Want to make a bomb?

Trip Start Sep 30, 2006
Trip End Dec 24, 2008

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Potosi, the highest city in the world, and most famous for a giant hill full of silver, tin and very nasty chemicals. We joined a tour and paid an old miner to take us in for the day, show us around and put us to work. The next day, we started the tour with a visit to the miners market. All the miners, all 1600 of 'em are self employed, they have to buy all there own equipment, clothes, tools and dynamite and anyone can just rock up and start digging away. The mountain looks like swiss cheese with all these guys hacking away. The words 'health & safety' don't exist in the Bolivian dictionary so anyone can just dig a hole and chuck in some dynamite, and believe me they do! When we were inside the mines the mountain rumbles with explosions.  Thought it would be nice to buy the miners a few presents, I brought a bag of nitrous glycerin, a stick of ammonium nitrate and some fuses, about enought explosives to level a house. Kat brought a huge bag of coca leaves and 2 litres of rum, total cost: 2 quid.

We drove up to the side of the mountain where the guide thought it would be fun to show us how explosive the dynamite was, she made a small bomb, lit the fuse and ran over to drop it down the side of the mountain, 2 minutes later, KA-BOOM and there was a new hole in the mountain. Im not making this up, anyone can just buy explosives from their local corner shop and set it off anywhere they want, its totally nuts.  

After the market it was time to suit up in special trousers, jacket, wellies, hard hat and head torch, complete with stylish belt. We started climbing down three levels of the mines through progressively narrower and steeper tunnels. They smelled really strongly and there was asbestos crystals all over the wall, our guide only told us this after we had been touching it saying look at these cool crystals. The miners find a vein of silver or zinc and simply follow it, up, down, across, where ever the vein runs. Since 1554 they have been mining silver and minerals from this mountain, in the early days, slaves from Africa and local Indians were made to mine by the Spanish, over 8 million people have died working in these mines. The miners hammer holes in the rock, fill them with dynamite, and shovel out the rock mixed with minerals. Winches are used to bring the stuff up a few levels and then its wheel barrowed out to the waiting lorry. Miners do not live long, they normally start from age 12 to 18 and will last about 15 years before serious lung problems leave then unable to breath properly.

We had a chat to some miners and gave out our gifts, the miners were really happy to stop for a moment and I said I would take over for a while. Turning the winch to lift bags of rock and shoveling it into wheel barrows was hard manual labour. The miners found it hilarious.

Cooper Out

Love Dan & Kat
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