Tarapaya hot springs
For my last full day in Potosí today, I decided to visit the nearby thermal baths of Tarapaya, which are naturally warmed by the waters of the hot springs that come forth in this little area. Found a deal in Potosí, where you can hire a bike for the afternoon, ride down the 25km, nicely-sealed, mainly-downhill road to Tarapaya, relax in the hot springs at your leisure, and then return to Potosí via combi (just whack the bike on the roof). Great ride, and a very nice way to relax and get more clean, after yesterday's filthy and exhausting mine tour.
We're basically staying in Potosí today — instead of continuing straight on to Uyuni — because Chris isn't feeling too well. He's got some kind of stomach bug, and he's suffering from diarrhoea and from a lack of appetite. I've been there and done that (biiig-time!), back in Cusco, so I know how bad it can be, and I'm more than willing to give Chris a bit more time, to take it easy and to recover. Since he's not feeling too well, Chris just wanted to hang out in the Koala Den today; so I went and did the hot springs thing by myself.
The fine folks at Koala Tours lent me a reasonably decent mountain bike, a helment, a safety vest, and a pair of riding gloves, for my trip down to Tarapaya. The hardest part of the trip was finding my way out of Potosí. Took me a little while, and a bit of direction-seeking from the locals (in Bolivia, always ask directions from at least 5 locals, and then aggregate their bull$%#& instructions together, to get something approaching useful information), to get on to the main drag out of the city, which is Avenida Universitaria (the road that also leads down to the bus terminal).
Once I was out of Potosí, it was smooth sailing all the way. The road to Tarapaya is Boliviano Hwy 1 — the road that continues all the way to Oruro, and then to La Paz — and as such, it's one of the few inter-city roads in this country that's actually sealed asphalt. Beautiful day, nice and easy downhill riding, and not too much crazy Bolivian traffic. On the way down, I was even passed by the people from Koala Tours, who were also heading down to Tarapaya (in their 4WD), for a game of soccer. I didn't pay for an escort; but as it turned out, I got one!
Took about an hour to complete the 25km ride down to Tarapaya. Once I got there, I found a little village, and a big collection of private swimming pools and water-holes, all fed by the hot springs that come down from the mountain. I chose one of the swimming pools, and walked inside with my bike. The guys on duty there let me leave the bike inside the cafeteria, in an empty corner. For some reason, there were army soldiers standing guard around the pools: what do they think, the hot springs are under threat from terrorists or something?
I was about to strip down to my swimmers, and jump into the hot water, when a bunch of the locals (I was the only gringo there) grabbed me, and made me come and dance with them by the poolside. Really friendly bunch, but a bit drunk and totally crazy. Took me a little while to work out that they were actually playing a drinking game — a sort of "musical partners" — rather than "dancing" as such. They were standing in two lines, in pairs of partners; and every so often, someone would throw an empty plastic bottle onto the ground. As soon as the bottle hit the ground, everyone had to find a new partner; and the person who couldn't find a partner had to down a drink, before then getting the plastic bottle, and throwing it again.
In the process of struggling to work out what the hell was going on, I ended up drinking quite a few glasses of Johnny Walker and Coke. Ah well: good fun, good mingling with friendly locals, and good free drinks!
Finally, I managed to sneak out of the game, and to actually get in the water. Absolutely divine. About 42°C, not very crowded, and very relaxing indeed. Since it was late in the afternoon, the air had had all day to warm up, so it wasn't too torturous, making the journey from the change room to the pool. However, the pool was much warmer and much more pleasant than the air outside of it.
I had about ½ an hour to relax in the divine hot pool, before I decided that it was time to get out, and to head back to Potosí. While I was getting dry, I got chatting to one of the army guys on duty at the pool. Really nice guy: only 19 years old, very interested in the world outside of Bolivia, and hoping to get out of the Army in a year or so, and go to university to further his education. The Army isn't compulsory in Bolivia: but it does seem to have an awful lot of people in it, especially considering that Bolivia has nothing of value left (already had land stolen from it, by almost all its neighbouring countries), and that nobody would bother attacking it these days. Ah well, no point trying to apply logic to anything in this country, because there just isn't any to apply.
Once I was dry, dressed, and had grabbed my bike from the cafeteria, it didn't take long to find a combi heading back to Potosí, and to put myself inside, and the bike on the roof. On the ride back to Potosí, there were more chatty locals to talk to: this time, two guys who work as tourguides for the salt flats, in Uyuni; and who are here on a 1-week vacation. They recommended their company, Esmeralda Tours, to me; and I think I'll probably go with them, when we get to Uyuni.
The last challenge of the day, was riding the bike from the combi stop — down near the Potosí bus terminal — back to the Koala Tours office, in the city centre. This was actually the hardest thing I did all day, as it was an uphill ride all the way, and as there was a lot of traffic on the roads, in the early evening and in the dark. Anyway, got the bike and myself back in one piece; and then I went and found Chris, and we treated ourselves to a beautiful gourmet pizza dinner. Great end to a great, relaxing day.