Tallest city in the world

Trip Start Aug 26, 2009
Trip End Jun 24, 2010

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Flag of Bolivia  , Potosí,
Thursday, February 25, 2010

At a staggering 4090m Potosi is the highest city in the world.  You certainly feel the altitude once you are in the town.  Walking just a couple of blocks up hill really leaves you huffing and puffing for breath.  The main attraction in Potosi is the silver mine.  It is set higher up than potosi in the hills and is the source of a lot of wealth for the local miners.  We were both quite nervous about doing the tour to the mines as it is famous for being cramped and dusty.

The day of the tour we were picked up and taken to the miner's market.  This is basically a market where you can get all things miney, including dynamite!  Apparently there are no restrictions on buying dynamite, you can get it from any shop including the fuses to blow it up.  We gingerly all had a look at the different types and then brought some along with drinks  and coca leaves for the miners.  It is considered polite to bring gifts when going into the mines as you are invading their work space.

Next we got kitted out in overalls, boots and our miners head torches, ready for business. While we were getting ready there was the cutest little puppy running around and Jemma wanted to steal him away back to the UK.

We had asked the guide how small the tunnels get and he indicated it was about 4 feet high or so and that reassured us enough to get us into the mines.  Our confidence quickly evaporated after we got into the first level.  The mine is hot, dusty and airless, just walking to our first stopping point left us panting.  Our group gathered around one of the Gods of the underworld that they worship for safety in the mine and our guide explained how every miner starts at the bottom of the working scale, earning the least and doing the worst jobs.  However any miner can save up and start his own operation mining a new seam, if he strikes good silver then he is rich, if not then it is back to the beginning.

By the time we had finished this talk Jemma had gotten too claustrophobic and left with one of the guides back to the entrance.  Tim carried on down to the 3rd level of the mines.  The mines have about 300 different entrances and are a complete maze of tunnels. You can go down seven levels, but the tour is not long enough to get that far thankfully. 

The route down to the 3rd level involved going down a series of muddy slides that, at some points, were not high enough for me to sit up straight in.  At these points you had to slide forward on your bum until you reached the next space.  It is amazing to see that these miners, even at the lower levels where there is hardly any air, are working at full pace pushing trolleys and breaking rocks with pickaxes.  I was glad when we started to climb back up and I moved even faster when we started to hear wooden beams falling from the ceiling and hitting the rocks.  To make matters worse our guides then started yelling at us to move faster.  One beam fell right by a ladder we had to climb and you could feel the added tension in the group.  The climb back up to the top level was incredibly tough as the muddy slopes were nearly impossible to climb, as I proved by sliding down about 6 feet at one point.  At the end I was practically running to reach the exit and the fresh air felt amazing.

After the mines we got to detonate some of our dynamite.  It was quite cool to just stand there holding a stick of dynamite.  It felt a little like being in a road runner cartoon.  Once we had all passed it around our guide then ran off with it and put it into some muddy water.  When it went off the sound was incredibly loud and, well, check the video out for the end result.

Once recovered from our mine ordeal we managed to arrange a taxi to Sucre with two other girls, I don't know why but collectivos are always more exciting than buses.  Maybe it's because the drivers are crazier and the ride is a little more unpredictable.
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