Friday, 7 April 2017

Day 225: 8 Million Lives (11/09/2011)

We ate sandwiches filled with Ann’s mouth melting chilli guacamole under the watchful gaze of the locals and holding our noses for having chosen to dine on the street corner used as the public latrine. Dave told us not to complain as this was over-landing and not tourism.

Some of the locals came forward to ask for food. Dave distributed left overs to a small waiting crowd.

Potosi is not wealthy.

This because although 60% of the 16th century world's silver supply was extracted from the ground here, the Spanish overlords achieved a bitter rate of exchange.

8 million people died in order to unearth 30 million kg of silver. That is 3.75 kg per life.

Before we went off to explore Dave gave us a safety briefing.

Tourism related crime is rife in Potosi. The favourites include the fake policeman who demands your passport before running off or the squirt and snatch distraction crimes in which foul smelling liquid is poured on you and in the melee your valuables are lifted.

Also popular is slitting open the bottom of your bag so the contents fall out to be harvested by waiting rogues and planting items before alleging theft and recompense in favour of prosecution. The tricksters are wily and the only defence is to be on your guard at all times. The experience of others on the truck shows that a moment of inattention is enough for the waiting opportunists to strike.

With this in mind we left Hotel Jerusalem and, using their makeshift map, headed for Placa Central where the action was to be had. A little way along Calle Bustillo we reached the police headquarters. I mustered my best Spanish, smiled and launched into a request for directions. He paused, turned to his mate, laughed and then sent us on our way with a clear indication.

Two hours later we were on the wrong side of town, clutching our valuables and cursing the pea-brain to the seventh generation. After a little more helpful guidance, we made it back to the Placa and the colonial architecture which is all that is left of Potosi’s greatness. The Cathedral, San Lorenzo and Campania De Jesus stand out. Tall, typically Spanish towers of sandstone rise above the low rise city. The Bank and the regional police building come a close second. Beyond the square, the alleys such as Calle Sucre, wind into an artisan quarter where silver and clothing is a speciality, but not today. Although Bolivia is more indigenous than its neighbours, Catholicism has a firm hold and Sunday is the day of rest.

This is something that the Church takes seriously. So seriously, in fact, that we couldn’t find a church holding Mass.

After wearing out the shoe leather we met with Sharif and Leon. We planned a quiet meal and early to bed for the final leg to La Paz. Wandering into the Pizza Mexicana on the corner of Placa Central, it was as if a magnet had drawn the whole group to the far table and so we joined them. There probably isn’t a Trade Misdescriptions Act in Bolivia but if there is I hope they have a crack squad of enforcers to swoop down on Pizza. Elliot’s pizza didn’t even have oregano on it. Jade’s cannelloni was too short and my Bolognese wasn’t spelt right on the menu. Apart from a wait for the youth to bring the food it was good and tasty and and kept us warm for the chilly walk home.

Cakes featured heavily on the walk. The market by San Lorenzo had a stall with a hundred fully iced and decorated versions fit for a wedding. Instead of special occasions, the locals were buying cakes for the day and by the armful. The stall selling deep fried calves’ aorta next-door wasn’t doing such a good trade but I didn’t have the heart to tell them.

We were in bed by 9.00pm but the first chance to watch CSI:Miami in English since leaving the UK couldn’t be passed up.

As the improbable forensic explanation was winding to a conclusion my eyelids had closed and so I will never know how they got the finger prints from the sea cucumber.

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