Day two of our tour brought blue skies, pink flamingos, a soak in a hot spring, and many spectacular photo ops.
After trying our hand at mining in Potosí, we headed to Tupiza in order to start our much anticipated 4-day tour of the Bolivian salt flats.
We were highly satisfied with the company we chose, Ciudad del Encanto Tours. It’s a family-run business where you communicate with the son to get everything set up and the dad is your driver, tour guide, and even cook when his wife needs to tend to their llamas at their home, like during our tour.
He was laid-back and professional and such a hard worker. His days started early and ended after we fell into bed. The food was delicious, the company was welcome, and the scenery was quite spectacular.
After Sucre we buzzed over to Potosí, a small town known for its mining. You may have even heard of the documentary, The Devil’s Miner, which is about the lives of the miners in Potosí.
We even got geared up and took a tour inside Cerro Rico, the mountain they mine. It was crazy to walk around inside the damp, low-ceiling mine and see real live miners going about their job, pushing little carts of minerals down a track just like in a movie or cartoon.
Our guide explained how the miners had to chew on coca leaves all day to keep up their energy and stave of their hunger. After all, they couldn’t go Number 2 down there without creating a toxic environment.
We also learned about their making offerings to Pachamama (Mother Earth) as well as El Tío (name they give to the devil) to ask for their safety and more as they work away in the mines.
We just spent one night in Potosí before moving on to start a 4-day tour of the Bolivian salt flats, a highlight of our traveling so far.
After jumping through some hoops and trying in three different cities, we finally got our tourists visas to visit Bolivia. With that excitement under our belts we were thrilled to have an easy and painless border crossing into Villazon, Bolivia.
From there we headed north to Sucre, where we’ve spent the last number of days. It’s a charming town filled with white buildings, pristine gardens, chocolate and plenty of coffee shops. But the best part is, it’s the place we met up with Marvin and Eve, Isaiah’s brother and his wife, who we’ll be traveling with for the next two weeks.
In Salta we visited an archeology museum dedicated to the Incan culture. Specifically, their claim to fame is the discovery of three young Incan children in a mountain range near Salta, Argentina. They had been placed in a sort of tomb and were accompanied by special items and dress that were customary for the high-up families of the time.
Upon examination it is estimated these children were placed there some 400-500 years ago. What’s astonishing is their impeccable preservation, from their hair to their skin to their clothes. It’s thought that the altitude, the cold temperatures, the limited amount of bacteria, among other things is to be given credit for their preservation.
From Salta we headed north to Jujuy. We spent time in the city of Jujuy, as well as traveled out to a few smaller towns within the Jujuy department: Purmarmaca and Humahuaca. Both were small, quaint, and beautiful arid mountain towns.
A highlight from our time in Humahuaca was riding with a native Incan man to La Quebrada de Humahuaca. The mountain range was stunning but it was equally fun to chat with the driver on the trip there and back.
His take on the three children that were removed from the mountain and are now property of the museum in Salta was quite different than that of the museum. He said the museum should have no right to those children.
Worse yet, he explained that those children were not dead, but just sleeping. (How else would they have absolutely no sign of deterioration, he explained, in the hundreds of years they had been there?)
The children were specially selected to see the other side and one day were destined to return to this world filled with great knowledge to share with their people. He explained that when the archeologists removed the children from their place in the mountain, they killed them, so now the best he could hope for is for their bodies to be returned to the mountain so they could rest in peace.
He didn’t like how the museum was using the children of his people for profit-gaining. When we pointed out the great cost of meticulously keeping the bodies preserved, he rightfully responded that their spot in the mountain had been doing that free of charge. It was incredibly interesting to hear his perspective, especially after having visited the museum and seeing the situation from their side.
It’s true what they say about their being at least two sides to every story. I’m glad we had the chance to hear his.
From bustling Brazil we crossed the border into northern Argentina and headed to the mountainous town of Salta.
1. Eating a delicious, juicy, tender steak at Viejo Jacks.
2. Hiking to the top of San Bernardo hill and taking in the views of the city. (There’s also the more leisurely gondola option.)
3. Visiting the archeology museum along the main plaza to learn about the Incan culture.
4. Buying a footlong hot dog for around 50 cents at one of the many stands and asking for a “rain of shoestring potatoes” (lluvia de papas) on the top.
We said our final goodbye to the good ladies selling warm chipa to hungry bus riders as we headed out of Paraguay two weeks ago and into the land of Brazil. Now, after learning Spanish for the past two years we were feeling pretty confident in our ability to travel and communicate easily in South America. Lest we forget, however, that Brazil’s language is Portuguese. Spanish and Portuguese are pretty similar though, right? While that’s true to a certain degree, it was the overflowing grace and warmth of the Brazilians, not our Spanish, that got us through the week and a half we spent in Brazil – specifically São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Porto Alegre.
Case in point, one afternoon in Rio we decided it was time to take the still unfamiliar journey back to our Couch Surfer friend’s apartment that was a ways outside of the city center. We got to the bus stop and must have looked a little lost because a Brazilian woman in her 50s approached us and asked us where we were trying to go (in Portuguese). We attempted to explain our destination to her (in Spanish), and she led us to the bus that would take us there – the same one she was using. As we three waited in the bus line, a particularly aggressive panhandler caught back up with us still demanding that we give him some money. She told him something in Portuguese and kept a keen eye on him as he circled around us once more before heading off. She offered us candy while we waited and chatted pleasantly about something that we understood very little of. Once on the bus she explained to the person taking money where we wanted to go and asked that he help us get off at the correct stop, as she would be getting off before us. Later, as she stood to get off at her stop she wished us luck and reminded the money taker to look out for us, which he dutifully did.
That is just one story in dozens we could tell of people approaching us to ask if they could help, with no ulterior motive. It seemed we just needed to scrunch our noses in confusion as we looked up at a street sign and some magic little helper would appear, ready to pull up Google Maps on their cell phone if they or those around them didn’t recognize the street names for which we were searching. It was amazing and made me question my patience with people in the States with limited English. The Brazilians definitely have me beat on that front. And oh, the mountains and shores were pretty great too.