Potosí – and its 4.090M of Altitude!
We awoke around 05:30am and headed to the Central Market in Sucre to have desayuno (breakfast). Our next destination was Potosí and we still needed to go to the bus station to buy the tickets.
Luckily we found one within 30 minutes. In Bolivia, you have to pay an extra fee for the bus station, the prices can change from one place to another, but it is usually very cheap.
You just need to be careful when you give your money and you need to get change back. Bolivia is terrible to give change, and the best way is to give the exact amount of money. Sometimes they can trick you when giving your change back, so always pay attention to this.
The journey to Potosí was tense, the road was slightly dangerous, the buses were small and full of people. It seemed that we took ages to get there, continuously stopping along the journey road to collect more people.
When we arrived, our first thing to do was to find a place to stay. We had the address of a hostel that looked good, Hostal Compania de Jesus. To be honest, it wasn’t a great place. It was cheap, well located and we decided to stay there anyway. Breakfast was good, but, the rooms not so much and the shower was terrible. For one night, you can give it a go.
Potosí is circa 4,000m above sea level, it is really high and as you walk you can start to feel a slightly out of breath. Everything makes you tired, and it feels like there is not enough air for you to breath. Climbing a small stairs can give you the feeling you just ran a marathon – it is exhausting!
Soroche (altitude sickness) is not a myth, it does exist! It will give you fatigue, headache and dizziness among other things. It can be difficult to sleep well and, in some cases, it causes hallucination. It is hard to tell, but each person will react differently when exposed to a high altitude, so the symptoms can vary.
Fatigue and headache hit us straight away, so it was the time to put our Coca Leaves in action to relief the altitude sickness. You put the leaf into you mouth and you have to chew it, it is not pleasant at the start, it is very bitter and it doesn’t taste nice. But you will get used to it, and it makes your mouth numb. The relief is very fast and I started to feel a lot better after that, my headache disappeared and I was ready to walk around and explore the city!
Details of Potosí, a city that was once one of the richest in the world
Potosí is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was discovered because of its silver, and at one point was the largest silver producer in the world, considered to be one of the richest cities in the world, even more than Paris or London.
When the Spanish arrived in South America and discovered the riches of Potosí, the history of the city changed.
At the back, you can see the mines of Cerro Rico
We didn’t visit the mines of Cerro Rico. I thought that it would be a bit heavy as you can see all the hard work and poor conditions that the miners have to face. I didn’t want to carry that bad feeling with me and make their hard work a tourist attraction. Anyway, it was just what I felt at the time. However, it looks like a great experience and an interesting place to visit.
Casa de la Moneda is a museum that you can also try, I didn’t go there really, I was just walking around and seeing the place.
Instead, we went to another place, Iglesia y Museo Mirador San Francisco, to check the guided tour inside the church and museum. There, you can find all the history of the city going back in time to, re-imagining how life was back in the glorious time of Potosí.
The place is lovely, it’s a pity that it started to rain heavily.
What I liked most, was to go inside the crypts. Here, they were only allowed to bury the rich Spanish people.
You can also go to the top of the church and have a view of the city from above. We were unlucky though, as the rain didn’t let us see much.
I don’t like to remind about this rain, but it was constant. We had to walk back to the hostel and I was soaked by the time we got there, which was a big problem. We were leaving to the next city in the morning, and we had no time to dry our clothes properly. It was really could, and the altitude sickness struck again. Not to mention the cold shower we had to face after the rain.
Later on we went to a restaurant, where the food took ages to be prepared. I don’t know if the altitude interfered with the cooking process but it was common thing we noticed in the Bolivian restaurants. To be honest, the food wasn’t great either. What a tough night it was.
Back we went to the hostel, in the hope of getting a decent sleep (again, we were heading to the next city in the morning). Another nightmare. It was very cold, the altitude sickness worsened, my head was about to explode alongside more dizziness to top it off. The duvets didn’t look very clean, but I brought a sleeping bag with me, which was helpful. I slept inside this on the bed, and it helped me to feel warm and forget about the filth of the place.
Our stay in Potosí would have been a lot better without the rain. The altitude sickness is something you have to face anyway. The next day I felt a lot better, but I couldn’t say the same for other people who were with me. As I said, every person reacts differently, and I was lucky to recovered quick enough to feel better the next morning.
Uyuni was our next destination, and this was our transport. Look at that bus! haha
The bags had to go on the roof and the tyres were worn out. Pure adventure, – and I questioned myself if we would make it safely to Uyuni?
Backpacking life, not easy, my friends. But, so much fun!
Stay tuned to see what is coming next on our Bolivian adventure.