The Highest City in the World

Trip Start Mar 14, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Bolivia  , Potosí,
Friday, September 15, 2006

I'm in Potosi, Bolivia ... The Highest City in the World at 13,430 feet (4070 m). The history of Potosi is quite amazing despite the difficult living conditions like the cold and lack of oxygen associated with this altitude. Potosi was once THE largest and wealthiest city in the world ... at one time surpassing even London and Paris ... thanks to the discovery of silver in the nearby "Cerro Rico" or Rich Hill. The subsequent mining of the mountain provided so much wealth it helped modernize all of Europe and played a part in the Industrial Revolution. The story of the mines, however, is not a glorious tale.
Under Spanish Colonial rule, local indigenous Indians and black slaves brought from Africa were forced to work in the mines in appalling conditions with absolutely no safety standards. It is estimated that over 8 million people died working in the mines over the 300 years of colonial oppression; most due to exposure to toxic chemicals like mercury in the refining process but others in cave-ins, or from black lung disease which usually killed within 10 years of entering the mine. Conditions today have improved little as many miners are using the same techniques in the same conditions as 200 years ago. These days, the rich silver deposits are all gone, along with the elite status of Potosi. Miners eek out a living by mining some silver but mostly lead, tin, and zinc. In my next entry, we'll go on a tour of the mine!
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