The general manager of the bank and his girlfriend picked us up at 9 am for our grand tour of Sucre. We had to be on the road to Potosi, our next destination, by 2 pm so we had to get a lot of sightseeing done in just a few hours.
As we noted last night, Sucre is a very beautiful town. It is renowned for its museums and monasteries, the majority of which were closed since today is Sunday. We still enjoyed strolling around the main plaza and the markets, visiting the independence museum and learning about Bolivia’s fight for independence from Spain and stopping at La Recoleta, a beautiful square above the city with a quaint church and amazing views of Sucre and the surrounding mountains.
After a nice buffet lunch, we were on the road to Potosi. Our time in Sucre felt way too brief and I didn’t get to see any of the weavings that the area is known for, but there was nothing we could do. We had to keep going so we could make it to Tupiza for our tour of the Salar de Uyuni which was starting in 2 days.
It took about 2 and a half hours for us to reach Potosi, an old silver mining town and at 4,1000 meters the highest town in the world (you get the point, I think, that Bolivia holds the world’s records on altitude). Potosi, standing in the shadows of a huge silver mine, was once a wealthy pinnacle of the Spanish empire, producing much of the world’s silver, but as silver prices have dropped over the centuries, Potosi has declined to decay and is now a testament to poverty and to horrible working conditions for the miners. As a traveler, the thing to do in Potosi is to go on a tour of a working mine where you can crawl around on your knees through tiny passage ways filled with noxious fumes and visit with the miners who have an average lifespan of 50 years due to accidents and horrible working conditions. It’s a definite “at your own risk” kind of a tour and needless to say, we were not going to take the kids there. Plus there is something really unsavory for me about going to gawk at people’s misfortune.
I have to confess that as we reached the outskirts of Potosi, our first impression was that it was a dump. We could not really understand why the Lonely Planet had called this town quaint. This judgment was premature though. As we spent about an hour trying to find our hotel by navigating Potosi’s labyrinth of 15th century streets, we started to see the town’s charm. One can easily imagine life here 400 years ago.
Exhausted and famished, we checked into our hotel, …., which is supposed to be 5-star and the best in town. It was actually more like 3-star but at least it had heating, for which we were very grateful. At this altitude, the temperature quickly drops below zero as the sun sets. We ordered room service and I will save you a long and boring story of how many times I had to go down to the kitchen to first politely nudge, then eventually insist quite adamantly, in order to get some food. I was probably an “ugly American” expecting my food to be ready in less than 2 hours when my kids were starving and we were told by the hotel staff that it would take 30 to 45 minutes. But here is the thing – when we travel like backpackers and stay in small family owned places, I am actually quite flexible and have low expectations of timeliness but when I stay at a place that puts 5 stars on its façade and charges 5-star prices, I want 5-star service or at least 3-star service or just some food.