More Death Defying Tourism in Bolivia

Trip Start Mar 14, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Bolivia  , Potosí,
Saturday, September 16, 2006

Today I took a tour of the famous mine in Potosi that estimates say claimed at least 8 million lives over 3 centuries of Spanish Colonial rule. After signing a form with Koala Tours that says they are not responsible for accidents, injury, or death that may occur inside the mine, we embarked on our tour of this fascinating, underground realm. The waiver made it perfectly clear that we would be in as much danger as the miners themselves. And although we would be in the hands of our guide, an experienced former miner himself, our safety was not guaranteed. As you can guess, the fact that I am writing this is proof we all made it back out safely.

After gearing up in protective clothing, our first stop was the miner's market where we were encouraged to buy them things they need on a daily basis... this includes soft drinks, alcohol, cigarettes, coca leaves, and the best one ... Dynamite! And so for the first time in my life I walked up to a store clerk and said "I'd like a bottle of water and a stick of dynamite please." Sold! The dynamite came with a fuse and a bag of ammonium nitrate which is needed for a little extra kick when it explodes. I bought dynamite for the miners and coca leaves for the factory workers that process the mined rock. The tradition in Bolivia is to chew coca leaves like tobacco.

Armed with our dynamite and other products, we were off to the processing factory where the rock that comes out of the mine is crushed and the individual elements are separated. This mine contains silver, zinc, lead, and tin. After that, the tour of the actual mine began. The temperature dropped quickly as we first entered the tunnel but the further we went down, the hotter it became. Temperatures deep inside the mine are as high as 113 degrees F! As we made our way deeper down, dodging the occasional 2 ton rail cart whizzing by, we got a real sense of what a life enslaved to this place must have been like. Horrible! In most places in the mine, you can't even stand up straight because the tunnel is too low and in other places we literally had to crawl on our hands and knees to reach the next level or cavern where miners were working. In the past, these exact same passages were used by miners, also crawling on hands and knees, except they were carrying a 100 pound sack of rock on their back to get the treasure to the surface. A tough task indeed. Some of the miners we met were only 18 or 19 years old, yet already had 5 or 6 years of work experience in the mine.

When the underground adventure completed and we were all able to breath fresh air again(like that's possible at 14,000 feet) the last part of the tour commenced ... it was our Terrorism 101 Class! Yes, the extra dynamite we bought for ourselves had to be exploded and to do that we had to learn how to rig the fuse and blasting cap along with the ammonium nitrate ... a basic bomb making class! The poor victim of our new education was a stuffed teddy bear that we blew to smithereens. I posted lots of pix and a video of all our dynamite explosions ... including the demise of poor teddy bear. Many stories and explanations are included with the photos so be sure to enlarge them to learn more.
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