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Potosi, Bolivia

Area Code ?, US$1 = 5.89 Bolivian dollars Dec. 20, 1999

Do you know Potosi?

A couple of years ago, I was watching a quiz game show when the question was asked - What is the highest town in the world? The three contestants looked confused and after the seven seconds time limit, all failed to guess. The bell sounded and Glen Ridge (the host) said The highest town on Earth is POTOSI. The three contestants shrugged their shoulders as if they had no idea. "Es Potosi, Bolivia" Glenn said to the camera offering me and those in my lounge a more thorough answer. It was only a week ago when I again encountered name the Potosi. I had just flown into Sucre, Bolivia when I saw a bus pass with Potosi as it's destination. It took me a full day to remember where I had heard that name before. Of course, I thought, the highest town in the world. I flagged down the nearest taxi and said Terminale de busse, sinor, I was on my way.

The Town
The town of Potosi can take you breath away for two reasons. Firstly because Potosi is an excellent example of Spanish wealth with majestic cathedrals, theatres and plazas. It lies under the " rich mountain", a mine which between 1572 to the 19th century had given the people of Spain the finest silver in the world, making the town below it rich as well. The second reason as to why you are left breathless is because it lies at an altitude of over 4200 metres. An astonishing height that often makes the usual traveller quite sick for a few days. Take it easy.

Situated in the middle of everything is the very friendly Carlos V Hostal (25151) on 42 Linares Street next to the 6 de Agosto Plaza. Although it can be a little noisy with very poor acoustics it offers simple but spacious rooms for US $5 a single (without bath) and US $7 for a double without bath. It has a nice little courtyard on the second floor under huge skylights. There is also a TV which seems to attract travellers at night.

For a more basic option you should try the El Turista Hostal (22492) at 19 Lanza Street. Although it is a little run down it is pretty cheap and has a good location. Singles start at US $4 without bath, while doubles, also without bath, are US $6.

Closer to the bus station is the very charming Santa Maria Hostal (23255) on 244 Serrudo Avenue. All rooms have TV's and it is designed so every room is facing a well kept garden. Rooms start at $7US with bathroom, while doubles are $10 with bath.

Eating Out:-
A real find is the extremely friendly Cafe Den Danske on the corner of Quijarro and Matos. They serve excellent intercontinental dishes such as spaghetti with meatballs, Thai curry and vegetarian lasagna. There are only five tables but this adds to the cosy and romantic atmosphere as all tables have classic red tablecloths and candles. Prices range around the $2.50-$5.00 mark. They have a book exchange, speak perfect English and have a big world map, where after you have eaten your meal are asked by the staff to select your country flag and put it in the map where you live. It is open for lunch and dinner.

A more local hang out is the central Confiteria Capricornia on Padilla Street. It serves basic meals like spaghetti and hamburgers for around $2 US and is open everyday from 7.00 am to 10.00 pm, which is rare in a town that almost dies during siesta time.

If you want to appreciate fully the amazing views of Potosi, then the Sky Room is the place to be. Situated on the fourth floor of 701 Bolivar Street, it looks over the south of the west of the city and the mountains past that. The food and decor are pretty standard (US $2 - ) but the view is the perfect place to spend the dusk.

There are two pretty good pizza places where you can order a huge pizza for around $5 US and take it to one of the plazas to eat. These are Kivos at 12 Quijarro Street and Argentina at 20 Linares Street.

Night Time:-
Because of the extremely cold weather both the locals and travellers seem to stay inside instead of venturing out into the night.

T.K. at 7 Junin Street seems to be the most popular pub/disco in town, but this is a little bit sleazy and female travellers were hassled when I was there. Drinks cost around $1 US for a beer, and entry is free if you get there early.

The very grand Cinema Imperial on Padilla Street, shows the latest movies that Hollywood has to offer and are shown in English with Spanish subtitles. The movies seem to be very popular with the locals as they cheer and scream at the screen making it a participatory event.

Things to do: -
Potosi has an incredible amount of things to do, for such a small town. But perhaps Potosi greatest attraction is the Festivals it celebrates. In February the Miners Carnival is held for one week. This is whereby the sacred statues of the miners are taken out of the mines once a year and then taken to the Plaza el Minero (Miners Square) which is also considered sacred. On the Saturday of the Carnival is the Carnival Parade where music, dancing and costumes are paraded through all of the main streets. Perhaps the best and most unique festival is the Feast of St. Bartholomew held on August 24,25 and 26. On the first day the townspeople go to La Puerta (6 km outside of the city) in order to visit St Bartholomew Chapel (he built it). On the second day there is a folkloric parade with singing, dancing and costumes through the street. The third day welcomes internationally invited guests to perform sacred dances. Also every two years in November, Potosi invites artists from all over the world to perform in the International Cultural Festival.

In 1987 UNESCO, gave the title of Monument City of America to Potosi. This extreme honor was given due to the many religious and administrative building scattered around the town. Highlights include the San Martin Church on the corner of Moyos and Pizarro, which was built in 1592. Not only is it beautiful but it is also the highest church in the world, which, according to some Roman Catholic beliefs, is the closest to Heaven. The Cathedral of Potosi is an incredibly impressive church that was built in 1564. Inside the church can be found the wooden medallions of the Assumption and the Coronation of the Virgin. The church is situated right in the middle of town next to the Plaza 10 de November, making it extremely popular. Travellers seem to sit on the steps and read. The Monastery of San Francisco (1547) on the corner of Cortes and Colque is often overlooked by tourists because it is on the city's outer limits however it is very grand and holds a series of 25 paintings of Gregorio Gamarra on the life of St Francis of Asiss.

The Mines of Cerro Ricco (just above the city ) are extremely popular for travellers. A lot of tourist agents such as Hidalgo Tours (19 Bolivar Street) and Potosi Tours (Alonso de Ibanez Square) give guided tours inside the mines for around $15 US. Miners are still working today searching for tin, and welcome with a friendly "holla" as you walk by.

Where is it:-
Potosi is in the South West of Bolivia. In the middle of a very high mountain range.

Contrary to what guidebooks may tell you, no passenger trains ran to Potosi. The night bus from La Paz costs US $18 and takes 10 hours. The scenery by moonlight is spectacular as the bus winds its way down the dirt roads of the mountains. A good company to go with is the Copacabana bus company.

Buses from Sucre leave 10 times a day, cost US $3 and take 4 hours.

If you arrive in either La Paz or Santa Cruz and you have not much time. Catch a plane to Sucre ($52 US from La Paz, $46 from Santa Cruz) flying Bolivian Airlines (LAB), then catch a bus

Useful Information:-
Banco de La Paz is the most central bank at 10 de November Square. It cashes travellers checks with 2% commission, and has an Automated Teller Machine outside.

The main tourist information stand is at Alsonso de Ibanez Square, but there are also quite a few on Bolivia , which sell English map for 30 US cents.
The two main pharmacies are the Imperial Pharmacy (37 Padilla Street) and the Boliviana Pharmacy (Alonso de Ibanez Square), which sell different types of relief for altitude sickness.

There is an internet cafe on 6 de Agosto, $1.20 US an hour. Connection is surprisingly quick.

There are Entel Offices on Padilla Street. Costs are very expensive .
Calls to USA are $3.50 per minute
ASIA are $4 per minute
Europe are $3.50 per minute
Australia are $4 per minute

Weather:-(Dec 99)
When the sun is out it is extremely hot and you can sunburn easily. At night time however the temperature can drop to below freezing very quickly, so both sun screen and warm clothes should be taken.

Emergency numbers American Express: call collect to USA 801-964-6665