Bolivia rocks

Trip Start Feb 20, 2006
Trip End Jun 2006

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Saturday, April 22, 2006

had an unbelievably mad day, in fact you prob won´t even believe what i did. Arrived in Bolivia 3 nights ago, spent a night in a little town called Tupiza, which was ok, finished camping now so its mostly hotels and hostels which is good. Anyway, since last entry i have been to argentina for the last time (tear tear sniff sniff), so stocked up on plenty of steak and red wine. Seen a volcano erupt after leaving chile, albeit i seen it from a distance and didnt see any lava running madly after the truck but was still pretty awesome, one of those once in a lifetime moments. Bit disjointed but its hard to remember what i did last night never mind last week. Last night in Argentina was spent at a place called salta which has the biggest swimming pool in the southern hemisphere, pity its only filled during november-december, rest of the time its just an enormous concrete bowl. Tour guide warned us about being careful in Bolivia, but so far so good, havent had any real problems so far. Its starting to look and feel like the south america i imagined before i left, and its starting to get more and more grim. But anyway, in Bolivia at the minute and here in Potosi for another couple of days. So anyway as i was saying, today was pretty mental. Potosi is famous for being a mining town with a lot of history, its one of the biggest exporters of silver and zinc among other metals in south america. It is renowned for the terrible conditions that a lot of these miners have had to and continue to work in. Up until 1985 it was owned by foreign private companies who basically abused and exploited the vast potential this area had for mineral production but it is now owned by the miners themselves, a fact they are very proud of. So we got to do a tour of the mines today which i`ll admit to not totally loving, well at least not down in the mines. Hundreds of people have died and continue to die from a combination of cave-ins, falling down mine shafts and more commonly from silicosis, which is caused from these men breathing in copper sulphate fumes every day. There are 8,000 miners who work at this site and it is worked on a shift basis, which is 8 hours at a time, which believe me when i say is no easy task. Being down there for less than 2 hours and i couldnt wait to get out. And after about 5 mins 2 people from the group actually turned back and i was very nearly going to follow them. It was a continual process of bending down in the wet, mucky blackness lit only by headlamps that occasionally fell off, crawling through narrow spaces and breathing in toxic fumes and dust listening to a chorus of 25 people trying their best to cough a lung up. However i`m glad i pushed on and finished it, even though the only thing i thought about most of the time was when was the lst time someone died down here cos i`ve heard reports of tourists doing this same tour going in and not coming out, well not alive anyway. Out here if you have an accident you don`t get hurt you die. there are no emergency services to come and save you, its just bad luck chum. Half way down there was a statue/manakin kind of thing, which the locals call "el tio" which in the old quecha language roughly translates as a nicer form of the word devil/satan. This is their god which they pray to for protection and continued good luck in the mines. There was a llama foetus at his feet and he was covered in coca leaves. Coca leaves are used by the miners and certain tourists to help cope with the altitude. And it definitely does help, although it certainly doesn`t taste nice at all, it`s kind of like chewing on a turd, not that i`ve ever done that but i imagine if i ever did it would taste very similar to chewing on coca leaves. And yes if you were thinking, is is the same coca leaves that they use to make cocaine, yes it is. It numbs the mouth and you kind of feel a little high but nothing great. So after meeting el tio and really not enjoying being down there, we made a speedy exit, and i`ve never been soo glad to see daylight. Any childish inklings i had of becoming Indiana Jones were soon squashed after today. But the best part, and this was bloody amazing was that its customary for the tourists to buy miners presents-beer, cigarettes, coca leaves and...DYNAMITE! Thats right we walked down the street and found a market stall that sold dynamite. For 2 sticks of dynamite, a fuse and the ammonium nitrate which is needed for the reaction it cost 20 bolivianos, less than 3 US dollars. And yes we did get to use it. Each of us got to insert the fuse, tie the sticks together and light the fuse, we each had 2 sticks of live dynamite, fuse burning in our hands. Where else in the world could you do that!! The tour guides also bought 2 dead chickens, yes you guessed it, we shoved 2 sticks of dynamite up the chickens ass and lit them. So we all lit our dynamite and legged it to the top of the hill, where we watched our dynamite make the chicken fly for the last time and blow an almighty hole in the ground. It was bloody awesome, and the noise was deafening, even when the chickens head flew right past us (we were standing 35-40 metres away from the dynamite). Anyway thats quite a lot for today, stuck a few more photos on last entry so check them out. Be good
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