Potosi, Bolivia

Potosi Travel Blog

 › entry 68 of 92 › view all entries
A view over the tiled houses to the red mountains in the background

Following Sucre I found myself in Potosi, a charming town with even more colonial buildings.  In fact the most notable thing about the town was that you could turn the corner and find another style of architecture, an interesting ramshackle house or an ornate church.  This was probably a reflection of the town´s history - when the Spanish discovered silver in the 17th and 18th centuries the place was transformed into one of the biggest, richest cities in the world.  And then when the silver ran out everyone left and it became a poor, pointless place.  A bit like Rotherham.

One of the great symbols of this history is the Mint Museum which I visited, the place where thousands of silver coins used to be produced and shipped off to Spain.

A typical colonial-style street in Potosi
  The museum was fairly interesting, with exhibitions of machinery and equipment used, but as the tour was in Spanish and I wasn´t listening I have few additional details to pass on.

Unlike in the UK, Potosi has had no Margaret Thatcher to force the mines shut and so they still continue today in the hope of finding some bits of silver, tin or zinc.  And of course where there is something of vague interest going on, there´s a tour which goes there, which I took!  First we were asked (made) to buy gifts for the miners, including dynamite as well as soft drinks and coca leaves, which they were later very appreciative of, whilst being told how the mines work.  In summary the life of a miner is predictably awful.  Kids start in the mines as young as 12, and because they only get paid for what they produce they often work 12-15 hours a day for 40 odd years until their lungs are full of such shit (including aspestos) that they die before enjoying any sort of retirement.

A beautiful display of bits and pieces in the Mint Museum
  Indeed they become so used to living in these narrow dark holes that they mind it impossible to give up the job at all (hard as it is to believe).  Instead of the health-and-safety lifestyle we lead, they ignore such things as taking breaks and eating food, choosing instead to stay underground all day chewing only on coca leaves.

And what they produce at the end of it all has to go through a complicated refining process to find anything useful, meaning these guys can go months without getting paid hardly anything (even by Bolivian standards) jusat because their co-operative got given a rubbish bit of the mine to work.

So after being told that, and with mention that a fair number of miners die each year in dynamite-related accidents, it seemed only natural to go into the mines themselves!  And spend 3 hours down there!  It was not a particulalry pleasant experience - walking through narrow tunnels, often having to crawl or jump out of the way of 2 tonne carts being pushed along well-warn tracks.

Miners at work, shovelling rubble, for up to 15 hours
  And it was very warm in places, and being surrounded by dust at around 4500 metres it was pretty difficult to breathe.

We were certainly pleased when we were allowed out, and clearly affected by how the miners have to scrape together a living.  But to make us all feel better we blew up some spare dynamite, creating a huge explosion, and went home in hope of finding a shower. 

 

Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
A view over the tiled houses to th…
A view over the tiled houses to t…
A typical colonial-style street in…
A typical colonial-style street i…
A beautiful display of bits and pi…
A beautiful display of bits and p…
Miners at work, shovelling rubble,…
Miners at work, shovelling rubble…
Another contrasing view of Potosi
Another contrasing view of Potosi
Old equipment inside the Mint Muse…
Old equipment inside the Mint Mus…
One of the many magnificent church…
One of the many magnificent churc…
The 2 tonne carriage being pushed …
The 2 tonne carriage being pushed…
Outside the mine, not much prettie…
Outside the mine, not much pretti…
Potosi
photo by: Biedjee