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Going down the mine in Potosí


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A few days later, I found myself on another night bus (I stopped counting) to a city further south called Potosí. Potosí is actually, as the Bolivians claim, the highest city on earth, at approximatively 4070 meters above the sea level and classified as a Unesco World Heritage Site. But that is not the main reason why one should visit this place. Potosí is also known for its mining activity and particularly silver mining.

Hundreds of years ago, Potosí used to be the richest city in the world, extracting silver from the Cerro Rico mountain and providing the whole America and also Europe with silver coins. The city was founded in 1545 following the discovery of ore deposits in the mountain, which proved to be the world's more lucrative. Under the influence of Spaniards, millions of indigenous people and imported African slaves labourers were conscripted to work in the mines in very poor conditions, and millions of death occurred.

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Nowadays there is still a bit of silver waiting to be extracted but also other minerals. The problem here in Bolivia being that there is no industry to process these minerals, which means that everything is being sent abroad, therefore creating a loss of revenue for Bolivia. The current Bolivian president, Evo Morales, although having a good reputation abroad and with the Bolivian farmers (he used to be one) is now not very well seen from all the miners as promises were made during the electoral period but as often, nothing was being done to help the mining industry. This is one of the reasons there are often strikes in Bolivia (and generally in whole South America) to protest for better working conditions.

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In Potosí then it is possible to visit these mines and it's an experience not to be missed. So I took my helmet and prepared myself to scramble and crawl in low, narrow, dirty shafts and climb rickety ladders... I could actually meet real miners and realised that the working conditions have not improved by much since hundreds of years ago... Work is done mainly by hand with basic tools, and underground temperatures vary from below freezing to almost 45 °C. Miners, often exposed to several noxious chemicals, often die of silicosis pneumonia after 40-50 years old. But all of the miners I met (and I was being told it is the same for the rest of them) are really proud of their work and what they are accomplishing. It's probably one of the hardest job on earth but also can be really rewarding. They work the mine as a cooperative venture, with each miner milking his own claim and selling his ore to a smelter through the cooperative.

Actually one of the first thing you have to do before entering the mine, is to go to the market and buy some gifts for the miners you meet inside the mine. Gifts are usually coca leaves (which help to reduce fatigue, hunger and cold), soft drinks, cigarettes and even dynamite!!! Yes you have read well: it is totally possible (and legal?) to buy dynamite in the local market!!! I didn't buy any though nor seen any miner using it but I heard of tours where guides actually let you try it...

Anyway this was one of the most interesting tour I had done recently and if you are thinking of heading off to Potosí one day, I highly recommend the tour agency Big Deal Tours, run exclusively by ex-miners who were tired of other agencies organising tours and claiming to give a percentage of the price paid by the tourists back to the miners whilst actually they weren't. So here is the link to their agency: bigdealtours.blogspot.com

Factory where the minerals are being separated from the dirt and rocks

Factory where the minerals are being separated from the dirt and rocks


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El Cerro Rico, the silver moutain

El Cerro Rico, the silver moutain


Wagons used in the mines

Wagons used in the mines


Let's go inside!

Let's go inside!


Our guide Pedro, also an ex-miner

Our guide Pedro, also an ex-miner


Miners having a short break

Miners having a short break


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I think I would have fractured my head at least 10 times if I didn't have this helmet...

I think I would have fractured my head at least 10 times if I didn't have this helmet...


Wheel system which would be used to stamp the silver coins

Wheel system which would be used to stamp the silver coins

Posted by manolo84 05:49 Archived in Bolivia Tagged cities english mines Comments (2)

The deadly La Paz


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I don't know why but by coming to La Paz I had already some expectations and was sure I was going to like this city, the highest capital in the world, at an altitude of 3,650 meters. Unfortunately, instead of a charming city with tiny streets and market places, I was faced with noise, pollution and crowds like all the other world's capitals. Actually the pollution level is quite impressive here as there is a lot of traffic, especially buses, and as the city is built on the sides of the surrounding mountains, the cars and buses release a lot of exhaust fumes when going up.

But La Paz is not worse or better than the others really, it's just that maybe I had heard or read somewhere that it was a good place to spend some time. And to be fair, I have never been particularly attracted to big cities and also did not want to more than a few days so probably with another mindset, the city could have been more attractive, as many travellers I met afterwards told me it had been for them.

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These lama foetuses are supposed to be offered to the Inca gods...

These lama foetuses are supposed to be offered to the Inca gods...

Anyway as soon as we arrived in the city, we decided with some friends to book a bike tour to the "Death Road" directly the next day. Time now was running short and in order to be able to visit all the cities I had planned to until my flight to New Zealand in December, I almost couldn't afford to spend some days doing nothing.

The Death Road, like its name states, is a very dangerous mountain road which has seen an incredible number of deaths over the years because of its really narrow size and steep edges. Nowadays the Bolivian government has built a new road, on the other side of the mountain, wider and safer, and the old road is mainly used by tour agencies to organise bike tours from the top to the bottom of that road - 62km... There is no asphalt here and you start in the clouds with a more or less good bike with suspensions. The road can effectively be dangerous as there is almost no safety barriers but I'd say that it is mainly down to your speed. If you decide to go down like a snail, then you could wonder why people call it the Death Road. However if you decide to down that road like a rocket, using your brakes at the minimum, then yes, the danger is real... But it's a lot more fun that way!!! Anyway no incidents to report that day (I think the last death here had been in 2011) but only good sensations. It is also incredible to start above 4000 meters with almost freezing temperatures to end up a few hours later sweating a lot with 25-30 degrees and finishing the tour by swimming in the river! :)

This would be the only tour I would do near La Paz and would spend the next days planning my next month in South America and strolling around the markets in the capital, without forgetting a memorable Halloween party!

Starting among the clouds...

Starting among the clouds...


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The road has nearly no space for overtaking or crossing another car...

The road has nearly no space for overtaking or crossing another car...


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Posted by manolo84 11:34 Archived in Bolivia Tagged cities roads english biking Comments (0)

Arequipa and the Colca cañon


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One city I hadn't had the chance the visit when I first travelled to Peru two years ago was the colonial town of Arequipa, located near Cuzco and not too far from the Bolivian and Chilean borders. The city actually reminds a bit of Antigua in Guatemala, as it is surrounded by a perfectly cone-shaped volcano, El Misti (5822m), and others called Chachani (6075m) and Pichu Pichu (5571m). The town doesn't lack charm, as you can attest by looking at the pictures below, but is also a good place for several activities like trekking, mountain climbing, rafting, etc...

Arequipa's main square with the cathedral

Arequipa's main square with the cathedral


Pigeons (picture with drawing effect)

Pigeons (picture with drawing effect)


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Volcanoes in the background

Volcanoes in the background


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The volcano El Misti

The volcano El Misti


First time doing rafting in my life, it's quite fun!

First time doing rafting in my life, it's quite fun!

  • Cañon del Colca

One of the world's deepest canyons at 3191m, Colca ranks second only to neighbouring Cañon del Cotohuasi, which is 163m deeper. There are several trails around and into this canyon ranging from one to several days treks and I decided with other people met in my hostel to go down and sleep overnight inside the canyon in one of the "oasis" and to get back up the next day. I have never been to the Great Canyon in the United States so obviously cannot compare the two places but Colca canyon is definitely impressive with peaks higher than 6000m surrounding it.

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Condors circling around in the canyon...

Condors circling around in the canyon...


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An oasis down in the canyon where we'd spend the night

An oasis down in the canyon where we'd spend the night


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Serious picture with Mike, Dave, Jacek and Jolijn...

Serious picture with Mike, Dave, Jacek and Jolijn...


Then crazy one! <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

Then crazy one! :)


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El Misti and other volcanoes in the background

El Misti and other volcanoes in the background

Posted by manolo84 04:01 Archived in Peru Tagged mountains cities nature volcanoes canyons english Comments (1)

Quito y Mitad del Mundo

Quito and the Middle of the World


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My post about Ecuador will not be long as I only had enough time to visit Quito and its surroundings.

There are quite a few things to do in Ecuador, for the adventurous trekkers who wish to climb the Cotopaxi volcano (5,897 m), or the wildlife lovers who want to explore the Galapagos islands for example. The Amazonian basin is also quite popular with boats going to Iquitos in Peru, and other towns and places which are popular among the Ecuadorian and foreigner tourists.

A trip to the Galapagos is indeed very expensive (at least 1500 US$) for a one week trip on a boat (+ the flights) so I will probably come back during another journey, when my budget will be more consequent, as all the people I met and who went there definitely had a great experience.

So my primarily aim this time was to reach Peru (Huaraz) as quickly as I could, and therefore I only took the time to take a few shots in the capital and also took the opportunity to visit the city called Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) where the Equator line is passing through. Nothing amazing nor extraordinary but something to cross off my checklist! ;)

Woman of the Apocalypse, by night

Woman of the Apocalypse, by night


The Cathedral of Quito, by night

The Cathedral of Quito, by night


The Cathedral of Quito

The Cathedral of Quito


Couple praying inside the cathedral

Couple praying inside the cathedral


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Mitad del Mundo

Mitad del Mundo


500m further, the real GPS-calculated line of the equator. One foot in each hemisphere then! <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

500m further, the real GPS-calculated line of the equator. One foot in each hemisphere then! :)


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Posted by manolo84 16:53 Archived in Ecuador Tagged cities english Comments (0)

Short stop in Colombia


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Colombia is definitely a nice country, one where you could get stuck in a few months or even years. There is just too much to see, from the burning Caribbean coast, to the cold mountainous Andes where Bogota is, via the Coffee region or again the huge Amazonian basin. And that is just a quick overview really. So you can understand my frustration when I realised how big South America was and that I wouldn't be able to see everything in Colombia given the amount of time I had, roughly 3 weeks....

  • Cartagena

From the moment we set foot on land, after having sailed from several days from Panama, we got welcomed by the buzzing life and burning sun of Cartagena. Trying to walk around the old city in the afternoon was virtually impossible, you would end up sweating buckets just after a few minutes... So I didn't do a lot of things there, but mainly exploring the city sights which included the old spanish forts, a covent overlooking the whole city, a bath in the mud-volcano nearby (more a tourist trap really), enjoying the night life with my sailing companions and a few days recovering from a bad cold I had caught from the air-conditioning of the hostel I was staying at.

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  • Santa Marta

Same coast, and same story concerning the weather: suffocating... Santa Marta has not much to offer itself but its location makes it a really good starting point for the nice beaches around, for the Lost City trek (which I didn't do) or for the Tayrona national park nearby.

Aidan impassive when a thunderstorm suddenly appeared

Aidan impassive when a thunderstorm suddenly appeared

  • Tayrona National Park

Tayrona National Park is located on the east side of Santa Marta, and is a wonderland to watch wildlife (mainly birds), enjoy some of the best beaches of the country, even though swimming in some of them is not allowed, due to the very rough seas and under currents. There is no road access there, at least not direct so the way to access these beaches and the few managed camps is to trek for a few hours and rent a hammock or tent (or bring your own) and then relax for a few days with the sound of the waves in the background... When we were there, beginning of the low-season, it was not too much packed. However I can imagine the same camp with hundreds of tents around and I think the place will lose a bit of its charm. Anyway, this was the perfect place to relax after our boat journey, but 2 or 3 days were sufficient as it is easy to get bored after a while...

Just before leaving though, we decided to go for a little "walk" inside the park to an old Indian village. A path made of loose rocks takes you to their ancient ruins. It was designed thus by the Tayrona Indians of old, as a warning sign of outsiders approaching their habitat. The trek to the ruins takes a couple of hours and is pretty arduous as you have to crawl your way through hand-carved tunnels and negotiate huge boulders, the whole thing whilst the sun burns every inch of your skin...

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Monkeys into the wild...

Monkeys into the wild...


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  • Bogotá

I could not have ended this Colombian tour without paying a visit to the capital and therefore after 2 weeks spent along the Caribbean coast, I decided to reach the high and cold Bogotá and take the opportunity to meet again with my friend Lars with whom I had done the El Mirador trek, back in Guatemala a few months ago. As every capital city, Bogotá is big, noisy, some areas are a bit dangerous but it doesn't stop this lively city to offer to the tourists many things, whether you want to visit the museums, the different parks, do some sightseeing, enjoy the night life or explore the neighbouring villages like Zipaquira and its salt cathedral, Guatavita and its quiet atmosphere near the lake...

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The Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira

The Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira


Find the mistake... <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

Find the mistake... :)


Lars and Johanna in Guatavita

Lars and Johanna in Guatavita


The Lourdes church in Bogotá

The Lourdes church in Bogotá

Posted by manolo84 16:03 Archived in Colombia Tagged beaches cathedrals cities nature forts english treks Comments (0)

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