivian life for what it is, have a bit of a relax, and prepare ourselves for the huge transition of going back home.
After Uyuni we still had a good few places to go. First stop was the high high mining town of Potosi, famous for having huge silver mines in the past. These days the silver is pretty much gone but the mines go on looking for what ores they can find. Personally I did very little in Potosi as (surprisingly for the first time on this trip) altitude sickness struck. I couldn’t really identify it to start with but it basically left me in bed, wrapped up in lots of blankets. At over 4000m in altitude, Potosi is one of the highest cities in the world, and it truly felt like it. Walking just down the road was a huge undertaking. It was a shame because it felt like it had an ok vibe as a place, but I was lying down missing out on it.
One thing I don’t feel like I missed out on was going on a mine tour. Rav did this, not being as struck down by the altitude as I was, but I think even if I was in peak physical condition I still wouldn’t have done. The tours are very controversial, and in a way I can see the appeal. Every review and blogger we could see said they were glad that they had done it, and it was an educational experience. The mines are horrendous working conditions, and those that work there suffer hugely from severely reduced life spans and long days in the dark and dust. For many it is the only way to make enough money to feed their families. I wasn’t sure I wanted to pay a tour company to profit from taking me to have a look at them, to think I understand anything about that when I can just leave in a couple of hours. That said, the tour guides tend to be ex miners and they are friends with the current miners who appreciate the gifts brought to them by tourists. It might not be a net bad. I think Rav is glad she went and got a lot from it, and I don’t regret not going, so it all worked out anyway.
After Potosi, it was a downwards trip to lower (but still not exactly low) Sucre. At 2800m I felt much much better, and could happily get out of the hostel and back doing things. It is a really beautiful and lively city, with white buildings and red rooves, and was bright, sunny, and warm while we were there. A bit like a Mediterranean town. It was one of those cities where we did a lot of wandering, and just generally getting a feel for it. My best memory was just going out for a walk in the middle of the day. Children were running out of school to little ice cream carts outside, and the streets were full of people. The warm weather and streets full of kids made it feel weirdly like the first day of the summer holidays back home, and everyone just seemed super happy. I also found a very tasty salteña to eat (like a pasty) by seeing whose door most school children were hanging around outside.
From Sucre we visited a nearby market town called Tarabuco. They had a tourist market (not really as good as ones we’d been to in Peru so we didn’t end up with any purchases, even though we now could buy what we wanted since we don’t have to do much more bag carrying), and a local one which was fun to have a wander through at least. It seemed that each nearby village sent a pickup truck to the market filled with women who did the village’s shopping and took it back. The villages all seemed to have slightly different local dress, so we got to see a huge variety of hats and ponchos as well.
Our last (!) stop on our journey was the city of Santa Cruz, all the way in the east, which I write this from now. Not too keen on a 20 hour bus journey at this late stage, we treated ourselves to a 35 minute plane ride, which took us from the mountains down to hot and humid Santa Cruz. The weather when we arrived was so different from Sucre – instead of crisp, sunny, pleasant weather it was sweaty, humid, and worst of all, raining. Our hostel was well set up for a hot day but the pool was being cleaned (plus it was rainy anyway), so we took it easy, planning some fun hot weather activities for our last few days.
Except… The next day we woke up to a shock – it was freezing! Still rainy, but weirdly the humid warmth had just been replaced with cold. Apparently it is some shock weather, and we saw some sad looking Bolivians interviewed about it on the news. Some luck. So instead of having a last couple of days warming ourselves by the pool and visiting the nature reserve, we have instead had days wrapped up in our warm layers, wandering the (not that great) city, and watching films in the hostel. There’s always a bright side though. We’d been told Santa Cruz was ‘unbearably hot’ and it’s certainly not that. Plus we can wander round the centre without needing to sit down every few minutes, and been able to walk everywhere. And we still get to relax. Both of us when we return are on the job hunt, and these last few days before we get back to reality are, I’m sure, something we’ll look back on enviously.
And that’s it! Actually it. Tonight we board a plane to Madrid, then tomorrow from Madrid to London, and then we are home. After more than 6 months, that’s a really odd feeling. So this is the end. I will maybe write more of a summary piece on this when I’m back, but for now I will say I’ve had a really amazing time and I am at the perfect place where I’ve loved it but am still very excited to be heading back. Thanks for bothering if you’ve been reading this!