Getting away from the city: A weekend in Potosi, Bolivia

I love going on weekend trips!  I know a lot of people find them stressful because you have to pack, leave right after work, sit on buses for hours, and then you feel more tired when you get back from vacation.  But my favourite part about short trips away is that I give myself permission to relax!  It’s definitely possible to have a lazy weekend at home – but I always feel guilty.  I SHOULD be doing laundry, buying groceries, cleaning the bathroom, and doing my Spanish homework but instead I just watched 8 hours of Netflix?  However, when I’m in a new place I give myself permission to do NOTHING – which is perfect!  I can sleep in, take long lunches, wander around the city, check out museums – anything I want, and I don’t feel guilty at all.

20161104_185112826_ios  20161104_180621443_ios

Left: Steve and I on the bus from Sucre to Potosi.  Right: The little boy in front of me who really wanted to play peek-a-boo!

A week ago was my 3-year anniversary with my boyfriend, Steve, so we thought it might be a good excuse to get away. We looked into a bunch of closer options, but in the end it was easier to go to a slightly bigger city for the weekend. Therefore, we decided to go to Potosi, a city about 3 hours away by bus.  We’ve been there before 2 years ago, but there was a lot we hadn’t seen.  We decided to book a hotel for 2 nights and just wing it for the remainder of the trip, and that ended up working out pretty well! 🙂

Note: If you’re planning to visit Potosi for yourself, check out the links below.  They go to my reviews on TripAdvisor for each location, and are more detailed than what’s written below.

20161104_174740318_ios

Panoramic view of the bus station in Sucre – with many different bus company options.

Friday

Thankfully, I start work pretty early (7:30am, while mostly people here don’t start until about 9), which means that I’m off work by 1:30pm each day, which is pretty great.  Normally, we take Spanish classes in the afternoon, but we skipped that day, and Steve met me right at my office with our duffle bag (which we had packed with clothes and such the night before).  We grabbed a cab to the bus station (10 Bs – $2), but we didn’t have tickets yet.  It turns out, there was no need to worry!  As soon as we exited the cab, there were people around us asking where we were going.  When one lady said Potosi, we said yes and she wrote us a ticket right there in the parking lots before we even finished taking our bags out of the car.  The price was only  20Bs each ($4) and it was leaving in 15 minutes – score!

20161106_190239018_ios  20161104_205009323_ios

The bus went through lots of mountains, valleys, and small towns.

We hung out for a bit, but then realized you need to go down a ramp to get to the actual waiting area.  I followed a guy to the bus and got on, but Steve got stuck behind.  Apparently you need to pay a terminal tax, so he paid his 2 Bs and got on the bus with me.  We left almost on time (within 15 minutes), but made some stops throughout the city to pick up more people along the way.  The bus wasn’t too bad.  We had enough leg/bag space under our seats, and there was a cute little boy in front of me who kept wanting to play peek-a-boo.  The changing view was pretty cool.  I always forget that Sucre is in a desert, and there were a lot of animals, little cities, dried river beds, and mountains to look at along the way.  Mostly I napped, read my book, and in 3.5 hours (including stops) we were there.  The Potosi bus station is obviously new and pretty fancy (a lot nicer than Sucre anyway).  We found our way to the front and grabbed a taxi to the city centre (which is about 15 minutes and 10-15 Bs).

20161104_192621742_ios  20161104_214910529_ios

Left: Sometimes I forget that Sucre is surrounded by desert.  Right: The new bus station in Potosi is a lot more fancy than the one in Sucre!

We got to our hotel (Hostal La Casona), and checked in.  Unfortunately, the room we reserved wasn’t available.  Instead of a room with a queen bed and attached bathroom, we got a room with 2 single beds and a shared bathroom.  But we’re not that picky, so we said okay and smushed our beds together – super romantic anniversary! 😛  We were hungry so we went to a restaurant by the hotel/center called 4.060 (which is the height of Potosi in metres).  I got the four-cheese ravioli with a blue margarita and Steve got the steak with a cappuccino.  We were both really impressed!  The food was delicious, we were served our dishes in less than 20 minutes even though it was busy, and the ambiance was really nice.  The funny part is that there was a group of 20 people from G Adventures there, and their guide had to explain the menu to them (including what “ensalada” meant).  Oh to be young and naïve….!

20161104_235133000_ios  20161106_211607000_ios

Left: Potosi is one of the highest cities in the world. Right: We saw a lot of animals along the way between cities.

After finishing our drinks, we walked through the plaza.  We didn’t know, but the International Cultural Festival was happening in Potosi.  It’s a really fun event, which already happened in Sucre in September.  Basically, there are free cultural events throughout the city for the whole month.  In Sucre, we went to see plays, dancing, concerts, etc. for free all the time.  So, we stumbled on one of these concerts in the plaza and we decided to stay and watch.  It was really pretty to see the cathedral all lit up with changing colours.  The folk musical was typical of Bolivia with a lot of flute action going on.  It was nice to see all different types of people (locals, kids, older people, expats) all gathered together and enjoying their time in the square.  There were even fireworks (probably not the safest but still fun).  I was glad that I had over-packed, since I ended up wearing my toque, gloves, scarf, and fleece once it got dark.  After a while, we decided to continue walking.

20161104_233314153_ios  20161104_230120578_ios

Left: We really enjoyed our dinner/drinks at 4.060.  Right: I love all the buildings at night. 

We decided to go to a bar that was supposed to have live music.  It’s called La Casona (the same name as our hotel, though it’s a few blocks away) and we found it easily.  There was no music playing, so we sat down and got some drinks.  Steve got a Pisco Sour (which we fell in love with while we were in Peru).  The Pisco Sour is a traditional Peruvian drink made from Pisco (a local alcohol), lemon, and it’s all whipped-up with egg-whites.  I decided to try the “hot-lemon with Singani” which is a local alcohol in Bolivia.  It wasn’t horrible – but it tasted a lot like Neocitran (something like a tea that you drink when you’re sick).  After 2 drinks and 2 hours, the band still hadn’t started.  However, just as we were leaving the band started practicing and they were charging a 20 Bs ($4) entrance to stay while the band was playing.  We headed back to our hotel to chill and sleep.

20161105_000936291_ios  20161105_002132093_ios

After leaving dinner we walked through the plaza, where there was a concert playing.  It’s the same festival that occured in Sucre in September – the International Cultural Festival – with tons of free events (concerts, theatre, etc.), across the city over the month.

Saturday

On Saturday we got up around 8:30, showered, and went to breakfast in the main patio area, but it was really unimpressive!  Like there was coffee/tea, juice, bananas, and stale bread with butter – we were starving.  Thankfully we brought snacks from home.  We were told there was an English tour at the Mint at 10, so we arrived at 9:45.  It turned out the tour was at 10:30, so we wandered the streets for a bit while we waited.  The mint (Casa Nacional de la Moneda) is right of the central square, and is quite spectacular, taking up 2 city blocks.  The entrance is a bit expensive compared to other museums (about 40 Bs. – $8), but it includes a guide in a variety of languages.

 

We learned a ton about the history of the city.  Hundreds of years ago, more than 70% of the silver in the world came from this little town, and was shipped back to Spain.  The town was full of rich people who extracted the silver and created products and coins, but also a lot of poor people (and animals) who died while extracting the precious minerals.  The mint also has 3 rooms upstairs filled with Baroque-style paintings from indigenous artists that inspired paintings to this day of the Virgin in the triangular shape of a mountain.  We learned about the history of coin making, the minerals found in the area, the actual work of making the coins in the mint for hundreds of years, and how the machines progressed and improved over time (they were originally powered by donkeys!).  The mine and mint in Potosi were actually so important that they got a special symbol for the coins produced there – after years of evolution, that symbol has involved to all the major currencies around the world – including the dollar ($) and the  pound (£), which are both stylized “S” with lines through them.

20161105_150545258_ios  20161105_141535049_ios

The mint was very interesting, and the tour was very informative.  The building is very well made, and some of the machines are still around from hundreds of years ago!

After the tour (which was about 1.5 hours) we wanted to check out a Saltena place for lunch.  Saltenas are similar to empenadas (basically dough wrapper with a filling of meat/veg – like a dumpling). We went to La Saltena (for some reason it’s not listed for Potosi, only in La Paz – but it’s right off the main square).  Unfortunately, they only had meat ones (I wanted cheese) so Steve got 2 and ate them in the square (Plaza 10 de Noviembre).  We tried to find a few other cafes and lunch places that were listed online, but they were all either closed or hidden, so we ended up at a fast-food place called Santa Clara.  The food was simple and cheap, but not bad.  Salchipapas (basically French fries with pieces of hot dog on top) is my new go-to fast-food dish in Bolivia!  After, I looked in a few shoe shops (mine are breaking apart), but didn’t have much luck (because I need very specific shoes for my crazy feet).  We were tired so we went back to the hotel to chill, and ended up sleeping for about 2 hours!

20161105_143855685_ios  20161105_161251550_ios

Left: A very famous painting depicting the Virgin in the Cerro Rico mountain of Potosi. Right: Steve eating saltenas in the plaza.

We decided we needed to get out of bed if we were going to do something else – since most museums and things close at 6pm (and it was already almost 4).  We got dressed and headed to what was supposed to be half-museum/half-handicraft shop, which sounded really interesting – but I don’t think it exists (or the address is totally wrong).  We went in a little shop at that address but the lady said it wasn’t a museum and then locked the door – I think she’s had strange tourists appear at her door before, lol.  We didn’t have anything else planned for the afternoon.  However, on our way into town from the bus station we had seen a circus.  I quickly turned on my 3G, looked on the map, and realized the stadium was only a 15-minute walk from where we were.  We started walking and we encountered this great little market filling the street.  I absolutely love markets, even if I don’t buy anything.  So much colour, interesting people, and strange items for sale!  Since we had an extra hour to kill we just wandered around in the market.  We did buy a few things (plug adapter, tie for Steve, nail clippers, and spare buttons), but mostly we just took it all in.

20161105_212659903_ios  20161105_213755871_ios

I love exploring local markets around the world.  It’s amazing what you can find there!

We walked through some sketchy part of town but eventually we found the stadium (Stadium Victor Agustin Ugarte).  Apparently it only starts right on time (since there’s 3 shows a day) so we wandered around again.  We bought lots of snacks to bring in with us (because in Bolivia it’s not prohibited – it’s encouraged!) from the lady selling snacks right outside the door.  The tickets seemed a bit expensive but it turns out that one ticket lets 2 people in – so we both got in for 30 Bs ($6).  It was a bit dark and sketchy in the tent…. There was fences and plastic chairs and a little stage.  But after it started I had fun.  Some of the things were hokey, but I think they were mostly meant for kids, and they enjoyed it.  For instance, there were clowns, funny singing, people dressed as minions, and Peppa Pig (which I had never even heard of before then). There was also actual professional gymnasts doing tricks on the trapeze, ring, handstands, and driving a motorcycle around a spherical cage.  They were all pretty cool, but I have to admit I was a bit concerned about the safety standards when the guy held the cage door closed with his hands while the motorcycle was driving around, and that it took 4 guys to pull on a rope for the gymnast on the ring, and then they just tied it to a pole and left while she was up there.  Overall, I’m glad we went – it was a fun evening.  But by the end we were totally freezing due to the concrete floor, plastic chairs, and gusts of wind entering the tent.

20161106_162730000_ios  20161105_003200760_ios

In the evening we watched a circus and took another walk through the plaza.

We took a cab back to the centre of town.  I think it was a shared taxi (which we didn’t know when we got in) because he kept picking and dropping other people off, but that’s fine, since we went directly to our destination..  We tried going to El Tenedor, which is supposed to be a more upscale restaurant near our hotel.  Unfortunately, the G adventures group was there, taking up the whole place (since it’s pretty small), so we had to find somewhere else.  Since we were freezing and lazy, we just went back to 4.060 because they have a huge menu, great food, and fast service.  I got some comfort food (creamy soup, mashed potatoes, and hot chocolate with Bailey’s) and Steve got a burrito (which he said was quite spicy but delicious).  Afterwards, we were totally exhausted so we went back to our hotel, watched a bit of dubbed movies (originally some American drama, now in Spanish), and passed out.

20161105_015140000_ios  20161105_003531483_ios

Left: Bolivia loves random fireworks from the plazas in cities.  Usually they don’t seem super safe, and they’re pretty loud, but fun!  Right: Large tower lit-up at night.

Sunday

Sunday was our lazy day.  Since the breakfast on Saturday left a lot to be desired, we slept through it instead, which was nice.  I chilled in bed while Steve showered, and then we both packed up our bags and checked out of the hotel just on time (10:30).  We tried to look up breakfast places online but we weren’t very successful.  Eventually we ended up back at 4.060 (because we’re soooo original!) but it was closed… 😛  So we walked back towards the plaza, but almost everything was closed, including all the cafes and restaurants.  Finally, we saw a sign that said “desayuno” so we decided to give it a try, even though we were the only one’s there.  It was a small place called Cherry’s Place, right by the main plaza.  Steve got an omelette, and I got an American breakfast (bread, butter, eggs, juice, and coffee).  It wasn’t amazing but it wasn’t horrible, and by the time we left there were 4-5 other tables of people in there.

20161106_143437475_ios  20161106_142200859_ios

Our hotel was decent.  We didn’t get a large bed, so we squished our single beds together in front of the bedside table (which was attached to the wall!) – so romantic. 😉

We saw some city buses headed to the bus terminal, but we were a bit confused about the difference between the new terminal and the old terminal so we decided to take a taxi.  We found one pretty quickly on the same street as our hotel, and we were at the bus station just before noon.  We got some water and juice at a small tienda in the station, and wandered around looking for where to buy the ticket.  It seems that all the ticket vendors are on the second floor so we headed up there, to where everyone was yelling different destinations.  Thankfully, the first person we saw was yelling Sucre.  So, we walked up to her, bought 2 tickets for the 12:45 bus, and went to wait a bit.  With about 20 minutes to go, we paid the terminal fee at the door (2 Bs.) and found our bus right away.  It was pretty comfy and empty, and it left right on time.

20161104_213800869_ios  20161104_205405699_ios

The typical dress of the older generation of women in Bolivia.

The bus stopped about 20 minutes later in town and filled up completely.  There was some drama about who was sitting in another person’s seat and people who wanted to sit beside each other, but we had no issues because we boarded at the terminal and were already settled in our seats.  It was a decent ride back – pretty warm in the sun but I read my book and watched the scenery.  Unfortunately, a lot of people put their seats all the way back, so Steve didn’t have room for his long legs, but it was manageable for a few hours until we were back in Sucre.  After getting off the bus, we collected our bag, grabbed a taxi, and headed home. It was a good weekend. 🙂

mine-tour-1  uyuni-2

P.S. This was not my first time to Potosi.  We also visited 2 years ago (June 2014) and did these other activities that you might enjoy.  We went into the mountain – Cerro Rico (with our hard hats and head lamps), we went on a very long tour of a convent – Convento Museo Santa Teresa (not my favourite, a bit long), and then we continued on to Salar de Uyuni (which was really cold at that time of year but a fun place to take pictures)!

Advertisements

About Amanda

Hi, I’m Amanda! Originally from Ottawa, Canada, I am currently living with my partner (Steve) in Sucre, Bolivia for the next year. I work in the unique space between industrial design and international development – but what does that even mean? I’m passionate about working WITH marginalized communities in a way that utilizes design to improve the lives of different types of people around the world. I have worked, studied, traveled, and researched on every continent (except Antarctica), and most recently I lived in Ghana, Bangladesh and Nepal. I love exploring new cultures and learning more about myself along the way.
This entry was posted in Bolivia - CUSO (2016/2017), Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Getting away from the city: A weekend in Potosi, Bolivia

  1. Pingback: Life as a Traveler vs. Life as an Expat | Expat Coffee Club

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s