Monday, May 28, 2012

Santa Cruz, Bolivia

An overnight bus from Sucre, we arrived Santa Cruz bus terminal.

Our host, Rafael, suggested us taking a taxi to his place. As he said, going downtown was only B$18.

The town was in a circular zone system and Rafael's apartment in city centre was actually in zone 1.

We arrived at around 7am, rang the bell and no one answered. After a while, we quited. We left our backpack in the lobby and went for a walk in the neighborhood.

We found a wet market with food stores selling fish soup, pescaderia with huge fish cut into fillets, a few vegetable and fruit stalls, some shoes repair and clothes repair stalls and food stall selling yogurt with fruit salad, fresh juice, fresh empanadas, bread, coffee and tea. The fish soup costing only B$10 was so great! The meaty river fish goes well with the finely chopped parsley and spring onion. They goes with yucca, corn and lemon. We also had a small jug of fresh papaya juice, then coffee and empanadas. We are very glad to fill our stomach with all cheap local breakfast stalls. And I'm able to get my torn pant repair with B$10.

We returned to the apartment and found the guys just woke up.

Rafael is a 5th year medical student from Brazil, who lived with 2 others schoolmates. Eduardo is of the same year and Ricardo is in 4th year. We appreciate their hospitality despite their examination week.

We took care of ourselves by visiting the markets, museums and planning a 3d/2n trip to Samaipata, a serene town 2-3 hours away from Santa Cruz, which is close to Amboro National Park, with the hope that we could find cheaper ways to hike there on our own.

we came across the Bolivian pageant events for the sponsor of the crown
We checked a few travel agencies, which offer Amboro National Park trips for its South and North part. The unique climate make the North park a tropical forest, with trees and forest and a variety of birds, while the south part with more mountain, waterfall and subtropical setting. A 3d/2n trip cost over B$1000 each. The more joining, the cheaper. But we found no companion, so we searched more information and found that Samaipata would be a near and accessible town by public transport.

Our first two days in Santa Cruz was walking around town. We had lunch with the 3 Brazilian guys in a food court of a shopping mall, having churrasco, barbecue beef with rice and other assortments. Then, we went for a walk in downtown.

In the central area, there is the plaza and church. And the tourism information centre, along with some museums.

We stayed in an unusually tall building in Calle Cuellar, which is nearby the Los Pozos market. There are 2 more plazas around town.

We reached the museum, Museo Ethno-Folklórico in park El Arenal near Los Pozos market and found its closed and workers are bringing in logs. We don't know I'd it's under renovation or changing to something else.

Actually, we don't have much luck in Santa Cruz, except the unforgettable fish soup and nice, cheap fresh fruit juice. We visited the modern art museum on Sunday, which said it will be opened at 3pm-6pm on Sunday, when we reached there at 11:30am. We hanged around in the market and Central for some fruit juice and icecream, returned and found that the door was locked.

The first night, we made some Chinese fried rice for the guys. Eduardo prepared shisha after dinner and we had a good time chatting. (hope we haven't disturbed their study)

The second night, we visited a restaurant, Casa del Camba, recommended by Rafael and LP, which is famous for local specialties and parrilla. We reached there are only found groups and groups of tourist. It's a nicely furnished restaurant, with live music and a 2 person parrilla set, beer and a jug of chicha (local alcohol brewed by corn) cost us a total of B$144. Not too bad for tourist price, but the barbecue plate was composed of not thoroughly washed grilled kidney, liver, intestines (still keeping the unpleasant odor of beef) and there was only 1 piece of steak and 1 piece of sausage.

We spent 3 days in Samaipata and returned on Saturday to join Rafael birthday party. They started a barbecue in the roof top from mid day, while Ricardo was the chef. It goes on all day with beer, whiskey and nonstop jugs of caipirinha. The guys are all trashed and we managed to sneak out buying bus ticket for the next day. Being too old to party overnight, we see the young ones off at 1am, guys refreshed in shirt and pants, girls in full makeup and dazzles heading for pub to dance the night away.

A little more walk around town, we left on Sunday late afternoon. The house was still a little chaotic for the maid to sort it out, probably on Monday.

Good luck to the guys on their exam week and we are happy to join a great birthday party celebrated in Brazilian style.


離開有高樓大廈的小城Santa Cruz,我們往北走,坐了12小時通宵車到Trinidad。其實我們的目的地是再坐12至30小時巴士的 Rurrenabaque。(究竟是12定30?似乎距離很大呢!?)

Rurrenabaque 又名Rurre,是玻利維亞景點中少有的低地,只有海拔105米,因地近亞馬遜盆地,是經河流 Río Bení遊熱帶雨林及到國家公園Parque Nacional Madidi 的出發點。








車上滿是貨物,有番茄、枱、櫈、一堆木磨、大大小小的箱子,用滿是沙麈的帆布包裹。木板以外,我們便靠在帆布上。車上可能實在太髒,不到一天我臉上已長出粒粒,雙手又開始敏感起來,長出一排排的小泡泡。自巴西Isla Grande開始的,擦了近一個月敏感藥本來痊愈,真麻煩。


這段路是這國出名的難路, 好多貨車中途停了,我哋估就算我們等多一日撘巴士,也會遭同一命運,可能更慘,因為大巴士上唔到木筏






起行了末夠一小時,我睡到半夢半醒,正被旁邊細路的臭腳踢在我肚子上,車停了下來。司機可能太疲倦 ,居然泥足深陷,剷進泥潭中,不能動彈。






車行龜速,終於到晩上才到了San Borja。





呢段路程 (Trinidad-Rurre),如果你唔嫌辛苦或好鍾意睇雀,咁就去啦,我哋就一定無下次,寧願經Cochabamba。

Sunday, May 20, 2012



一) Empanadas南美餃子批

乜東東:看似巨型餃子,有焗的、有炸的,餡料可以是火煺芝士、洋蔥芝士、肉碎、雞肉、蛋、雜菜、魚蓉、海鮮、粟米、提子乾、萍果、朱古力或香蕉玉桂等,在智利的一個海邊城市Antofagasta的魚巿場,Terminal Pesquero,我們也試過鮮蝦、魷魚、 蟹肉做的empanadas。總括來說,是南美普遍的快餐主食(常見的有3個empanadas加1支汽水的套餐),亦可作上、下午點心、午餐、晩餐、甚至宵夜。

Empandas in Buenos Aires
Empanadas in Buenos Aires 2

first trial in Buenos Aires
second trial

home-made empanadas in Paraguay



our first pizza bought in Buenos Aires


first homemade pizza in BsAs
second production in BsAs
third production in BsAs



在Buenos Aires,一個現做的淨mozzarella 芝士pizza最便宜的可以是Ar$8,但同一家連鎖店在不同區,也會有不同價錢,一般要 Ar$18-22 不等。

三)燒烤asado/ parrilla/ churrasco
Parrilla by Felipe@Montevideo
在阿根廷及烏拉圭會叫parrilla,阿根廷南部有時會叫作asado; 在巴西則叫Churrasco。巴拉圭近阿根廷及巴西邊境,兩者也可以找到。可見南美人很愛燒烤。


Parrilla @ Pablo's vacation house

當然也有大量的parrilla餐廳,總有一個火紅紅的爐作招來。除可以分開叫一款肉食,伴沙律、薯條,也有一些二至四人份的Parrillada mixta。

阿根廷燒烤一般會伴以沙律、麵包及叫Chinichurri的醬汁吃。Chimichurri是以芫茜, 蒜泥, 油及檸檬汁合成。有時亦會加紅椒絲調味。




將Matambre名字分開 "mata" 及 "hambre" ,字面解作 "hunger killer" - 肚餓殺手,可作頭盆或主菜。 近意大利系的阿根廷食品,廣受歡迎。以平、扁、長的一大片肥牛柳,卷住蔬菜、蛋及香草,扎成一卷,然後水煮或焗,切片上碟,可凍食或熱食。不同的蔬菜為肉卷添上色彩,與chimichurri醬及蔬菜同吃。

五)Patagonian羊Cordero Patagonia
羊怪在Patagonia有福了!在阿根廷南部Rio Gallego 的肉店(carneceria) 買的羊肉又嫩、又香、沒騷味,又比lomo牛排平一半,1kg只售Ar$30,一日吃了兩餐還嫌不夠。


Saturday, May 19, 2012

About miners in Potosi

Before we start the mine tour, here are some advise from Julio, our wonderful guide Julio Morales of Greengo Tour (

1) This is not a show but real life of miners, don't expect the trip to be fun and entertaining. The miners are not doing a show for us, instead we are seeing their real life. Life being underground, with dust and narrow, wet cave, without much fresh air would not be easy. However, it would definitely be an eye opener.

2) It is Bolivia. Accept local culture, don't compare with your local country, accept the differences and respect.

3) Miners lead a hard and dangerous life, they are superstitious, accept their culture.

4) These are guys, sometimes they tell dirty jokes or are curious about female tourist. Be polite and respectful but also keep boundary.

5) Miners are not animals in South African safari - they are human! Ask them for permission first if you want to take pictures.

6) The mine is their real work place. They are working! Keep out of the way.

7) They like drinking on Friday, it's better to drink with them if they offer.

8) Miners will drink from the same glass or bottle, respectfully decline if you don't want to share, (they got dark teeth after chewing the coca leave), never pull a long face in disgust, again they are humans too! This would upset them.

9) Shake hands and say hi to them when you meet.

10) Drink and hold glass with your right hand.

11) Follow guide's instructions at all time, especially inside the cave.

12) In case you feel discomfort, tell the guide directly. A shorter trip inside the mine doesn't affect quality of the tour if the guide is good.

We arrived 9am sharp at Greengo. Julio was waiting and it's like a private tour, it turned out there were only 2 of us.

We walked to the plaza, caught a micro and arrived at the Miner's market.

We are expected to buy gift for the workers, a small amount of around B$20-30 each. Those would be stuffs that miners need or something to keep them happy.

It's funny that the market and stores become our life demonstration classroom, Julio explained everything in detail and probably because we will buy something afterwards, the owners let us do everything, like tasting, touching, making post to take picture with annoyed look (though).

What can we find in the Miner's Market?
1) Coca leaves
It's actually raw material of cocaine (Adley: I thought it was chocolate !). The hawkers need licenses and usually get them from La Paz. The locals see it as herbal medication, especially to keep miners awake and not feeling hungry when they keep a chunk of coca leaves in the cheek. (That's why every miner have a little ball on one side of their face like a goldfish!) You hold the stem, tear the leaves away on the sides with your teeth, don't chew but keep all leaves like a ball and keep on your cheek for 3-4 hours. There are some dried potato kind of vegetables (ilucta) that are sold in the store that helps the process and bring out flavor of the leaves. We tried, Adley felt a little numb in his tongue and I only feel the little bitterness.

2) Alcohol
Miners love alcohol and because they are not rich, they will drink some 95% alcohol and mix with water. For a little better quality, they drink Singani, a not-as-powerful spirit obtained by distilling grape skins and other by-products. We did not buy that because we were told that we could buy with better discount at other stall, but later still not buying them. (Later Julio told us that he was blamed last time to bring alcohol in and the miners had fun drinking and turned out not working much.

3) Cigarettes
In the lack of air and dusty environment, older miners usually have a bad lung and will avoid smoking. It would be the younger ones, who think "with their balls" that embrace their future with courage instead of wisdom, love to smoke.

4) Juice
Miners avoid soda drinks inside the mine. Some pink, red, yellow, green artificial juice are available in store. They have sugar and thus give energy.

5) Dynamite
Not for our entertainment, dynamite are for experienced miners to make cave when they found a vein (leading to the treasure). To our surprised, it only cost B$5 each, while they usually explode 6 to 8 at a time to open up caves. The explosion is rather primitive, the dynamites will be connected to a lead of 2m long, it's ignited one by one and miners will hide in some 1m away when the cave is strong and count the numbers of explosion before going back.

Apart from the gifts, Julio told us, with proof of receipt that every money he collected from tourist, he will pay B$5 per visitor to his cooperative for the visit. For the money, it would be spent on logs that were used to build a firmer and safer frame for the mine. Especially in rainy seasons, the woods need to be checked and replaced if they are not strong enough. However, Potosi is in high altitude and no trees are grew in town, logs need to be ordered from elsewhere, which are expensive and miners are paid by what they get. If they need to fix the tunnels instead of money, they won't have salary. So they have no choice but to finish these extra work quickly. (note: If you join other tours, ask for the proof such as receipt which the tour company pay the cooperatives for better life of the miners. Some companies claim part of the tourist money for that but turn out not doing so)

We walked to Greengo's warehouse, changed into work clothes, helmet with torch and battery on the belt, dirty coat and pant to cover everything up and a pair long boot. The cave will be dusty, dark, muddy and wet. I've got a camera and some homemade cookies made last night and Adley took all the gift, so Julio passed us two sacks, like those rice bags with strings that could become a small backpack. We left everything else in the warehouse, which was then locked in custody, where Julio would be responsible.

We took another micro for a few minutes up the mountain, and there we arrived the Cooperative Mineral 27 del Marzo. Everyone said hello to Julio and he seems rather popular. Perhaps his appearance means presents. We passed the gifts to miners as instructed by Julio, to those who were taking a break outside the mine and to those who were working, but we will pass one kind of gift to a different team as far as possible.

After chatting with a few groups of miners, shaking hands and saying hi with some introduction about the mine. We were in!

As miners are pushing their trolleys in and out of the only entrance, we need to walk quickly for the first part of the tunnel, as we should not block the way, there was no sidewalk and Julio did not want us to turn back and waste time.

My heart was bumping as the two guys in front of me walked really fast and was way ahead. I had to tilt my head to avoid bumping, squatted down while walking, stepped on the mud and water, avoided the rails and kept my head up, so my torch could show the way in front of me. Air was getting thinner but there was air ventilation at the beginning of the tunnel. We should not touch the tube but only the wet wall on the side. There was sound of stone hitting the metal tube announcing the approach of the loaded trolleys. Two at the back and one in the front, these miners have to bend their head really low to manually push or pull the trolley, which takes minerals to our world or bring empty trolley for more.

After some 5-10 minutes, which were felt like half an hour, we finally reached somewhere more narrow but had space to step aside.

We met a solitary miner who took care of more dangerous area. He needed to climb down four levels to make dynamite explosion. We chatted with him for a while, share some dynamite and saw him disappear under the cave.

We met another team of miners, with some drillers hidden under the hole beneath, another moving stones up like getting water from a well, while other younger ones dragging bags of stones into the trolley. The bags were made of bull's skin and Adley tried dragging one bag but almost unable to move it!

Life of a miner
Miners worked in group and each group has a leader and second leader. They have different level, while the young ones are to carry the trolleys and the more experienced ones usually do the drilling. Some more dangerous work, like climbing 4-5 levels horizontally would be done by a solo miner, who worked alone.

Young mines start their job by being introduced to the team, by friends or family. They have to buy their own equipments, like their outfit, helmet, boots, mask and drill for the drillers. The more expensive equipments, not made in China, are usually more long-lasting.

Work is hard and working underground could be terrifying. Experienced miners are also harsh to their new joiners, due to the dangerous nature of the job. If young ones will come back the next day, they would be respected. After half a year or so, if it is the young Miner's birthday, the team leader will buy a whole cartoon of beer to drink with the birthday boy and with the team, to show his live and brotherhood.

The time we arrived, a team was resting outside the mine as they drank too much at the team leader's birthday last night and they decide not to go in. The group will be working together, always.

On the other hand, each team would be allocated a certain area by the cooperative and they will have gate and lock at their working space entrance. So their equipments would be kept safely and other teams would not cross. However, in case of finding a vein of mineral, they are allowed to dig deeper to cut other's vein if they are working hard enough.

There are more than 100 cooperatives in Cerro Rico, occupying different areas of the mountain, digging everywhere like cheese holes. However the top was now closed as there is no more silver. Nowadays, miners were only digging middle to bottom of the mountain. And one day the mountain may collapse but miners don't have much alternatives and have families to feed, so they just keep on digging as long as they can. If different team of a corporate collide in the hole, they will fight. But if they are from different cooperatives, their fight would be more serious.

For each cooperative, the administration would be managed by the president, who is elected by different team leaders and used to be a miner. But when he becomes president, he will have a fixed salary and with in office.

Their believes
As their work is so dangerous and lifespan is short, due to the dust and possibly toxic air or lack of oxygen deep down, they pray to the underworld god (who rules the hell), Tia, for money and safety. Since they believe everything in the mountain belongs to Tia, they ask for Tia giving them the silver and the minerals, while not taking their life. They have the Tia statue in the cave (made by older miners) and every cooperative have one. They will offer alcohol, juice, every week and have a bigger offering with llama every year.

How to find minerals?
Like veins on your arm, mountain with trace of minerals have veins too. It goes from north to east, up to down, so miner's dig hole horizontally to cut through the veins and get the minerals.

How they are paid?
Miners are paid every week by the corporate, according to the minerals the team get. There are a lot of laboratories around town giving ore purity result in one day

Do they have alternatives?
Julio told us his guides are ex-miners too. And he did invite youngsters to join his travel agency, however, he also have encountered some who think learning English more difficult than working in a mine and quit the chance, and gone back to the mine.

They lead a hard life and may not want their children to join the job, but sometimes life does not have alternatives, when you are stuck.

Thank you, Julio, for bringing us to this eye-opening experience. We wish your coming back could bring more healthy touring atmosphere in the mine-tour environment and your cafe becomes a success.

Potosi, the Silver Town above the Cloud

City of Potosi in Bolivia, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the highest city in the world at a nominal elevation of 4090m. (I checked, Lhasa, Tibet is merely 3490m, and perhaps because of the height, they are sister cities).

Once a resourceful silver mining town, its mines in Cerro Rico contributed the major supply of silver to the Spanish Empire in the colonial period. With its wealth and extravagance, it was once the largest and wealthiest city in Latin America, and the name 'Potosi' was a representation of fortune. By the end of the 18th century, it is said that the streets were ‘paved’ with silver. During 1556 to 1783, 45,000 short tons (41,000 metric tons) of pure silver were mined from Cerro Rico according to official record.

Potosi also bears the largest mint in the colonial period, exploiting indigenous and black slaves, and mules, working days and nights in poor condition, dying early due to mercury intoxication to produce 95% pure silver coins as currency for Spain and throughout the North American colonies by the time.

One theory even says that the current dollar sign was derived from the mint mark on the Spanish silver coins of Potosi. The mint mark composed of the letters "PTSI" superimposed, bears a strong resemblance to the single-stroke dollar sign.

Hence, with this background, mine tour and visit to the mint, now a museum, The Casa Nacional de la Monedato should not be missed when you visit Potosi, to learn the dark yet glorious history of the city.

Upon arrival at 3pm, we got on a minibus, which was the main public transportation of the city, named micro, costing B$1.3 each to Central.

To my astonishment, many similar micros have Japanese branding. I thought its belongs to local Japanese schools, community or corporate. But later, I discovered that they are mini bus from Japan, some 20 years ago, no longer allowed to be used in Japan due to reason of environment protection law, but Nissan, Toyota or some 'clever' merchants managed to sell them to poorer countries, like Bolivia today.

We dropped at the Central market to look for the hostel that we found advertised in the bus station. A kind old man saw us reading the map and offered help. He took us to the next 3 blocks up the slope in relaxing quick steps, but with my heavy backpack and the altitude, I had difficulty breathing, nevertheless followed him.

The Koala Den is a nicely furnished hostel, (although a bit worn out) dorm costing B$50 per head per night in a 5 person room, with wifi, hot water, toilet in the room, electricity, kitchen, heater and even breakfast, we have nothing more to ask for. Their breakfast is surprisingly sumptuous, with tea, coffee, jam, butter, bread (which most hostel meant as breakfast) but they also offer scrambled egg and fruits including, pineapple, water melon and banana. They also have a Koala Tour which arrange mining tour, for those who join, they will offer extra energizing juice and pancake.

We see most guests join the tour in hostel, which is absolutely convenience and they also accept last minute enrollment in the morning. For the 2 mornings, we saw around 10 guests joining daily. Wow, not a bad business with B$100 each.

Being offbeat as always, we went out to check other agencies for alternative.

We found one named Greengo Tour nearby. The owner Julio was tour guide and ex-miner, with good English. He explained everything about the tour, also declaring his principles and even showing us documentations of his evidence as an ex-miner and receipt from the mining cooperative that how money is shared with the mines.

He also frankly admitted that it's low season and he had no one enrolling at the moment, but 2 could make the group and he never groups larger than 8 to keep tourist safe.

Julio is very passionate about tourism in Potosi, he cares about the miners and tourist. He detests agencies who boost about showing dynamite explosions and he is keen to educate tourist about local culture. He would 'teach' miners to respect tourist as well.

After feeling cheated by our previous trips from San Pedro, we are happy to find someone that sounds more trustworthy.

The only problem is the height, I was breathing heavily and was wondering if we should go one day later in order to adapt. Adley don't have any problem. We asked Julio's advise who said we might decide later today before the agency closed at 8pm, but need to note that miners usually work from 3am on Friday morning, longer than usual, in order to exchange for more money on weekends and time with family. It's Friday tomorrow, they will finish work around 1 or 2pm and drink together, it would be a good time with chat with miners. For Saturdays, there would be less miners working and usually on Sundays, the mine would be empty.

We wish to meet miners and feel great to drink with them and also thinking 1-2 days of altitude problem won't make much difference, we decided to pay right away.

We stroll to other agency and found another one only costing B$60 for the same tour, the lady claimed they offer English guide but she can't speak much English. We do hope a reasonable rate for Greengo would means better quality.