Samaipata. A small village at 140 km from Santa Cruz where I would end up staying one month in total. After helping out David for a week making beer and fruit juice, I had the absolute pleasure to go pick up my mum and sister at the airport (read previous blogpost). We went travelling around Bolivia by bus for three weeks after which my mum went back home and my sister went to Chile for two weeks.
I stayed in Samaipata in the meanwhile to do another workaway: helping out Ruth from Manchester fixing many small things in her new house (electricity, doors not closing, no gutter at roof,…) and putting a new roof on the old house.
It quickly became clear that the latter would be one hell of a task! Most of the wood was rotten, the walls weren’t straight at all and i just had the wood that was laying around to fix it. But i was really up for a proper project!
I love my job as a carpenter so much, that it’s not uncommon to miss it while traveling. Hence i was grateful for the confidence Ruth gave me. There were some small sideprojects that needed fixing as well (dugging out a gutter behind the house in hard clayground and making a new gate) so i ended up staying three weeks (the last week my sister helped me out).
Normally you work 20 – 25 hours per week in order to earn your food and bed at a workaway project, but i think i did double if not almost triple that. This however was my choice and i was happy doing something else for a while in this trip.
Cycling from Samaipata to Sucre
The day we left, we had gotten some route advice to take an alternative road towards Sucre. The asphalt would end at vallegrande and a good dirt road would cross spectacular landscapes while avoiding all traffic.
But boy! Were we in for some tough road! We climbed from 1800 to 2900, then dropped below 1000 to the Rio Grande (big river) only to climb back up to 3000m at the other side… And all of it on dirt… We even ran out of food for half a day because locals gave us wrong information…
My sister thought this was normal for me and wasn’t too happy about continuing like this for the next couple of months. But it wasn’t normal! This was by far the toughest stretch of this trip! Sorry sister! Welcome!
Even when we got back on the tar road close to Padilla, the hilly road made sure it was never a walk in the park. Finally after some eight days we made it to Sucre (2900m) where we stayed two nights in villa orupeza guest house (highly recommended, 50 bol for dorm bed, fast wifi, hot shower, kitchen, big garden) to rest, resupply and organise the next stretch.
The three days of cycling to potosi (3400m) weren’t very eventful, nor did they go through scenic landscapes, but we sure had an unexpected bend in the road!
After 20 km on the second day we got to a small village where there seemed to be a cattle fare going on. But as it turned out, there first was a bicycle race and then a bull fight! I had never competed in a race, but it seemed like a pretty funny thing to do!
So i unloaded my bike and headed for the starting line. I ended up losing terribly over the 40 km (20 times a 2 km lap) race across potato fields, but it was so much fun! People were very enthusiastic and didn’t stopped cheering me on: “dale gringo, dale dale!!!” The bull fight wasn’t as cruel as we expected it to be as men are not involved. Instead two bulls are left to fight with eachother until one gets tired/scared and runs off… into the crowd! Run! We had wisely chosen the safety of a car next to us.
To top off the day there was a prize ceremony (where i ended up earning the money back i had payed to enlist in the competition after which i had to give a speech) and a party.
Unfortunately people tend to be so drunk by this time that we didn’t stick around too long. We could sleep in the school.
I really wanted to visit potosi and its mine as it’s an important part of European history.
The Spanish started exploiting the mine in 1545. Since then 8 million people have died here. We’re talking about mass genocide due to forced labor of first nation people. People sent into the mine would usually die after three months of work. The amount of richness taken from here is staggering. Between 1503 and 1660 for example, 16.000.000 kg of silver and 185.000 kg of gold were shipped oversees. Hence the name Cerro Rico (4782m) meaning rich mountain.
This capital was very important for the development of Europe, some even say it made it possible.
1492 was a very important year for Spain. Not only did Columbus arrive at the Bahamas, it was also the year they finally won back their territories from the Moors after eight centuries of war. A war that had left Spain nearly bankrupt. Therefore huge amounts of the silver were used to pay off debts to European bankers (German, Flemish, Spanish and Genoan).
What’s more, Spain ended up controlling only 5% of the silver trade due to numerous reasons, further enriching the rest of Europe.
Therefore I found the mine truly important to visit, but I knew it would be hard. Going up there with a group of tourists who found it o so funny to put on the suit and helmet, made me wonder if they really had no clue about the tragedies that had occurred there.
The guide made one bad joke after the other, to make the visit nice and to keep spirits high. But how about teaching us what truly happened there? Not a word was said about the genocide, atrocities and injustice.
The injustice continues. We met eighteen-year old Juan Carlos in the mine. He had started working there with his father when he was just thirteen to be able to feed the whole family.
It’s not our fault to be born where we are born. But it is very important to realise the priviliges that come with our nationality.
So please, let’s not be ignorant about our priviliges and the economic injustice (the current economic situation is still stuck under control from the imperialist countries (US and European) who make more money from trading the products coming from Latin America, than the countries do from producing them) that keeps feeding our big salaries.
Next time you’re moaning about some futility, think about Potosí and Juan.
(Information from the book “the open veins of Latin America” by Eduardo Galeano. Please correct me if I’m wrong.)
We had now also finally made it to the altiplano (the high plateau) putting an end to never ending climbs and downhills.
Another three days of riding got us to Uyuni, a small city next to the huge salt flat. This time an amazing, brand-new tar road winded through more and more spectacular settings. We were in for a treat! It was also beautiful to see people working all together on the land. Women and men, using castrated bulls to pull the plough while their children play around or help.
Uyuni (3600m) itself is a dusty little town made up of unfinished concrete buildings. Some may call it a ‘shithole’. But there are shops and hostals with hot showers! That’s all we’re after anyway when we roll into town. We prepared the next stage well, as it was going to be somewhat isolated: crossing the two salt flats (by bicycle this time) and a very last visit to Chile!