Thursday, August 23, 2012

Sucre to Santa Cruz... Dirt, Sand and a Slight Delay

From Sucre I planned to travel to Santa Cruz.

I had a friend named Dave that was going to be visiting Santa Cruz and he was bringing me some parts for my bike.

I set off from Sucre along the asphalt highway.

Outside of a town called Acquile, I ran into a local motorcyclist pulled over on the side of the road. I stopped to see if he needed assistance. He said that he was just changing his oil. I said great. He inquired as to where I was headed. I said Santa Cruz. He said that he was going to Santa Cruz too and that we should ride together. He seemed pretty eager. I said okay and we headed off.

He was riding a 125cc Leopard motorcycle. Like many riders in Bolivia he did not wear a helmet or protective gear, but because it was cold he was wearing a jacket and ski mask.
At first I was afraid that he would not be able to keep up with me and my bike, so I let him lead. 

Well, just outside of the town the road turned to dirt, then to sand, so we both slowed down. It was tricky riding. I did not have a great deal of experience riding in sand. This sand was a fine and loose powder, more like what we call coliche sand in Texas. It was loose and a challenge to ride over.

My riding partner feel over two or three times. Luckily, I was able to keep Emi upright.

After about 4 hours of riding in the sand, we came across this...
The road was blocked by a landslide. There was a construction crane clearing the path, but it looked like it might take a while.
And so we sat there and waited. We waited for about 3 hours. At about 8pm the path was clear.

There was one other motorcyclist that had been delayed alongside of us. It was a man riding with his wife who was carrying a baby in her arms. The sun had set and it was night. So we all set off into the dark along the dirt road. I was amazed at how fast the man/wife/baby bike was moving. We were not going to make it to Santa Cruz in the dark. We pulled into a town called Saipina. I found the one hotel located in the town and settled in for the layover,

The next morning, I arose early and rode the remaining five hours into Santa Cruz.

It was quite the experience. I think that longest stretch of sand that I had ridden over prior to this experience was all of 100 yards. In total, this was probably 7-8 hours of riding over sand. I was glad to see asphalt.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Museo de Etnografía y Folklore Mascaras

I visited the Museo de Etnografía y Folklore (Museum of Etnographia and Folklore) in Sucre. 

There was an amazing collection of ceremonial masks. 

Sucre and Bolivian Art

From Potosi I traveled to Sucre.

Sucre is a pleasant town with a nice climate, colonial architecture, cheerful parks, good restaurants and some art.

Location:Sucre, Bolivia

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Inside a Potosi, Bolivian Mine... From the Sublime to the Subterranean

I went from the sublime to the subterranean. I traveled from the bliss of the Salar de Uyuni to the gritty mining town of Potosi. The town is known as being one of the highest cities in the world at 13,420 feet (4090 meters) and for the production of silver extracted from the mines in the area.

And the thing to do in Potosi... is to go visit a mine.
I saw the mines as I approached the city.
I signed up for a mine tour and was equipped with a vintage Beastie Boys outfit.
As part of the tour, I visited a mining store. It is like a convenience store for miners to pick up supplies for their work... like gear, tools, water...
and dynamite.
That's right... one can walk off the street and into one of these stores and pick up a stick of dynamite.
My guide showed me how to connect a fuse and add a bag of common fertilizer to add a bigger bag for my buck.
I then went to the miner market where I could pick up some grain alcohol to drink and some coco leaves to chew. These are actually things that miners take with them into the mines to lets say "take the edge off the work day". I was encouraged to buy a few items to bring into the mine to provide as gifts to the miners.
I was then taken to a part of the mine at which I was shown how minerals like silver are extracted from the material that is dung out of the mine.
This huge apparatus separates the mineral from the material with water and chemicals like arsenic and mercury.
And if one is lucky...
Silver is extracted.
Then it was time to go inside the mine.
I took one last photo before I entered the mine, so that in case of an accident my body could be identified.
My guide, a former miner, briefed me on work and life in the mines.
This is no Disneyland tour. This is a real working mine. There are some safety measures taken, but it is a risky proposition just entering the mine.
The tunnels are only about 5 feet (152cm) tall, so I had to hunch over while walking down the shafts. It is not easy hunching over, walking and breathing through a mask in temperatures that can reach 120 F (49C). I can honestly say that it sucked. We went down three levels.
There was work going on and I was actually asked to help out.
I took a turn loading and pushing a wheel barrel full of material.
These miners are mostly friends that work in small groups of 4 or 5 together. They work together, earn together and trust each other with their lives.
They mine this material with picks and shovels and sometimes dynamite. They push these loads of material out of the mines in steal carts. It is very physical work which takes place in hot and humid conditions. They often do not wear safety equipment because it impedes their work.
There are all kinds of particulate material like sulfur and asbestos that exists inside the mines and becomes airborne. It is hazardous just to breath the air.
These miners were taking a break. A typical mine shift is 8 hours, but miners will often stay and work in the mines up to 24 hours to maximize their time. Once one is inside the mine, it is a bit difficult to leave the mine. For sustenance, they bring with them water, grain alcohol and coco leaves. They do not eat food, they just chew and eat coco leaves. Supposedly it provides them with energy and enough nutrients.
This is El Tio (The Uncle) who is a patron saint of the mine. The miners will often leave alcohol and coco leaves for El Tio with hope that he will protect and bless them while in the mine.
After two hours inside the mine I had seen enough. It was tough just walking and breathing in the mine. It was grueling work. I'd never want to do it. Honestly, I don't think that I would ever want to go inside a working mine again. It was that bad.
I left the mine with a new found appreciation for life.
I survived... just barely.
I will not be buying any silver any time soon.

There is a documentary that I want to see about the Potosi Mines called The Devil's Miner. Below is a trailer for the film.

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