Deep down in the mines

Trip Start Mar 10, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Potosi, the highest city in the world and once upon a time the richest city in the world in Spanish colonial times. Potosi lies underneath the mountain "Cerro Rico" ("Rich Mountain), where miners still today, look for silver and other metals. Tourists come here to do the famous "mine tour".  All tour agencies make you sign a disclaimer, removing any responsibility from them, if anything were to happen to you. When we got there I could see why....

We were in a small group of 5 people, plus an English speaking guide. He took us to the mine in a 5-seater taxi, 2 of us having to squeeze in the front and one of us in the boot! On the way to the mine we stopped off at the miner's market where we had to buy gifts for the miners. The choice of gifts were dynamite, fruit juice, coca leaves, cigarettes and 96% proof alcohol! I bought them some dynamite and fruit juice. We got to try the alcohol.  It was the strongest shot Iīve ever had! We also bought some coca leaves (from which cocaine is made) to chew, as it helps with the altitude. Chewing coca is only legal in Bolivia and Peru, and literally all the locals chew it.  It tastes disgusting but is quite nice when drunk as a tea! 

All geared up with helmet and flash light we entered the pitch black mines! We have to walk through most of it bent down as Bolivian people are a lot shorter then us. We walked along a small railway track, where the carts go in and out of the mines. Every now and then we would have to move out the way for a cart to go by. Our guide took us deep and deeper into the mine, we had to climb up and down rickety wooden ladders and through small pot holes, any one suffering claustrophobia would have no chance! I couldnīt believe how bad the health and safety conditions were, one false step and you could fall hundreds of meters to your death! We met up with some of the miners on their break, we sat and chewed coca leaves together. Our guide translated questions to them and some stupid girl in our group asked "What's the life expectancy of a miner?".  Luckily the miners donīt understand English and our guide said "Iīll talk to you about this later... Not in front of the miners". Later on he told us that most of them donīt live past there forties as they get lung cancer or die in accidents. He also explained that they have a different mentality to non-miners.  First of all they believe in the in the God of the Earth, the "Miners God", which looks like the devil. Every mine has a statue of him (see photos) and the miners leave gifts such as coca leave and cigarettes when they enter the mine; they believe he will look after them. Secondly they never think about the future and of bad things to come; they always live for the moment. A miner's Child automatically becomes a miner, starting anything from the age of 13. Itīs very difficult to become a miner unless you are from a miner's family. A miner typically earns about Ģ140 per week. Women arenīt allowed to work down the mine as it brings bad luck.

I left the mine feeling a bit sad, seeing how these poor people live. It makes you think twice, next time you buy a nice piece of jewelry...
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simon Collie on

All geared up eh?

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