Lake trekking in Potosi and train cemetery in Uyuni

September 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

My last day in Potosi I spend doing a one day trekking tour on my own into the Kari Kari Mountains, right east of the city of Potosi. I mainly went there because in the valleys of these mountain range, the Spanish under Viceroy Toledo constructed a network of 32 artificial lakes, to make sure that there is always enough water for the silver processing industry in Potosi (e.g. machines that flattened the big silver pieces where powered by water power). Of course, the Spanish didn’t work themselves but forced around 20.000 indigenous people to work for them. The contrusction took almoust half a century (remember, that happened more than 400 years ago).

Nowadays, only a few but big lakes remain and supply water to the city of Potosi. I found these lakes interesting because that shows that the Spanish did not only take all the silver out of Bolivia and forced the Bolivians to work for them under terrible conditions, but they also changed their landscape a lot.

The lakes are at an altitude of about 4500-5000 Meters, so taking my equipment up there was quiet some work. And to do some interesting landscape photographs can be really difficult. I haven’t spent to much time on landscape photography yet, but just moving a couple meters to the right or left can change perspectives a lot. I ended up climbing up a hill, higher and higher, and I think the better shots were from up there. Had to think of Ansel Adams.

One of many many lamas I’ve seen on the way to the lakes.

So, after spending some time in Potosi which has a lot of history in (silver, tin) mining I have seen enough of what happened in the past. So it was time to head to Uyuni, where I hoped to see the future of mining, the lithium mining.
This is a snapshot out of the bus on the way from Potosi to Uyuni. The landscape is very dry and deserty, and the street is only let’s say optimistically 50 % paved. The rest was just sandy dirt tracks, which made the bus really slow.

But compared to 2003 when I was here the last time, road quality has improved a lot and one can see that there is a lot of construction work going on. Honestly, I was really surprised how good some streets were. Bolivia with good roads, that somehow doesn’t fit 🙂

Uyuni is a very cold,windy, small city of about 18.000 people, high up on the Altiplano and only a few kilometeres away from the salt lake “Salar du Uyuni”. Today, it’s not much more that a tourist place from where everybody starts a 3 or 4 day tour through the salt lake and the national park in the south, close to the Chilean and Argentinian border. The landscape here is extremely beautiful and special, so almost everybody who visits Bolivia comes here for some time.

Uyuni used to be a important place because the railways coming from Argentina and Chile came together here, so it was pretty much the entrance to Bolivia. Now, train service is very limited and only one route is being used.

Just out of the city though, there is a “train cemetery” with old abandoned wagons etc. Wired place. .

Of course I keep photographing on film and do only once in a while a digital snapshot. This polaroid I took of the TV room of my hostal. The room is completely build out of salt, and has a yellow plastic roof. It’s a strange hostal anyways, so I did somemore  interieur shots.

I’ll let you with these impressions and might not update this blog for a few days, as I will see the lithium pilot plant tomorrow and then travel the backcountry a little bit. But there is hardly any electricity there, so my laptop won’t work, and you’ll believe me that there will be no internet cafes at all…

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