After having found out that we would have to stay in Oruro an extra day before moving on, we decided to check out some local attractions. The first place we went was the mirador at the top of the Faro, a sort of lighthouse or beacon set on top of a huge rock near one of the edges of town. From there we had a spectacular view of Oruro. The city begins against several yellow-brown mountains, and then spreads across the plain below them. It was a long walk to get there, but from that high place we spotted some interesting buildings far off that we later walked past.
We tried to visit the Casa de la Cultura Patiño but could not because the workers there were on strike (though curiously they were still conducting tours for groups of five or more).
So we then went to the Museo Etnografico Minero, dedicated to the miners that made Oruro. Oruro was, at one time, a tin-producing powerhouse. But then came the 1980s and the tin market crashed. The museum itself began in a building adjacent to an old church. We descended into a real mine shaft, and a tour guide showed us around. He began by talking about the Tio, an idol-looking fellow with horns to whom miners give gifts of cigarettes, coca leaves, alcohol, or money, as a means to secure protection while working in the mines. The guide explained that the Tio was not meant to be the devil, but was rather a caricature of the Spanish overlords who forced the Indians to work the mines in cruel ways they never had before. (for instance, under the Inca Empire, the Indians only built tunnels as far as sunlight would go, because the sun was their god. The Spanish didn’t care and forced them to dig very deep) It was a very interesting experience. You could smell the sulfer and other smells. You could feel the mine floor tremble as dynamite was exploded in another nearby mine. There were also lots of pieces of old equipment and photos on display, including a display on how Indians would smuggle minerals out. A miner would put the minerals in a baby bottle and bring them to his wife outside the mine. She would pound it, and then put it into a roll of cloths meant to look like she had a baby. She would put this “baby” on her back and take the minerals into town. All in all, it was probably one of the coolest museums we’ve visited so far.
Outside the mine museum, we heard loud noises and saw lots of people gathered in the amphitheater-like plaza below the church. This is the area where Oruro’s world-famous Carnaval procession finishes each year. We went to check out what was going on… it was a protest in support of the transportation strikes going on in La Paz and Santa Cruz right now. Thankfully we made it out of La Paz in time to avoid any delays or hassles. We saw on the news this morning that not all tourists were so forward-thinking. Many of them hiked from La Paz to El Alto and then walked or rode bikes to the airport, hoping to get someplace else. Wow… I would hate to have had to endure that walk with all the luggage.
One other thing we did was to buy some sunglasses in preparation to our trip to the Salar (salt lake) de Uyuni. Unfortunately we couldn’t find anything good that would clip onto my glasses. So I bought some ridiculous early-90s style sunglasses that will fit over my regular glasses. No, friends you will never, ever get to see me wear them. After this trip, they will be donated to our nephew Papicho.
On our way back to the hotel, I spotted what appeared to be a genuine Apple computer dealer. I should explain that stores here liberally use logos people recognize, whether they really carry products from the company or not, or whether they are legally authorized to use it or not. So computer stores often have the rainbow Apple logo on their signs, but never sell Macs. But this one appeared to be genuine. This morning, we went to check it out. And it was very cool… This store has all the latest Apple stuff, and it’s all legitimate. They don’t sell pirate software (unlike 95% of the other computer vendors in the country). And somehow they’ve stayed in business 12 years, despite the fact that a 35% import tax makes the computers quite expensive. My hat is off to these folks for their hard work and their genuine love of the Mac.