Friday morning we headed over to the Plaza 24 de Septiembre at the heart of Santa Cruz. The scenic cathedral at one corner of the plaza, the Basilica Menor de San Lorenzo, opened a mirador several years ago. In 2008, we tried to go up, but could not because we got there after 11:30 a.m. and it closed at noon.
We got a late start to our morning (as we usually do), and it was looking like this attempt would turn out to be a repeat of two years ago. But we got to the cathedral right on time and had no problems going up.
Maybe we are a little crazy, climbing twisty stairs with four children in tow, just for a nice view. But we like church towers, faros, and observation towers. That’s the way we roll.
Thursday morning we decided to take the girls to visit Santa Cruz’s Plaza.
A couple years ago they sort of revamped the plaza. They removed many trees and made other changes. At the time it didn’t look so good, but now that the trees have grown back it looks much better. There are also city guards all over the place who keep away street vendors and vagrants. This is somewhat controversial, but I suppose it does make the Plaza more inviting for tourists.
Saturday morning we headed over the San Francisco, an old church in Potosi. The guide was young and energetic and showed us lots of interesting things. We started by looking at paintings on the four walls surrounding a large courtyard, mostly on the subject of San Francisco de Assisi. Then we went into the main church sanctuary and he showed us the miraculous image of the Señor de la Veracruz. It’s a giant sculpture of Jesus on the cross made from one piece of cactus. It’s really quite beautiful. The “miraculous” part comes from the story of its origin. The statue showed up unexpectedly on the church’s doorstep one day, but headless. Then three guys came to town and offered to fashion a head. Not knowing these guys, they were asked to stay isolated in a room for three days, which they did. They never ate a thing. When the people went to the room to see why they weren’t eating, the dudes were gone. The statue of Jesus suddenly had a head, and it looked as if it had been part of the statue from the very beginning.
After a very late check-in, we slept in and started our first day in Potosi around 11 a.m. At first we were thinking of switching hotels since the one we were at was a bit pricey and not everything was working as it should (tv, telephone, toilet, lamp, etc). But eventually these problems were fixed and we decided to stay.
We went to the Torre de Compañia de Jesus and climbed to the top where we had a spectacular view of the city and Cerro Rico (“rich mountain”), the mountain that made Potosi wealthy and famous. You see, silver was discovered in Cerro Rico, and that led to a mining boom. The truth is that during colonial times, Potosi was the largest city in the Americas and the source of enormous wealth for the Spanish empire. This led to the construction of tons of beautiful churches and buildings across the city. But all this came at the expense of the lives of Indians from across the region forced to work as slaves in miserable conditions in the mines.
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.