Potosi a mine and a bloke called Gregg.

Trip Start Oct 03, 2010
Trip End Sep 06, 2011

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Thursday, August 11, 2011


After we had got back from our excellent adventure on the Salt Flats we took a bus to Potosi, again a bit of a bone shaker but not as bad as the one to Uyuni. We arrived in Potosi, the world’s highest city (4070m) and a Unesco World Heritage Site. The city was founded in 1545 following the discovery of ore deposits in the mountain, and proved to be very lucrative. The streets were literally paved with silver, due to this it grew into the largest and wealthiest city n Latin America. However it best days are gone and most of it resources have been depleted. Thousands of people still work in the harsh mines and start as young as 12 years old. The conditions are awful and many people die each year not just from mine collapses but from respiratory diseases caused by the exposure to the mines themselves.

Potosi itself is a charming city with a population of 150,000. We spent some time strolling through the narrow lanes and looking up at the old colonial buildings. Our main objective while here though was to experience how the miners worked and lived. We decided to take a tour of the mines with a company called the ‘real deal’. A fairly new team of ex-miners had set up the tour company to show people how the mines are run and how miners work in the mines. The money paid to them is distributed equally to the guides and a donation given to miners. We had met a few other travellers at our hostel and met them on the day of our tour at the real deal office. One American guy who looked a bit like Peter Jackson joined our group but more about him later.

Before we went to the mine we purchased some non-alcoholic beverages and Coca leaves for the miners, after seeing the miners you can understand why they need the gifts, they look knackered.

The Coca leaves we purchased are chewed by the miners daily, they can get through up to three bags a day. These leaves although containing a very small amount of cocaine do not give them the same effect. We tried chewing it and it gave an anaesthetic effect in the mouth. The miners will keep the leaves in their mouth for hours producing a gigantic ball. In the pictures look closely at the side of the miners mouth and you will see a bulge.

The first part of the tour took us to a refinery plant where the silver is separated from the rock (see video). The second part took us inside the mine. This was fantastic and at some points made us very anxious. The conditions that the miners have to work in harsh. The height of the tunnels are so low that many of the workers have back problems, in fact you can see a picture of Danny with a miner and clearly see that he has a hunch back.

Although the conditions are harsh, the miners seemed to be enjoying themselves, it was Friday when we went and like most of us, they liked to have a drink or two or three. Now lets get back to Gregg. He joined us on our tour but was not feeling too well before the start. Fifteen minutes into the mine tour it sounded like he was hyperventilating and he had stomach cramps. Peter Jackson was being stubborn and wanted to continue into the Mountain. An hour into the tour and after climbing three ladders Gregg fell on the floor holding his stomach shouting “it’s burning, it’s burning”. At this time Danny thought he would intervene , “Gregg do you want to go to the toilet?”, “Why don’t you go down that tunnel”. We won’t go into too much detail but lets just say it was a surreal experience being in a mountain and hearing an American who looked like Peter Jackson scream while he was opening his bowels. It doesn’t end there, he did it twice more in the mountain and as soon as he got outside he dropped his trousers and did it in full view of everybody making some very bizarre sounds. Peter Jackson, we salute you.

After we exited the mine we witnessed a pink fluffy stuffed bunny being blown up by dynamite (see videos), this is usually frowned upon, but we have to it was fun.. We then watched sunset over the mountain. A perfect end to a great day.
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