We'd planned on leaving Oruro for a mini vacation at the end of the week, so the 11th was the last day for us to go see the sights in town. Oh, and the sights, the sights...
Like an entire market set up literal inches from a train.
This is the kind of market where you run across a lot of what they call contraband. That is, bootlegged films and video games, "brand name" clothing from the US, and the like. It's also the home of the hard-sell. I was considering purchasing a new hat as my ball cap options are relatively limited. Just show interest and the hawkers descend like wolves. I didn't buy a hat.
Once you get out of the street and into the buildings it's a different atmosphere entirely. The vendors here (above) couldn't care less if you bought something from them. Not that I knew what any of it was, of course. Some things I recognized, but unless the packaging was obvious or the item was on display, I was at a loss. Adri did find her childhood favorite chocolate bar here, though, which was really great.
Beyond the items being sold, the place was just an explosion of color, nearly akin to a casino. At times it was overwhelming, or very nearly so, at least. I was relieved to get back out into the open.
Our plans after roaming the markets was to go to a museum so I could learn some more about Bolivian culture and history. We even did go. Twice. The first time, they were between tours or at lunch, I can't remember which. We were told to return later. Which we did. At that point, we were told they were closed for cleaning. No signs, no warning ahead of time, nothing. We were miffed, to say the least.
That's when we decided to walk up, up, up to the church on the hill that houses Santuario del Socavón and Museo Minero del Socavón. To get there we traversed a giant street market (up Adolfo Mier) selling everything from soccer balls to silpancho to raffle tickets to win giant ceramic Jesuses and dinosaurs. (Not together, though I would've probably would've joined in, had that been the case.)
This wasn't just any church, though. It's special in a few different ways. Here's a picture of the market and the church from a few nights before.
First, it sits on top a mine that's "protected" by a spirit/demon/guardian affectionately known as the Uncle of the Mine. Uncle sits deep within the mine, protecting the miners (well, no longer, as the mine is now a tourist attraction and non-functional), receiving offerings from visitors. (Left is the natural lighting. Right is with a flash so you can see the offerings.) The history of it is vastly more complex than I'm going into. It's an interesting read.
Remember, though, that this was a functional mine. It was small, wet, and very, very dark.
There were some really fascinating artifacts throughout the mine-come-museum. These machines, for example:
While the mine was very neat, it paled in comparison to the church that stands atop it. I'm not a religious man, but you really can't help but stand in awe at the opulence and beauty of some of these South American cathedrals and churches. Truly beautiful.
I thought that was pretty beautiful. Until I looked up. This is the ceiling:
The rest of the inside of the church was equally as interesting and gorgeous. Nothing quite stood up to the ceiling, though, in terms of just sheer design. There was, however, something that stood head-and-shoulders above everything else in backstory, alone. That is a green cross that hangs in the center of the church.
Though you can probably gather from the background, this isn't just any green metal cross. Oh, no. This is a special green metal cross. Why, you ask? Well, gather 'round, boys and girls. It's storytime with Uncle Ryan.
The story goes like this: one night, the townspeople in Oruro were awoken by lights in the streets and a terrible sound. As they looked out their windows, they saw a horse-drawn wagon speeding through town, having originated somewhere by the church. This wasn't a normal wagon, though. Both it and the horses were totally engulfed in flames! The sight became a more and more frequent occurrence. Around the same time, people around town began disappearing. Finally, the Oruro townsfolk decided something must be done, so they produced this massive, green metal cross and hug it on the church at the top of the hill. From that day forward, the flaming wagon disappeared and people stopped going missing. I like a happy ending, don't you?
When we finally left the mine and the church, we saw some children having fun, sliding down the large ramp on pieces of cardboard. I gotta admit... it looked like fun.
The next day, we drove to La Paz with plans of visiting the Amazon. Things didn't quite work out that way, though...