I've been invited back! For no other reason than LSM has limited kind things to say about the towns and cities of Bolivia.
Following the salt flats tour, we found ourselves dropped in the southern town of Uyuni before taking a short bus ride to Potosi for two nights. Four nights in Sucre were followed by one night in the capital, La Paz. We then headed to Copacabana for Easter weekend (three nights) spending 2 days on the Isla del Sol before crossing the boarder to Peru.
It was Copacabana that broke LSM. A lacklustre, tourist town with plastic, swan-shaped peddle boats on a crusty shore line. Expensive accommodation was still #basic. The gringo price for everything LSM holds dear (sweets, burgers, biscuits) changed daily and the pushy café touts asked him one too many times to sit down for an overpriced menu del dia.
But Copacabana is a greater good town, a gateway to the gorgeous Isla del Sol. And that's my personal opinion on Bolivia, for a backpacker with limited time and a jam packed schedule it's a sweet and sour place - but the sweet is never as sweet without the sour.
UYUNI v SALAR DE UYUNI
SOUR: The small town of Uyuni is in the middle of nowhere. It's not picturesque. The main sight is a locomotive cemetery a couple of kilometres south of town i.e. the big tourist draw is rusty trains. I found the cemetery a bit sad. (We didn't stay the night in Uyuni but got a 3 hour local bus out to Potosi instead).
SUGAR RUSH: LSM has written about our time on the salt flats. We were lucky enough to be there during the rainy season when a shallow stretch of water collects on the surface of the plains creating the largest natural mirror in the world. It was so surreal it made me giddy. Add to that the wild flamingo lake and llama patch and Bolivia's National Parks blew my mind.
CERRO RICO MOUNTAIN v POTOSI
SOUR: Cerro Rico, on the outskirts of Potosi town, has been mined for more than 470 years. The silver, tin and zinc found in the Andes mountain funded the Spanish empire but reports now state that the mountain is ready to collapse. One in every nine Potosi inhabitants works there. As the town's main industry, conditions are secondary to having a regular source of income (the mine notoriously has neither safety regulations nor safety inspections). I read that on average 4 miners are killed in accidents every month and the danger extends beyond the mines themselves. The lung disease, silicosis, commonly afflicts miners with no cure and life expectancy is just 40 years old. Everyone who works in the mine is trading an income 2-3 times the Bolivian minimum wage for a reduced life expectancy. Suffice to say, we didn't do a tour (though many are offered).
SWEET: Potosi town is picture perfect. We stayed in a cute hostel two streets from the main square and ate cake with the locals in the sunshine. I can highly recommend an afternoon at the National Mint (Casa Nacional de la Moneda) (the museum takes up a whole block just off the main square). Our English speaking guide told us the history of the first global currency and I found it fascinating (plus it's a fantastic way to learn about Cerro Rico without the voyeurism of a mine tour). The view from the cathedral's bell tower is great and the cathedral itself an abandoned gem. If you like street food, look out for the food carts behind the central market, I had a strangely satisfying meat and pickled onion sandwich stuffed with chips and mashed carrot for 5 bob (60p)!
SUCRE BUS STATION v SUCRE
SOUR: The time I've spent in South American bus stations has been the worst of my trip (Buenos Aires I'm looking at you). Sucre's bus station is so sketchy at night that LSM and I hid in a corner once we'd paid our terminal tax and our luggage had been thrown out of the agencies window on a rope. When our French friends played us a video, full blast on their iPad I was on edge. We took the 12 hour overnight bus from Sucre to La Paz paying top whack for a cama seat. Despite this expense, LSM confirmed that our bus driver drove like a total moron all night. I nearly threw up from travel sickness and slept with a plastic bag clutched in my right hand.
SWEET: Our hostel in Sucre was the best. Sometimes all it takes is a clean, private room with a good view of the town at sunset and your own bathroom to put you back on track. We had a (sort of) terrace and the hostel had a big, green garden which we loved. We didn't do much (any) sight seeing but we met a lovely doughnut lady and ate chocolate doughnuts everyday which made us very happy.
COPACABANA v ISLA DEL SOL
SOUR: In our opinion, the town wasn't great (see above). The huge church is really unusual with a coloured roof and we found a good Menu Del Dia for 20 bob but, that's about it.
SUPER SWEET: Copacabana is on the shore of Lake Titicaca (the world's highest lake) and from Copacabana you can take a 90 minute boat trip to Isla del Sol (25 bob each way). The views from the island are gorgeous with Bolivia in front, Peru stretched out to the west and Lake Titicaca all around. The island is home to several traditional communities and although we didn't see any historic ruins (the north side of the island was closed) (i.e. a man with a stick blocked our way when we tried to cross the boundary) it was so hard to walk anywhere at altitude it might have been a blessing in disguise. We stayed one night and should have stayed two (rather than have another night on the mainland) because with no roads (no cars) or street lights, the stars at night were megawatt bright.