Roberto Mendez was my guide in Potosi. He is a former miner and really knows his way around. Twenty-five years ago, he pioneered the tours that go into the Cerro Rico mines. I met him through Fremen Tours but he also has his own company. He is a character and fun to be with. He also sings at the Belen Theater on Plaza 6 de Agosto some evenings. That is also where you can find him to arrange a tour. You may email him at email@example.com. Don't forget to notice the El Tio ring he wears. Be forewarned, you need to be in reasonable shape to keep up with him on the walking part of the tour. Potosi is built on the side of a mountain at 4100 m. and has steep streets.
Fondest memory: Having kala phurka with Roberto at the Dona Eugenia restaurant in Potosi (see my restaurant tips and Richiecdisc's General Tips).
Here you are be able to see one of the most important, and complete museums in Bolivia.
This mouseum offers plenty of pictures, how the spanish built the coins, that were used in the colonial period.
Also my guide has explained me that this was used as a jail during the CHACO WAR. (1932-1935), agains Paraguay.
Aca podràn ver uno de los museos mas importantes y completos de Bolivia.
Este museo ofrece muchas pinturas, tambien como los españoles acuñaban las monedas, que eran usadas en la epoca colonial en Bolivia y en España.
Tambien mi guia me explicò que fue utilizada como carcel para los prisioneros de guerra Paraguayos.
Fondest memory: Indeed, the mines tour come first but the Money House is also a great place to visit. you can miss it!!!
As the colonial streets, the churches are very beautiful. You know when the Spanish arrive in America they also bring the Religion.
So, they built plenty of good churches around the city.
Como las calles coloniales, las iglesias son tambien muy bonitas. Ustedes saben cuando los Españoles llegaron a America, tambien trajeron la relgion catòlica a esta ciudad.
cerro rico can't possibly be in the favourite thing list for no one but those who made lot of money from its silver, but it's a presence that simply can't be ignored here. Since the silver melted under the fire of a peasant in mid XVI century, the mountain was excavated and the trace of all this digging are easily seen on the surface. Unfortunately silver extraction caused some loss of lives amongst the people forced to work in the mines, a loss of lives that has been calculated in more than eight million... quite the most massive holocaust in history.
All the natives (and slaves from africa) over the age of 18 had to work twelve-hour shifts while younger children worked less but were subject to poisonous gasses, and other amenities without being able to see sunlight for weeks as miners lived underground even when they were off shift.
Nowadays the silver is over but the mines are still active to extract less precious minerals as zinc and tin. The miners are organized in cohoperatives, but work conditions are still hard bringing to a life expectation of 40 years. Do not think to find an old miner, they simply do not exist as, in spite of all the people imported from africa, it's impossible to find a single native african... they simple didn't survive the cold, the height and the mine work.
Outside potosì you can see some depuration plant that buy mineral from the miner for a few money... it seems like they had a good idea to make money on the mine without being directely involved in the work condition in the mines.... legally at least.
The entire city is on the World Heritage List but the back streets are especially timeless and you can truly get lost wandering around them.
Fondest memory: Sometimes food becomes more than just fuel or a way to experience a culture for me, it becomes an obsession. I had read about an interesting little eatery on the edge of Potosi and enjoyed the chance to see another part of the city on the twenty-minute walk to it. The city had been a bit of a disappointment. It didn’t live up to the quaint mountain village image we both had conjured in our heads. It was at 4000 meters as promoted and though it had an interesting array of buildings, it was a bigger city and much more crowded than expected. There were not so many gringos there, but it was full of Bolivian tourists as well as a sizable population of well-heeled locals. So, it was nice to escape the masses for an afternoon and it was interesting to walk by the area around the local bus terminal and its bustling market. We certainly stuck out but as was always the case in Bolivia, we never felt threatened or that our presence bothered anyone. We reached the restaurant more quickly than anticipated and it was just packed. The owner quickly came over and found us a couple seats, squeezing us in between two separate groups of locals at a long wooden table. It was a gregarious place, everyone talking loudly, feeling at home and having a great time. There was just a chalkboard menu with four items on it. We had come to try fricassee, a local specialty that was in the name of the restaurant so we ordered it only to find they didn’t have any left. Dejected, the waiter said to come back earlier the next day and they would have it. We didn’t know what anything else was on the limited menu but noticed that nearly everyone was eating from earthen bowls so we asked him what it was. We hooked the name up with the menu prices and it was certainly worth a try at less than a dollar. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
The large bowl arrived and much to our surprise, it was bubbling like molten lava. There was a wooden spoon and off to the side some steamed corn concoction and some hot sauce. We spooned a little of each into the hot soup and carefully spooned some out to try, blowing on it profusely as to not burn our mouths. It was a marvelously thick spicy soup with bits of what tasted like bacon bits. We later saw some locals eating chicarones, deep fried pork intestines, and they looked so crispy I would have gladly tried them if I was still hungry. We surmised that the bacon bits must have been in fact, bits of the chicarones. It was a surprisingly filling meal washed down with the local brew, Potosina. We paid up and the owner said again that the next day, they would have the fricassee so stop back, giving us a handful of business cards to hand out to our gringo friends. On the card, I noticed the hours. It was open from 9:00 in the morning till 3:00 in the afternoon. That was just about when we had arrived, which explained why there was no more of their namesake delicacy. We met up with some friends later and told them what a great place we had found and all made a plan to go there for lunch the next day.
I had my own plan of course. I got up early the next morning and went over for breakfast by myself. I got there a bit before 9:00 and eagerly waited for the place to open. I was a bit dismayed when the doors had not budged by 9:15 but there was someone readying the place inside and it was Sunday morning so I remained waiting. Finally, a woman appeared and told me to come in, which I gladly did. A waiter asked me what I wanted and I hastily decided on the one thing on the menu of which I had no idea what it was. I figured I could get the fricassee with the group later and I had had the soup the day before so why not try something new. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
Fondest memory: I neglected to check the prices and later realized that I had ordered the most expensive thing on the menu. It was still only a little more than two dollars but what I feared mostly was how big it would be. The owner was happy to see me back so soon, though perhaps puzzled that I was alone. Soon, my “breakfast” arrived and I was surprised when it was a massive pork steak smothered in raw onions, cilantro, and hot sauce. The cook came out soon after with a small bowl of extra sauce, as it was probably unclear how hot I wanted it from what I had told the waiter with my meager Spanish. It looked great but not exactly what I had expected for breakfast. Not wanting to seem a novice and trying to fit in, I added a good measure of hot sauce, thanked her, and dug in. It was delicious and though the meat was a bit fatty, it melted in my mouth. It seemed to grow as I ate but I managed to eat every drop of it. Absolutely stuffed, I paid the owner triumphantly and told him I would be back with my amigos later. It felt good to get out in the fresh air and walk off the huge meal on the way back to the hostel. There was just one problem. It was already 10:30 and we had made plans to meet the others at noon for lunch. I got back to my room and told Doreen of my exploits. She laughed but her smile grew more to concern when she saw how I lie on the bed, belly swelling, and groaning how full I was. The last thing I wanted to do was eat anything else that day, especially lunch in a little over an hour! (concluded below in Fondest Memory)
Fondest memory: The time went by fast, and like a good sport, I accompanied Doreen and our friends on the now familiar walk to the restaurant. Our cohorts enjoyed the change of scenery but I dreaded each step, full knowing more food lie at the end of it. The place was packed once again but the owner soon recognized me and moved a couple of locals to a small table so our big group could take the large one at the center of the eatery. We explained the food to them and everyone placed their order. I was too full to order a fricassee, as it was surely a big meal with its price tag. Luckily Doreen was hungry and I would be able to try hers. Even though I was full, I ordered the soup I had had the first day, figuring I might not ever have a chance to have it again. No one else had ordered it and I wanted them to see the bubbling earthen bowl too. The platters arrived and everyone seemed happy with the portions. The only one disconcerted was Doreen with her fricassee. We both had expected it to be a creamy stew with tender delicate meat. Instead, it arrived looking much like the pork steak I had for breakfast. There were big chunks of meat, even fattier than what I had earlier, in spicy but thin broth. It was tasty but not what she had hoped for, though she made her way through it as well as she could. Everyone loved his or her food and the atmosphere in the restaurant was even more electric than the day before as it was Sunday afternoon. I smartly ate half my soup and let everyone else have a taste of it. I was still stuffed from breakfast. I may be obsessed with food sometimes, but I’m not always stupid. We walked back into town, all completely satiated. We had an afternoon to kill and everyone would go his or her own way later that evening. We would catch an overnight bus to La Paz, happy to be on our way, and knowing we had got our full of our favorite restaurant in Bolivia.
In the 16th century Potosi was one of the biggest and richest cities in the world!
The kingdom of Spain had won a big part of it´s richness from the silver from Potosi (next to all the gold they got from the Incas).
Bolivian authors say, they would have been able to build a bridge from southamerica to europe with all the silver they found and took away.
Millions (!) of indigenous, later as well sklaves from africa died in the mines of Potosi working for the spanish colonists.
Nowadays there are still miners working in the "rich mountain" (cerro rico), searching for silver (it´s more a dream) and for other metals, especially zinc.
The work in the mines is still very dangerous, there´s no security control by the government. The miners are part of the poorest habitants of Bolivia. They work until 24 hours a day in the mines, only chewing coca leafs, maybe smoking when they got some cigarettes and eating one spicy soup the day. Most of them die before being 45 years old.
The miners have got their human puppies inside the mines where they pray and ask for luck. They give coca leafs and cigarettes to the "tio" (uncle) as gifts.
It´s all very impressing!
Potosi is a little nice city with friendly people like everywhere in Bolivia. It´s at an altitude of more than 4000m, that´s why it´s all the year quite cold (although in the sun it´s warm :-)).
It´s worth to visit the mines and and as well the museums about Potosi history (Casa de la Moneda), to have an impression of what happened to the people here during the last 500 years.
Bolivia is not the only country that had been afflicted with the colonialism (half of the world did) but I think it´has made one of the worst experiences.
Nevertheless the people live their lifes and a lot of them are maybe more content of their lifes than people who live under "better" conditions.
Seeing this beautiful streets. very narrow, colonial. They relive the glorious past of Potosi.
Ver estas hermosas calles, muy estrechas, coloniales. Te hace revivir el pasado glorioso de Potosi.
Fondest memory: Wow, such an amazing experience.
Favorite thing: The first mint in Potosí, was built during the second half of the 18th century to control minting activities right where the silver was extracted. The Museo de la Casa de la Moneda has exhibits on silver and gold coining as well as colonial paintings.
Potosi is one of the highest cities in the World... it's about 4.200 meters above the sea level, which is a lot! Even though I didn't have major problems because of the lack of oxygen... walking around is tough. Don't even try to play soccer with the locals!
If you've never been to such a high place before... take the proper pills. In my case, I didn't even know about those pills and I suffered! The first morning I woke up with one of the worst headaches I've ever experienced... and that wasn't just hangover! ha!!
Favorite thing: Going down the mines isn't to be taken lightly, it is dangerous, hot and dusty, Every silver Peso coin minted in Potosi has cost the lives of 10 Indians who have died in the depths of these mines...
Favorite thing: You never know when or where you will find University of Florida alumni. This guy was helping restore Iglesia de San Benito in Potosi.