Potosi Travel Blog› entry 68 of 92 › view all entries
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.
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.
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.
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.