Day 75: Work in Progress

Sat.27th October 2012

Cathedral under repairThis morning we have some more time to explore Potosi before catching our bus to Sucre. We wanted to get a good view of the city so headed to the Cathedral which is under repair but we had heard the tower was open to climb. It took us two attempts and persistence to locate the entrance as it was through a corrugated temporary door and into a courtyard where the tickets were sold by a lady in what looked like her kitchen! We were shown through the cathedral itself which was full of scaffolding, paint, temporary wiring and other hazards to avoid, to the staircase at the back of the building.

Hidden entrance to CathedralThe windy unlit staircase was a challenge and the opening to the bells was definitely a health and safety issue as there was no railing to stop you falling back down the steps! However the views both inside and outside from the bell tower were well worth the persistence of finding the entrance. The town is dominated by Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain), popularly conceived as being made of  silver ore.

View from Bell Tower

Some others of our group went to the 9am English Tour around the Mint / Silver Museum where I visited yesterday whilst Dave was at the mine. The Silver museum is in the old mint building which was constructed between 1753 and 1773 in order to make coins for Spain from the silver collected in the mines at Potosi.  Since 1951 coins have not been made in Bolivia, but are made mainly in Chile, as the Bolivian Government believe it is cheaper.

Poor horsesThe first coins were called Macuquinas which is derived from Quechua meaning to hammer. This was because the original coins were hammered  (by hand) into shape. The coins were shipped over to Spain in huge galleons. The then King of Spain sent large wooden machines by ship from Cadiz to Rio to modernise production. These were installed at the mint over two floors and horses where brought in from Argentina to turn the wheels. The horses worked 10 hour days and they only survived about 3 months in those conditions. The conditions were tough for the workers as well especially in the smelting room where mercury was extracted from the silver ore.

Huge machines driven by steamThe value of the coins was based on weight, but whilst in circulation pieces of silver were stolen by chopping fragments from the edges. Some coins ended up almost square. To overcome this the next coins were made of a slightly lower percentage of silver mixed with copper to make then harder and also the rims were marked with the ridges still found on coins today.

The museum still had the old steam engine which ran these newer machines to produce the coins to supersede the large wooden cog wheel machines powered by the horses, which would have fascinated my dad, but we were rushed through this part of the museum. I could have spent twice as long there but the guided tour did not allow that.

SAM_2141The museum also includes colonial paintings and many silver artefacts which were made in the silver boom when there was an abundance of silver, including this local famous picture depicting the religious beliefs of the mountain.

It was back into our small bus to Sucre for an uneventful but hot journey.

As we have three nights in Sucre we headed off to a tour organiser called Joy riders where we could decide what activities we wanted to do during our stay.

The first activity we opted for was a dinner and show of dances from different cities in Bolivia and also of South American origin. This was quite a fun evening with energetic dancing and colourful costumes. However I am looking forward to seeing Brazilian and Argentinian dancing.

We are very happy to have three nights in one place and no more long bus transfers for a while. However, the list of potential things to do in Sucre is very long and I suspect that we will again run out of time before we get a chance to see and do everything. If only weren’t taking such a short break!

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