We rolled into #Potosi in southern Bolivia on the afternoon of 22 March to be greeted with warm sun & blue skies. Some two hours later a 40 minute hailstorm caused chaos across the city, leading to floods in its lower areas and a city-wide power cut, and drenching our boots & a full set of clothes. Yet within two hours of the hail a march and rally was under way in the city centre in support of #MarParaBolivia (sea for Bolivia), with many schoolkids marching as they shivered. As did we.
Potosi sits in the south-western altiplano of Bolivia, and we reached it from Sucre with another stunning coach journey across country lasting about 4 hours. Potosi’s ‘new’ bus station is enormous, and appeared very underused. An old banger of a taxi took 3 of us into the city centre for just 15 bolivianos though. At a height of some 4100m Potosi is one of the highest cities in the world, and one of the most tragic given its history under colonialism & after independence in 1826 – it’s gone from one of the richest & largest cities in the world during it’s silver boom in the 16th & 17th centuries, to one of the poorest & saddest places in Bolivia today, although it retains some pride in its turbulent history & capacity for rebellion.
The hailstorm hit as we were checking out the city centre based around the Plaza 10 de Noviembre. It was so heavy people hid inside or in doorways. Roads became briefly impassable and uncrossable, and it took us 45 minutes to cover the 100m back to our hostal, which we found to be full of leaks as the icey hail sat on roofs and refused to run off. We were not as unfortunate though as the locals who were flooded out or deluged with mud!
Thursday 23 March saw Potosi’s full participation in the national ‘Day for the Sea for Bolivia’. For Potosi the loss of the sea to Chile in the 1879-83 War for the Pacific is personal, as it had a huge negative impact on the cities fortunes – silver, tin & other minerals mined in the region had been exported via Bolivia’s coastline, and this outlet was lost in the war. Many Potosina’s who fought in that war also lost their lives. So from early morning until lunchtime we witnessed marches & parades by various sections on the community, including schoolkids, government workers, and a sizeable military contingent. Potosi’s sense of being under threat from Chile continues today, this time over continuing Chilean claims to access the water supplies at Silala in the Andes
And then in the afternoon it rained again, but fortunately by then we were visiting Potosi’s ‘Casa de la Moneda‘ (or National Mint of Bolivia) museum. This is set on the site of the second ‘mint’ built in Potosi (first in 1572, second in 1757), and was a reminder of its past wealth & colonial exploitation. Here the silver mined nearby was truned into bars & coins to be shipped to Spain; it also produced coins for Bolivia & many other countries from silver & tin, as ever though the workforce endured appalling conditions of forced labour and many deaths. It was enough to make you shiver, and shiver we did through another cold night.