We decided to spend the night in Potosi because it holds a lot of interest for us both: it has such an fascinating history and is the highest city in the world. We were also advised that the road from Uyuni to Sucre was quite dangerous and various people stressed we shouldn’t travel at night, so it seemed sensible to pause here.
Potosi is one of the strangest places I’ve been. It’s really busy, which was unexpected because it’s no longer the important town it once was. It seems to have two tourist attractions – the money museum, which was closed when we were there, and tours of the silver mines. I am fundamentally opposed to any kind of tourism that feels like it is exploiting the hardships of people for entertainment – anything that seems slightly like people are being paraded or gawped at so backpackers can get ‘such an authentic experience, ya’ absolutely horrifies me. So obviously we didn’t do the tours of the mines. Men are forced to work in these mines because they live in such poverty that dying in their forties just so they can provide for their families is the best option open to them. At any point the mines could collapse because they have been tunnelled so frequently that they are now unstable.
If you want to see an example of what happens to a place when its greatest wealths are exploited – and exported – without any care or protection for the people who live and work there, you should go to Potosi. It’s a genuinely heartbreaking place. Considering the silver mined in Potosi was used to mint the first peso coins and was the source of huge value for the Spanish empire, it’s a real shock to see how poor the city has become.
There wasn’t a heap of things to do in Potosi. We walked around the town for a couple of hours, looked at the mountain from a distance, and then got a taxi for the four-hour drive to Sucre. I have spent a lot of time reflecting on Potosi, aware of the privilege I benefit from every day and the luxury of taking such a long break like this to see a big part of the world.
It’s not like any other place we’ve been, and couldn’t be more different than the quaint town of Sucre which became a sort-of home for a while…