A Travellerspoint blog

Valparaiso, Chile


wow! What a place. Exploring the hillside barrios of this place is like stepping into the Isabel Allende book "daughter of fortune" (thanks heidi!). So full of colour and individual contrasts. The places range from parodies of the one in the original "psycho" film to more of a "home on the range" idea, but all jumbled together and each paint job trying to outdo the next. pinks, neons, pastels, and each framework with bundles of charm.

The worst building in town is also the biggest, and it was built at the order of that fanny (there is not better word for some people than a good scottish one) General Pinochet (or was it pistachio?). He decided to buuild a senate edifice on the site of his boyhood home (egoism knows no boundaries) and so legislators have to dash constantly between here and santiago. So many politicians and lawmakers are being stopped (and fined...chilean police are quite uncorruptable) for speeding on the 2hr journey that seerates these 2 distinctive cities.

What a great place though, although a wee bit chile :)

Posted by mark92 16:29 Comments (0)

UPDATE-svenska hogskolan


check oot

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Salar Uyuni




We just did one day as time is very short, so we didnt see the red lagoon or the flamingos.

started with a short visit to the "cemeterio del tren", where all the old industrial trains ended up. Felt like a wee boy again crawling and exploring. Great sepia flicks as well.

photos uploaded soon on the msn spaces site.

blasted from there in our 4 wheel drive across to the isla incahuasi, which was as sublime as it was surreal.

in the middle of a alt desert, where the tiny surface water reflects the sky in a disorientating way, you run into an island covered in cacti upto 12m tall and 1200 years old (they grow about 1mm pa)

back to uyuni after some fun photos, to be confronted the next day witha boneshaking 8 hour journey to Tupiza along a dry riverbed.

Very cheap night in tupiza, then 2 hours to the argentinian border. Change of bus, nice sunrise (bus was at 4am :)) then further 8 hours to salta, Argentina.

Posted by mark92 08:55 Comments (0)

Cerro RICO Potosi :highest city in the world

workers pay homage to "tio" the devil inside the mine, as this is his domain inside pachamama (mother earth)...outside they pray to the catholic God.


This was one of the best experiences of the trip. NOt in a happy, smiley way, but in a reality check way.

We were equipped with masks and head lights. We had signed a disclaimer saying we understand this is a real mine and we would not hold the operators responsible for accidents. 10 years ago,a team of european engineers gave the prinicpal tunels 5 years at most before cave in. Not the best statistic to learn when you are down there.

Our guide was witty and kept us laughing, as an antidote to the very oppresive feeling of crawling on your belly through dark tunnels thick with dust, seeing 8 year old kids trotting past you, and feeling some serious heat.

we saw the refineries beforehand, which was enlightening, and the day before we had seen the casa de la moneda, the place where the spaniards minted the coins before shipping them off. Recently, 400 million pounds worth of sunken spanish dubloons were found, the overwhelming majority of which goes to the divers.

It’s so poor, it makes you want to weep,” says Bolivian historian Valentin Abecia. He’s not exaggerating. A visit to Potosi, which helped to maintain the splendour of Europe from the 16th to the 18th centuries, is today a spine-chilling experience.
Around two billion ounces of silver were extracted from the city’s Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain) during the Spanish colonial era. Cerro Rico silver paved Potosi’s streets, fuelled the European Renaissance and helped fund the “Invincible Armada”, the Spanish fleet that sailed against Elizabethan England in 1588.
But today Potosi is dying. “When a mine closes, all that’s left is a ghost town,” says the city’s mayor, René Joaquino. Something of Potosi ebbs away whenever a seam of metal is exhausted or world mineral prices drop. Most of the mines closed down after a crisis in 1985 and many people left for good. Two years later, when the Bolivian government introduced new incentives to mining, unemployed miners began to trickle back and set up 50 co-operatives.

Most of the city’s population of around 120,000 are Quechua Indians, who live by scratching at what is left in the old mines. They have no access to modern technology and no social security protection. There is practically no middle class in Potosi.

In 1572, in colonial times, Spanish Viceroy Francisco de Toledo created a system of forced labour called “la mita”. Every seven years, for a period of four months, all males between 18 and 50 were ordered to work in the mines. They were paid a pittance and rarely saw the light of day. Eighty per cent of the male population of the 16 provinces of the viceroyalty of Peru died in these conditions. “Every peso coin minted in Potosi has cost the life of 10 Indians who have died in the depths of the mines,” wrote Fray Antonio de la Calancha in 1638.

Mining methods have changed little over the years. The miners still toil from dawn till dusk. Generators pump air into the tunnels so they can breathe. Children still wriggle into tiny places where adults cannot go. Working sometimes for 10 hours or more a day in extreme temperatures, the miners keep going by chewing coca leaves. Two-thirds of the population have respiratory ailments.
“Barely 20 per cent of the mine-workers are actually members of the co-operatives,” says Joaquino. “The other 80 per cent are casual labourers who earn next to nothing. They are peasant migrants from the north, the poorest part of the department of which Potosi is the capital.”
The historic centre of Potosi, where the Spanish settlers once lived, is today home to a small middle class. It is ringed by a poverty belt inhabited by miners who work in the co-operatives. Both these areas are surrounded by a wider poverty belt filled with those who have fled the hunger of the countryside to hire themselves out as unskilled labourers in the mines.

Peasant women from the north come to the city to beg. They sleep on the ground in the markets, numb with cold, cradling in their arms the babies they have brought with them. Bernardina Soles has had 10 children. Five of them have died–a grim reminder of an infant mortality rate of 135 per 1,000. Her dream is to take some of her children away from her home village, where they could only have two years of primary schooling. The illiteracy rate in the department of Potosi is 30.8 per cent.

It was saddening, to think that the city dwellers (highest city in the world by the way) are faced with that red giant from every angle....a constant reminder of how much wealth has been exploited from their territory, and from which they have hardly benefitted. 92.3% work there for lack of other options...a curse, if you ask me.

Posted by mark92 08:42 Comments (0)


reality check in La Paz




"How much is the night bus to Sucre?" I asked the brown-shirted desk clerk; a young guy with an anxiously honest air about him.

"30 bolivianos, señor.....how much is a flight to your country?"

Momentarily taken aback in an i´m-asking-the-questions kind of way, I then replied; playing down the price to make it seem a bit more attainable.

"$800, return ticket." He still seemed speechless.

Of course, in a country where almost two thirds live below the UN poverty line, such options are out of reach.

Bolivia's 2002 gross domestic product (GDP) totaled USD $7.9 billion. Not a large amount by any stretch of the imagination.

"Bolivia’s current lackluster economic situation can be linked to several factors from the past two decades. The first major blow to the Bolivian economy came with a dramatic fall in silver prices during the early 1980’s which impacted one of Bolivia’s main sources of income and one of its major mining industries. The second major economic blow came from the end of the Cold War in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s as economic aid was withdrawn by western countries who had previously tried to keep a “democratic” regime in power through financial support. The third economic blow came from the U.S. sponsored eradication of the Bolivian coca crop which was used in 80% of the worlds’ cocaine production at its peak. Along with the reduction in the coca crop came a huge loss of income to the Bolivian economy, particularly the peasant classes."

source: wikepedia

In short, the chances of most of the populace escaping across the Atlantic are negligible.

On this journey, I have had this conversation countless times:

Juan doe: How much did your skateboard cost in Scotland?
me: about $240
Juan doe: but how can you afford that?
me: Our average wage is about $32,000 p.a
Juan doe: so you´re really really rich!
me: well....sure, we have a higher standard of living, in the way we measure such things, but, for example, a loaf of bread costs $2.
Juan doe: What, but surely you can´t afford that!
me: but.... (a bit exasparated by now)

I give in consistently. I have tried to convey the fact that we still have disturbing rates of violence in Scotland, alongside homelessness, poverty, drug addiction and all the rest. I find it a stiff challenge, however, to modify peoples unwavering and iconic faith in the promised lands of the USA and Europe.

I tell them about the prowling packs of rangey kids on the streets of Edinburgh, pulling knives on you for no reason, other than to vent repressed issues as mindless malevolence on the weakest prey they can find. I tell them about our alcohol problems, bad weather, unemployment, naive racism; in short, all the badness i can conjure up. I´m trying to soften things. I know that there´s not much chance these guys will ever see Europe anyway, and that I should leave them with a dream unscathed, but the fear that they don´t understand the truth is more compelling.

It cuts no ice in any case. Apart from the weather, Bolivia has all these problems with bells on. This is not a lever i can use to balance perspective.

Memories come to my aid.

A truck in La Paz whipping past...gorged to the gunnels with smiling familes; their cheeks bulging with coca leaves...
being able to bargain with shop assistants in a large chain supermarket, of all places, and striking a nice price for my milk, fruit and beer...
wild unlicensed parties that break out all over city streets with no complaints and no apparent reason...
kids playing jump-over-the-sheep in the gathering darkness on the road to copacobana...not an adult in sight...their smiles still visible in the rolling mist of the altiplano...
everything for sale, everywhere, people on the streets trading all night...want to be a taxci driver today? just buy a taxi sticker from a guy at the traffic lights...no driving license? ...get one from the police for a minimal fee...

The government here can´t`play big brother, as it lacks the social infrastructure, and perhaps the inclination too; there are priorities.

Compare this to Sweden, for example, where the Systembolaget system dictates where and when you can buy alcohol, sell it to you in faceless state-owned outlets at highly uncompetitive prices (where´s the incentive to do otherwise?), then plough you with leaflets at the checkout extholing the virtues of sobriety.

I don´t believe the government should be in our lives any more than is strictly necessary. "Man is free, but everywhere in chains" right enough.

It´s not just the greater distance from interventionist laws the people enjoy here, there´s more.

The smile, laugh and dance with greater abandon. They do not exist through and are not defined by gadgets and routines to the extent of the western european. Life is hard here, but the people are so profoundly aware of the proximity of death and decay that they hold on tighter. They appreciate what they have so much more, in my opinion.

HOw many times have i bumped into a friend from high school in my home town, enquired as to how things are going, and been met with one or both of these replies:

"daeín (doing) away, daeín away"
or "workin away, workin away"[b]

Away to what? Death? Killing time before it kills you? What kind of way is that to justify the one-in-a-billion chance that you exist at all? Bolivians have nothing compared to us in materialistic terms, but they do maintain a sense of tradion and connection with life that makes me glad indeed to witness.

A taxi driver in Cochabamba even claimes that they lost their coastline to Chile, an event lodged deeply in the bolivian psyche, because they were partying too hard. The Chilean force sneaked in admist the festivities and secured the port.All this celebrating in a year with the worst drought on record in the countrys ostensibly miserable history!

When do the scots celebrate our common heritage? What traditions are truly alive in the main flow of society? Why are the pubs a hundred times fuller on St Patricks day than St Andrews? It is a sad state of affairs that people only get passionate about shared history when we play England at football. sad indeed.

The streets of my home town are dead at night. Only the pubs show a spark of life. People no longer seem to lean over fences and chat, like they did in my childhood. We add more bricks to our divisions, face the TV instead of each other more and more commonly, and invest time and money in objects of silicon and plastic, which slowly waste to leave only a subtle sense of something lacking.

Each feather in our nest makes us more comfortable, but higher from the ground; further from the realities of life, which connect us all...or so we would like to thing...you need not read Lord of The Flies to understand how thin a veneer surrounds us. I wrote a poem about this during a hangover day at Uni:

"what remains of c´est la vie?
A trite and tested a-b-c
whose ethos rests upon a ledge
held up by ignorances pledge"

"So don´t you like Bolivia?" I asked him straight as he printed my bus ticket.

Looking apologetically at his colleague, he shrugged and smiled.
"yes...sort of, but I would be so much happier in Europe"

I wouldn´t bet on it, I thought. On the other side of the fence as we are, we are rapidly forgetting just how green the grass is.

Posted by mark92 12:53 Comments (0)

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