November 17th, 2009 – by: melsadventure
Maggie and I looking hot!
We arrived in Potosi after a rather intersting "local local" bus ride from Sucre, climbing to 4,060masl to the worlds highest city. Potosi is breathtaking in every sense of the word. A really beautiful colonial city with beautiful buildings, steep hills oh and silver mines! The "Beautiful Mountain" has been mined since the 1500s for silver and other minerals and the community here was once the richest in South America. Many of the miners have worked here since their early teens and have followed in the family tradition of mining. It seemed strange to me to come to the highest city in the world to go underground, but hey it is all an experience!
So Maggie and I donned some rather fetching attire and headed on a tour for the mines.
Silver on our faces and fear in our hearts
Not your average day. We started out by visiting the miners market to buy them some gifts to help their work. So what do you buy miners? Well for starters dynamite and matches (for less than 3 pounds!), 96% alcohol, coca leaves as they chew the leaves all day rather than eat or take a break, in fact many say their work would be impossible without the leaves, soft drinks and cigarettes. So fully stocked we headed closer to the mines. First we went to the distlling factory. As this area has been mined for so many years there is less and less silver found and other minerals are found in its place. The miners are paid on the quality and quantity of the minerals that they find so these days that means they have a lot less than before. We finally ventured into the mines and i can say that it is an experience i will never repeat, i have no idea how these people go into the mines day after day.
The miners ... how do they do this?
The dust and fumes as well as the altitude make it impossible to breathe and the dank dark and wholly unsafe conditions are awful. Many of the miners we spoke to said that they hoped their children had a better education so that they would be able to get better jobs and not work in the mines. Scrambling, stumbling and gasping for air for 2 hours 4 levels underneath the ground was a pretty gruelling task, no wonder that the miners have created the Devil god Tito that they worship, it feels like only the devil can inhabit such a place. It makes me thankful that i have a life like i do, it feels rather hard to be a tourist in such a place, a voyeur on someone elses tough life.
I was very glad to get back into the "fresh" air and see the sun again. We then had the opportunity to blow up our dynamite, explosive fun, before heading back to Potosi where Maggie, Michelle and I spent the day eating Humitas (corn bread style snack), Saltenos (pastry filled with veggies or meat) and other culinary delights and wandered through the city enjoying the architecture and laid back atmosphere.
Explosive fun ... dynamite for 2.50GBP!
We also visited one of the most beautiful museums in South America, the old Mint and learnt how they made money through the ages here. Was a very cultured day! That unfortunately is when the rain came. The phone lines were out, you could not get a cab for love nor money and frankly it felt like England. So we huddled up in the hostal with a book and a movie and listened to Armegeddon outside hoping for a sunny day the next day for our 7 hour bus ride to Uyuni!