Will never complain about work again....

Trip Start Jan 19, 2006
Trip End Jan 19, 2007

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Today we decided to move on (we are not good at sitting still) and Jon and Martin from Ireland came with us which meant we had to (temporarily) say goodbye to Jen and Jon from our recent travels. We are all doing similar routes so hopefully will catch up again.

The 4 of us got a taxi back to Potosi for about 2 quid each for a two hour journey. Also stopped on the way at a lovely old bridge which looked like a castle drawbridge but is still used to do for foot passengers.

Were a bit hesitant to arrive back in Potosi after a few days ago and bus terminal brought back horrid memories but we quickly bought our bus tickets to leave for Le Paz tonight and headed into town.

It is actually a nice place and a lot smaller than Sucre. It is the worlds highest city and also one of the poorest apparently. We walked around to find a tour of the nearby silver mines which are the main source of income here and have been for many years since colonial times. We plumped for ´Greengo tours´ (interesting spelling etc!) and the 4 of us had a private tour that afternoon which was great timing. Also good as most other tours are in the morning so we would see few tourists.

After a quick lunch we got dressed up in our overalls, helmets with lights, etc and headed about 5km up the hill to start our trip. We had a driver, Spanish miner guide and a translater with us and felt very spoilt. First stop was the miners´ market which sold all the equipment, clothing etc for miners but also we could buy dynamite and presents for the miners as they earn so little and would be explaining to us their work. The boys bought some of the 96% proof alcohol for later - they must be mad! We all then bought the special pre prepared pack of stuff including coca leaves, cigarettes, soft drink (no water down the mine) and some sort of salty volcani ash thing they chew on for 10 bolivianos each and after a few photos headed uphill for the mines.

We were going to the biggest mine which has been going since the 18th century. There was a lovely church near the top plus a good view of the town and ex miners homes all reminded me of old mining villages at home.

We had bought some dynamite (would be rude not to) and were shown how to put the elements together before the fuse was lit and we all briefly held the lit bomb for a photo before our guide ran and put it in at an area away from everyone. We waited, and waited and suddenly BBBBBBBBOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMM. We were all frightened out of our skin it was so loud. Dave videoed it which was good although it took a while for him to refocus on the area it had gone of in!

Before we went into the narrow archway my stomach started to feel quite queasy which was not great timing. We all went in and avoided the huge shafts to one side of us and walked further in. Some of the mines are 45 degrees inside fortunately ours was a lot cooler. It was very dusty in there and although I had a face mask on it was steaming up my glasses so dispensed with it. After another 10 minutes I felt faint, hot and pretty dreadful but the guides really looked after me. I think it was some sort of food poisoning and the guide kindly showed me to a corridor to relieve myself. Great story eh. My mum will be so proud.

I started to feel a bit better as we met some miners filling the truck of rubble which would be taken to the nearby plant to find zinc, other minerals and hopefully (for them) silver. We kept on wandering and I felt dreadful for the poor people who work here. It is no life. No wonder they want the coca leaves and 96% proof alcohol that the tourists bring them to numb the pain. We were shown to another miner chipping away at a rock with a metal hammer and chisel as he couldnt afford any other equipment. He seemed drunk and high but we could all understand why. You could hear and feel the occasional blast of dynamite beneath you and hoped that all was well down below.

They work as long as they can as the mines are co-operative so anything they earn they keep pretty much. Although there are 3 different levels of miners and they earn different amounts according to the level and how much money they have put into the co-op. In colonial times they spent 6 months of the year down here never going up.

We then got to a narrow passageway and a miner was shouting and running so we all did too to the small ´chapel´ for ´el tio´ or the god of the mines (comes from Dios in spanish). We all sat down and then heard and felt a huge blast beneath us as he had just detonated some dynamite. They have to waited an hour plus to go back down again once the dust etc has settled. We sat for a while looking at the devil statue created in colonial times to control the miners and make them work harder. They now come here esp on Fridays to pour a small amount of alcohol on each of the devils legs and pray for safety and good luck. They then drink some of the pure alcohol themselves so that they can be purified and taken care of. Only after that can they mix it with another drink!

We talked about the history of the mines and life expectancy. After about 15-20 years miners can anticipate being incapicitated and dying for silicosis in their lungs from all the fumes. All this for about $5 a day - which is in fact 3 times more than the normal salary. Thousands of men, and children (some as young as 10), work here. The minerals are likely to run out in 30 years and there are no other ways of making a living around here for that quantity of people.

We started to continue through the tunnels and I was relieved to see daylight again. Outside we met a 10 year old boy selling polished minerals who was filthy and looked like the dust was ruining his eyes. He said he didnt want to work in them when he was older. Im not sure whether he will have much choice.

We had now finished our trip and went back into town to get rid of our dirty overalls and wished we could have a shower before our bus. I think that this tour will leave a lasting impression on us all though.

After dinner we went back to the bus station and got our bus at 20.30. We took half a sleeping tablet each and despite waking up a few times slept pretty well (even after the bus broke down for ages).
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