At 4000 meters in the Andes

Potosi is the world’s highest city at 4070 meters, in the Bolivian Andes. Having visited places in Tibet at up to 5400 meters without difficulty, I underestimated the altitude a little – you need to breathe a lot faster, heartbeat accelerates, and you feel an urge to do everything very slowly.

The city spreads out over a number of hills and much of it is dusty, ugly, and poor. You expect Mad Max to roam the streets in search of new hubcaps or something. The center is quite nice though, with the usual leafy square in front of the cathedral, and a number of colonial buildings and shopping streets. Shopping tends to be dominated by little hole-in-the-wall shops and old ladies with bowler hats spreading their wares on a blanket.

The main attraction in Potosi is the silver mines. The Lonely Planet guide book says that it’s actually possible to visit them without permanent health damage due to exposed asbestos, arsenic, tunnel collapses, and other attractions, but we decided to pass this one.

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