Potosi is Dyn-o-Mite!!!
Trip Start Sep 15, 2008
122Trip End Jan 01, 2009
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Before this trip we had never heard of this town of 150,000 high in the mountains of Southern Bolivia. Amazingly Potosi was once the richest and largest city in the world when silver was being pulled from the near by Cerro Rico (aka Rich Mountain) by the tonne. Circa 1700 it was larger and richer than both New York, London, and Paris. During this time the spanish used African and Indigenous slaves to work, and die, in the appauling minning conditions. Historians estimate several million slaves died in the mines, while the riches were shipped off to Spain to bank roll their empire and benefit their citizens for centuries. Today the town is hard to distinguish from any other dirty and poor bolivian town (Bolivia is the poorest country in Latin America).
We rolled into town at 5:00am, our typical arrival time on the night buses of pain. At 8:00am we started our tour of the mines. First stop was to suit up like real, and really dorky looking, miners. Next we visited the miners market to buy gifts for the men in the mountain. Coca leaves, pop, 96% alcohol, and dynamite are all on their wish list. For $3 a stick we could buy dynamite to blow up later. Why buy just one stick when you could buy 3? There were 2 american girls in our group not so inclined for adventure on their 3 week vaccation who tried to convince us blowing up 1 stick was enough...ha! We decided to pick-up some fertilizer to wrap around the dynamite for an extra big bada-boom!
Our guide for the tour was a very interesting fella. The best way to describe him would be a long lost Bolivian cousin of Borat. Just about anything would come out of his mouth with Boratesque delivery. Some favourite lines:
I have hair in only 2 places, my head and arm pits. Down there only 4!
That guys name is crazy, not because he is crazy but because he has a crazy looking face.
If you need oxygen while in the mine let me know, it is mouth to mouth
Bolivia is very corrupt, we are #2 in the world but we are trying hard to be #1
Removing the crudeness he was a good guide and former miner, who started work in the mine at the age of 10 just as his father and his father before him.
Today the mines are all run through co-op groups of miners. In total there are 160 mines still active, of 400, with 500 groups working with-in them. Sometimes when 2 groups will find the same vein of zinc or silver they will have gang fights in the mine, even using dynamite against each other.
Life expectancy of a miner is 45 after inhaling everything from silica to asbestos to toxic gases. To get through the day miners chew coca and in serious wads. The wads are so big the miners look like kids with jawbreakers in their cheeks. The mines were hot, dusty, and cramped - almost unbearable for the 2 hours we were inside. Sometimes we were crawling on our stomachs to fit through a hole, or slidding down an embankment to reach the next level. The air was full of dust and there was very little oxygen in the air at over 4000m - just horrible. The miners today put themselves through these conditions for the mighty dollar. Miners often make more per year than doctors, businessmen, and lawyers.
The end of the tour was explosive - literally. We took our sticks of dynamite, removed the interior paste, put it in a bag and added the fertilizer, fuse, and blasting cap. After lighting the fuse and posing for a few pics, Arik and the guides ran down the road to set the explosives before the fuses ran-out. Ka-BOOM! The 3 packs went off in succession with bone rattling power - South America is Awesome!