4th October 2015 by emmadurnford

4th October 2015

Our long journey started today as we head towards the Uyuni salt flats but first we spent a day in Potosi - the highest city in the world at 4,090 meters. It was a 3-hour journey from Sucre and we arrived in the city just in time to catch the last tour of the famed Bolivian Mint where the coinage for the country was originally made from the silver that the city is famed for. Nowadays no Bolivian currency is produced in the country at all but actually abroad in Canada, Chile and Holland!

First impressions of the city? Dusty, dirty and unhealthy for the permanent residents. Most people are either miners or have connections to mining as this city was built on the fact that large amounts of silver and other minerals are mined from the massive hill overlooking the place. This is rather aptly known as Rich Hill (image above) although very little of these riches ever gets to the miners that risk their lives everyday. The hill has been mined for over 500 years and during this time and in particular during the 18th century, over 8 million people have lost their lives to the extent that every time a new house is built, many human bones are found when digging foundations. Corruption is rife especially as the Vice President of the country owns the mine and health and safety is not a consideration for miners. People are lucky if they live to over 60 here and many have serious health issues when they reach their 40’s due to both the pollution and high altitude.

An interesting fact is that during the 18th century, many people hid their wealth within the walls of their houses to avoid it being discovered and taken by the Spanish. Often people died before they could reclaim their hidden wealth and for new owners of older properties, it is not unusual for them to discover these hidden treasures. A friend of our guide moved into just such a house and is now very rich from his discovery within the walls of his house. Needless to say this has generated a number of modern treasure hunters from overseas who arrive looking for this lost wealth.

However, despite these physical dangers and the rigors of living in such a remote and high place, people here do enjoy themselves and we were lucky to catch the last few hours of a fiesta that had been going on since Friday! Everyone spends a lot of time hand-making their costumes for the event and there are many bands playing local music. Even the ponies get decorated. A lot of alcohol is imbibed and there were quite a few bodies scattered around the streets as the partying just got a bit too much for some people.

There are also a large number of attractive plazas in the city and besides the cathedral a very large number of churches most in the Spanish colonial style. The city has character but in turn it requires strength of character from its people to remain here and create even a basic comfortable life.
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