Getting there: Making our way to Uyuni

We walk across the tarmac after taking our first intra-Bolivia flight from Santa Cruz to Sucre.

Our goal for Day 2 of our Bolivia trip was to get from Santa Cruz in the lowlands up to the town of Uyuni in the altiplano. From there, we would set out a three-day adventure on the great Salar de Uyuni, a vast salt flat, and nearby deserts. Yoli and I had previously visited the salar on a one-day tour as part of our epic trip across Bolivia’s altiplano cities about 18 years ago.

But this time would be different. We were bringing the whole family, taking a three-day tour, and coming during the dry winter season, rather than the wet summer season.

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Blackthorn: A movie about Butch Cassidy actually filmed in Bolivia

Last night Yoli and I watched a movie called “Blackthorn.” The premise is that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were not killed at San Vincente, Bolivia in 1908. The film follows Cassidy around 1928 as he prepares to come back to the United States.

It’s a great western, with action and twists. But the best part is that it was filmed mostly in Bolivia and has Bolivian actors in it.

I have seen Robert Redford’s version of the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with Yoli, and it’s kind of pitiful the way all the Bolivia scenes were filmed in Mexico. Similar deal with the recent James Bond ‘Quantum of Solace’ film — all the Bolivian scenes were filmed in other countries, and the actors weren’t Bolivian.

“Blackthorn” shows off some of Bolivia’s most beautiful features, including the Salar de Uyuni, which I visited with Yoli in 2005. Cassidy has a ranch, possibly in Chuquisaca, and visits Potosi and Oruro among other places. The amazing landscapes and towns really make you feel like you’re in the right time period, and it also gives this western a different vibe (Bolivia has a different look than the American west).

The cast includes many Bolivians, and the story takes into account Bolivia’s history. Mining and colonialism definitely figure into it.

I can’t say enough about the film. Go rent it!

Eating etiquette

Sunday morning we had been scheduled to visit the thermal waters in Potosí with Yoli’s Tio David and the rest of his family. However, this didn’t work out because they had problems with their car. Instead they invited us to lunch.

We got to see his house, which us undergoing some major construction as they add a second story. We also got to meet two of his children: Karina (with her husband) and Daniel. Daniel is studying linguistics and speaks some English, so we had interesting conversation with him.

But something gave me a feeling I was getting into something over my head.

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Churches, convents, and crypts, oh my!

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.

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Potosi, highest city in the world

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.

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