At 4000m this 2 day wilderness crossing across the Altiplano into Chile was going to be an adventure. After reading descriptions such as treacherous and inhospitable i knew that this was going to be unforgettable.
The Altiplano is a vast desert plateau in the Andes mountains, a desolate landscape sculpted by extreme weather conditions whereby very little can survive.
We stopped for the night at a small isolated village where llamas definitely out numbered people.
Rustic is one word that could be used a describe our accommodation whether it was yet fully completed or already crumbling into decay was debatable but at least there was a bed to rest our shaken body’s.
The walls just about kept the wind out but did nothing to beat the cold (-20) , there were hot showers unfortunately they were frozen.I don’t think even bedbugs would survive here however llamas they looked totally at home.
Salar de Uyuni is the worlds largest salt flat covering an amazing area of 4633 sq mi. It started life as the prehistoric salt lake “Lago Minchin which covered most of south west Bolivia before drying.
Situated at an elevation of 4090m Potosi is one of the highest cities in the world.Lying at the foot of the Cerro Rico (“rich mountain”)—a mountain popularly conceived of as being “made of” silver it was established as a mining town in 1545.
Visiting one of these mines has proved to be another unforgettable travel experience that i have experienced.
The tours begin with a visit to the miners’ market, where miners stock up on acetylene rocks, dynamite, cigarettes and other essentials.Gifts are not expected, however these luxuries cost pittance and are goods that a miners’ meager earnings are scarcely sufficient.
Once adequately suited and booted, yes you will get extremely hot , sweaty and dirty doing this trip you enter the mine. All mines have a shrine, with effigies of the Virgin Mary and a Tio (Tio is actually a representation of the devil). The belief is that because the steaming bowels of the earth offer such riches, it must be he who owns them, rather than Pachamama (Mother Earth), or a Christian god from the heavens.Situated just past the entrance , it is our first stop.Every day, the miners perform a cha’lla, ( offering to the effigies. Tio is blessed by a cap-ful of alcohol poured at his feet, and then a cap-ful is consumed by the miner.
The passage ways are a challenging to negotiate in themselves, low ceilings , steep and muddy.Crawling through narrow shafts you end up going between 3-4km into the mountain,whilst being exposed to noxious chemicals and gases, including silica dust (the cause of silicosis), arsenic gas and acetylene vapors, as well as asbestos deposits
I will never forget when our guide informed us that it is a simple choice of money or life, yet when you choose to mine you are also risking your life.The average lifespan for a miner is 10-15 years; most die from silicosis pneumonia.
The safety standards are hit-and-miss; you really are going down at your own risk however you are getting a one off opportunity to witness working conditions that are among the most grueling imaginable.
One reason i travel is to broaden my horizons and to see how others live, even if this exposure makes you feel uncomfortable, guilty or depressed. The Lonely Planets description/warning sums it up well” We urge you not to underestimate the dangers involved in going into the mines and to consider the voyeuristic factor involved in seeing other people’s suffering. You may be left stunned and/or ill”.
Driving up the gravel road with death defying drops in nothing more then a dilapidated taxi is probably not the most sensible thing I’ve ever done in my life.However surviving the climb up to the once ski resort is all part of the attraction for one of my most favorite day trips i have ever done.
The road ends at 5300m and then its a 300m walk up to the summit.Although impossible to get lost and what sounds like a short stance its tough.On not acclimatized lungs the thin air makes it exhausting each step seeming like a mile ran.Luckily the views are breathtaking , alpine lakes, Grand Canyon-looking scenery, snow capped peaks, and a view of La Paz city off in the distance.
At the end of the the road stops is the still manned chalet, where you can warm up with a warm cup of coco or coca tea and enjoy the old ski pictures. Remains of the old wooden tow rope still act as a reminded to days gone by, before global warming hit.With the receding back of the glacier the ski resort now ceases to exist however it was Bolivia’s only ski resort and the worlds highest lift served area.It is reported that the lift was notoriously fast and difficult and because of the the extreme cold the lift only operated during the weekends.