From Sucre in late March I wanted to visit Potosi, home of the silver mine that financed an empire. My original plan was to take the ‘train’. The train between Sucre and Potosi more closely resembled a bus-on-tracks. People asked why I wanted to take the train instead of the bus or shared taxi as the train is slower and runs less regularly (three times per week versus several departures per day). I’ve always enjoyed train travel and views from rail are generally better than from road. The novelty of the single-carriage Sucre-Potosi train also attracted me.
The service to Potosi, Sucre’s only train, departs from El Tejar Terminal. I wished to catch the Wednesday, 30 March train, scheduled to depart at 8am. Waking up early, I farewelled the wonderful Beehive Hostel and hailed a taxi to what I hoped would be El Tejar Terminal. Instead, the driver left me in front of a semi-grand building that was formerly another train station. Realising I was in the wrong place, I took a second taxi. The second driver also didn’t know where El Tejar Terminal was, needing to ask other people. Eventually, I made it to the station, only to be confronted with an empty railway siding.
El Tejar train station building, Sucre, Bolivia
A sign at El Tejar railway station stating the times, stations and prices for the thrice-weekly Sucre-Potosi service. Sucre (El Tejar) to Potosi is ~170km, scheduled to take 6 hours and twenty minutes and costs 25 bolivianos (AUD$5)
The train to Potosi was obviously not leaving in 30 minutes’ time as scheduled at 8:00am. A shopkeeper from the railway station building shop explained the trains weren’t running until next week. Alas, my quest to ride the bus on tracks had ended. At least I could now go back to the Beehive and enjoy their delicious breakfast.
Option b to Potosi was the bus. However, even this was not straight forward. Roads through mountains are difficult and expensive to build. For this reason there is usually only one direct route between two cities in the Andes, including from Sucre to Potosi. The week I wanted to visit Potosi, protesting villagers had blocked the road outside Sucre, stopping all traffic and causing major disruptions.
Via a fourth taxi ride that morning I arrived to Sucre’s bus station. On strike-free days, one catches a bus direct from the bus station to Potosi’s bus station. This day was different. Passengers needed to take a minibus from Sucre’s bus station to the road block.
Villagers blocked the Sucre-Potosi road and set up shelters shading them from the sun
The only way through the road block was by foot. Although instructions were unclear, we needed to take our bags off the first bus and walk through the road block.
Passengers walking through the road block
Rocks placed across the Sucre-Potosi road
From the drop-off point, we walked approximately one kilometre passed many stalled trucks and other vehicles to the second, main bus. Instead of waiting for the protest to end, workers moved any time-sensitive freight across the road block in wheelbarrows.
Backpackers and workers pushing wheelbarrows walk past stationary trucks, buses and cars
We found and boarded our bus and, hours later, eventually arrived to Potosi.
What was the craziest thing of this long day? The villagers were striking and blocking a key intercity road over their wish to have a larger supermarket in town!