Although it was less than 50km from Potosí, there was more climbing to come. We were around 3300m, but had to get up to almost 4000m to arrive in Potosí – the world’s highest city. Normally the downhill that started the day would have been welcome, but it just meant even more climbing. Thankfully as we were going along a train line, it was a very gradual climb nearly all day long. However, that didn’t mean we went quickly. Even though I’d only tried the Bolivian custom of chewing coca leaf once – the thing that makes them look like koala bears – the altitude didn’t seem to be bothering me too much. Sure, my heart rate was faster, and I got a little short of breath if I tried to sprint, but the headaches that I’d heard about didn’t seem to be there.
Various Bolivian cyclists had been out training, all waving at us, and when near Potosí we saw two cycle-tourists coming towards us I was excited and looking forward to chatting. They must have had other plans as they kept going without even a wave. I know that just because someone is riding a bike they’re not necessarily friends, and maybe they’ve been on busier routes than me, but I see so few cycle-tourists around that I almost always stop to talk, no matter how briefly.
We took the lower entrance into Potosí, and found ourselves looking down over the lower part of the city – which seemed to be the poorest part. Cerro Rico (rich hill) towers over Potosí, at 4800m tall, and is why Potosí exists. It was a huge silver mine, although now all the silver is gone and they’re down to zinc and other less valuable minerals, and made the Spanish very happy.
Our Couchsurfing host, Omar, works as a tour guide in the mines, and it was early afternoon when we were welcomed into his place. There are few people on Warmshowers in the country, partly down to being the poorest country in South America, but also with cycling being less than popular it makes less sense for them to sign up.