Helloooooooo to all you losers at sea level! (look how loud I have to yell!) I'm writing from Potosi, Bolivia, the highest city in the world. I wanted to write this post from the highest internet cafe in the world (apparently their 3rd floor spot edged them in for that record.) but sadly it has closed. So i'll have to settle for this lame almost-highest spot. Just spent a couple of lovely days in La Paz, my favorite place so far. Reminds me of Quito but much more accessible, cleaner, more culture, etc. At least in the center... we passed all the shanty towns on the bus, but of course that kind of poverty and stratification isn't unique in south america. We meant to go see a cool pre-incan ruin outside the city yesterday, but the city bus drivers had other plans. Apparently they were upset with new city regulations and went on strike. But they didn't just not work... they used their buses to block the streets all over town! So no traffic anywhere in the city! ("No hay movilazion" was the phrase of the day.) It was actually a blessing in disguise, because it's a very walkable city and it was a gorgeous day, and no bus fumes! Only downside was that random things weren't open, since some people couldn't make it to work. We heard various theories that the strike wouldn't even last the day, to at most a 48 hour strike. We decided to play it safe and get the hell out of dodge, which turned out to be a good idea because i just checked the local paper and the headline is "Drivers shut down La Paz and declare an indefinite strike."
So we overnighted it to Potosi, which in addition to being the highest city you may also remember from your European history textbook (by which i mean I remember it from AP Euro because i'm a big history nerd) as home to a gigantic silver mine which was the biggest factor in making spain grossly rich lo those many centuries. potosi was actually the richest city in the world, and the second largest in population for a time. What stuns me is that the mines are still functional!!! Miners still go to work in horrible conditions, at least not as slaves anymore. We didn't do a mine tour because it sounded extremely intense (and i really feel it's common sense to decline any trip in which you are encouraged to bring dynamite as presents!) but we did tour the Casa de Monedas, where they minted silver from the 1500s to 1953. It's really well restored but with amazing original machinery and everything, including the oldest technology - giant wooden machines that were powered by horses (who had about a lifespan of 20-60 days in this altitude and cold.) They also have ridiculously elaborate silver pieces on display. A definite lesson in how much suffering powered so much wealth. (Apparently the spanish have a saying "vale un potosi")
From here we're off to sucre for a day where we plan to see dinosaur tracks and buy chocolate, and then it's off to the jungle!