Presenter Ian Wright explores Bolivia, one of the poorest countries in Latin America but one of the richest in culture and landscape.
His journey begins on Lake Titicaca. It’s the highest navigable lake in the world and covers some 3000 square miles, linking Bolivia and Peru. The Island of the Sun is the place where the Inca Empire began and Ian learns that the first Inca married his sister, then convinced the people that they were the children of the sun god who had risen up from the lake. An hour by boat from the Island of the Sun is Copacabana, where every Sunday the locals bring their cars for a blessing by Father Bernadino. The ceremony is Christian but has its roots in the Inca tradition.
From Copacabana Ian hitches a ride to La Paz where he hunts out some bargains at the Market of Sagarnaga. Next door is the Witches Market, the place to find bizarre cures for uncommon ailments, such as llama foetus.
Ian flies to Sucre and plans to catch a bus to Potosi from there, however there’s a bus strike and Ian has to spend the night at an enchanting hacienda just outside town. Next morning he resumes his journey and en route to Potosi he witnesses preparations for a bull fight. He also stops off Tarabuco, famous for its handmade clothes and weavings.
At last Ian reaches Potosi, one of the richest cities in South America due to the discovery of silver in the 16th century, by a llama herder called Diego Huallpa. Ian plans to go underground and experience the mines for himself, but first he stops at the miners market to purchase gifts for the miners: cigarettes, alcohol, coca leaves and a few sticks of dynamite! Miners start their career at the age of 8 or 10. They are self-employed and gifts from visitors supplement their meagre incomes. During colonial times millions of African and Indian slaves died due to the harsh conditions in the mines.
From Potosi Ian makes his way to Uyuni. Just outside the town is the largest salt flat in the world and Ian hooks up with a tour group to check out the immense salt lake which covers more than 4500 square miles. That night he stays at thePalacio del Sal – a hotel incredibly sculpted entirely from salt.
Ian gets a ride to Uncia, where the fiesta of San Miguel is taking place. Allegedly the patron saint of Uncia fought off devils who were trying to attack the town using only his fiery breath. Thirty-six different groups perform a traditional dance and the participants’ costumes become more and more extravagant as the day wears on.
Next morning Ian follows a tip that a Tinku fight is taking place in a nearby village. Twice a year entire villages turn out to take part in a strange tradition where every family member pits their strength against the opposition. The blood that is inevitably spilt during the proceedings is considered a sacrifice to Mother Earth, but when things get too rough the referees intervene with their whips.
After returning to La Paz by bus, Ian joins a group cycling to Coroico in the lush Yungas region. It’s a 38 mile ride with a 2 mile drop in altitude, and is very narrow with a sheer drop below. Thankfully Ian negotiates it without incident and arrives in Coroico and basks in the fertile sub-tropical climate which is far more hospitable than the highlands.
Ian ends his incredible journey by trekking to Huayna Potosi, one of the spectacular Andean peaks that overlook the city of La Paz.
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