In Colombia we had visited many colonial cities: starting with Santa Marta to the north and ending with Popayan to the south, not forgetting Cartagena de Indias, Mompox, Barichara or Villa de Leyva. But since then the colonial cities had become far apart in time. In La Paz, there are almost no traces of that past but in Bolivia, we still had Sucre and Potosí.
SUCRE, THE CAPITAL OF BOLIVIA
Many people think that La Paz is the capital of the country. You are wrong. The capital of Bolivia is Sucre. Although it must be said that only nominally, because all the governing bodies, and the president himself, are in La Paz. As they explained to us – although it was a guide from La Paz – the constitution that proclaimed independence named Sucre as the country’s capital in honor of Antonio José de Sucre, the hero of independence. But that city did not exist as such. Always according to the guide, the city took the name of La Ilustre y Heroica Sucre later – before it was Chuquisaca – to be considered, from that moment, as the seed of Bolivia. Anyway, Choquechaca, the first name of the city, was already capital at the time of the nation of ponds that had their autonomy against the Incas.
The first thing that struck us at Sucre’s attention was the number of wires in their streets. Being on the UNESCO World Heritage list, we thought they would have been buried, at least in the historic center. Well, no. All the facades of the city are covered by complex tangles of cables that do nothing but shave it. Therefore, and because they recommended it to us, we decided to go up to the Recoleta viewpoint to see its red clay roofs. The view is worth it, but watch out that the climb is hard from the Plaza 25 de Mayo – old Plaza de Armas – and if the Sun decides to go up with you, you better bring water. But that one day the Sunstruck with justice and forced us to become protective did not prevent the universal flood in the city from unleashing the next day.
If you are capable of wiring abstracts, you will enjoy the colonial buildings of the historic center and some churches that will transfer you to the moment when Sucre controlled what is now Paraguay, southeastern Peru, northern Chile, and Argentina … which is said soon.
If we go out with a storm of Sucre we have to say that during the whole trip to Potosí the water accompanied us. With the rush of riding the bus that will take us downtown from the service station where the bus stops – the terminal is quite far away – in the rain, it was in Potosí where we lost the second water bottle of the trip … The rush They are never good. The beginning had not been good but the city was responsible for making us forget that bad time with two exceptional attractions and many walks through its center, in this case without Christmas decoration, although they were in it.
Potosí is two cities in one. The famous is its historic, colonial center, with its typical form of the checkerboard, where the Spaniards lived since the foundation in 1545. The other extends to the foothills of Cerro Rico, there lived the indigenous population and that is where the miners continue to live. The importance of mining is such that, according to one of the possible explanations, the name of the city itself comes from it … The Incas discovered the presence of silver on the hill and tried to extract it. When he began to work, there was a noise that made the mountain tremble. When they told the Inca they used the word Potojsiwhich means “it gave a great rumble” … They gave up their efforts not to disturb the Pachamama and gave the hill the name of Orcko Potojsi, which later the conquerors adopted as the name for the city, while the hill remained as Cerro Rico.
THE MINES OF POTOSÍ, CERRO RICO
Life in the mines of Potosí has changed “little” in the last five centuries: the miners have no minimum wage, no retirement, no vacations, no medical insurance … they only get a percentage of what they extract. The cooperatives have become the new “conquerors” and get 50% of the profit from mined ore, which can reach 70% if you provide materials: helmet, pick, dynamite, etc., to the miners. Close to slavery: 12 hours of continuous work, unable to eat due to dust in the air, chewing cocaine to remove hunger and stay active. When the veins allow it, they work with compressed air hammers, but when the quality, space, or the vein itself is not enough, it is done with a pick and hammer.
Cerro Rico de Potosí remains as “alive” as it was then. 182 mines are still active with several miners ranging between 18,000 and 19,000 – the fall in the price of silver has caused the number to drop – although indirectly almost three-quarters of the population depends on them. But how much money is left in Cerro Rico? Little, not to say almost nothing. As Willy told us – our Marco Polo guide – you get 10 to 15 grams of silver per ton of extracted rock, while at the time of the colony of each ton 800 kg were of pure silver – the first ten years were neither necessary nor excavated. But the “salary” that is achieved is greater than that of any store clerk. The situation has changed in the last 12 years. That was when the first tourists arrived. There were no security measures – now you go in a jumpsuit, helmet, and boots that the agency delivers – carbide lamps were used and climbed on the miners’ transport.