Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Old West, Bolivian style

Tupiza another quaint, friendly town like Rurrenabaque, with wide streets and good food. It's nestled in some of most beautiful scenery I saw in Bolivia. The low mountains are a dark, rust red. The murky river is full of the smoky sediment, and it snakes leisurely through the gorge. The red is set off by the surrounding emerald green fields and the bright, cobalt blue sky.

After a gorgeous but funny walk inducing two day horse back riding trip, Roisin and I, along with a couple other gringos we picked up along the way, hired a tour agency to take us up to the small mining town of San Vicente to see where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid met their demise.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were a couple of cowboy outlaws from Utah. Butch (who Roisin swears is the spitting image of Manchester United footballer, Wayne Rooney) was from a nice Mormon family. The pair were part of a gang of outlaws eventually called The Wild Bunch, who robbed banks and trains in the early 1900s. When the heat from the police got to be too much, Butch and Sundance, along with Sundance's wife Etta (whom the documentary reports was either a school teacher or a prostitute) relocated to a ranch in Argentina. They were soon in trouble with police again - not being able to help themselves from stealing. Etta left for San Francisco and was never heard from again. The boys rode into Bolivia to hide out where they passed through Tupiza and somehow found the tiny village of San Vicente high up in the mountains. The Bolivian policia, like bloodhounds, found them and surrounded the two outlaws in a tiny adobe hut. Instead of being killed by the police or being dragged to a horrid Bolivian jail, Butch shot his friend in the head and then turned it on himself.

San Vicente is a four hour jeep ride into the middle of nowhere; eight days on a horse, if you are so inclined. The mountainside between Tupiza and San Vicente is unpopulated save for large herdes of llamas. It's a tiny Canadian owned mining town, populated only by miners and their families. We visited the hut where the men died, which hasn't changed in a hundred years, but we weren't allowed to go inside on account of a family lives there. We also paid our respects to the cemetery where their bodies were thrown into - they did not get proper caskets and their remains have never actually be found.

Finally, we went to look through the tiny museum dedicated to the two Banditos de los Estados Unidos. While waiting for someone to bring the key, we were very formally greeted by a few of the townspeople and photographed for some sort of Bolivian tourism magazine. It seems as though not many tourists make the trek up there. Once inside the museum, they continued to photograph us looking at all the artifacts and the man who appeared to be in charge gave a long explanation of whose bones were in the casket in the center of the room. I had asked, because the story was that the remains were never found. Evidently, when they were trying to exhume the bodies, they came across remains that were of European bone structure and possibly could have been Butch Cassidy. Upon examination it was determined that no, it was not Butch. It was a German miner who was buried on top of the outlaws. For whatever reason they keep the German miner's remains in the museum.

When we returned to Tupiza we watched the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid movie with Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Perfect ending to a great day.

The following morning, Roisin and I said goodbye to Tupiza and shortly afterwards, goodbye to Bolivia. Bolivia's farewell to us was another imaginary bus. On the Bolivian side of the border we were sold tickets to a bus heading to Salta, Argentina. Upon reaching the Argentine side and consulting the bus company we were informed that a)they weren't real tickets and b)that bus didnt exist. Thankfully before our heads exploded in frustration, the ticket man just shook his head and snorted, "Bolivia!" and then printed us out tickets for an actual bus, at no extra charge.

Thus concluded my one and a half month stint in Bolivia. I really did not expect to stay as long as I did, but as they say, life happens while you're making plans. And I'm so happy my plans were tossed out -- Bolivia was amazing.

And now onto the land of wine and steak; gauchos and Peronistas: Argentina!

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