Eye Opening, Mind Blowing, Life Changing

Trip Start Jul 19, 2010
Trip End Aug 13, 2010

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Saturday, July 24, 2010

We left Uyuni at 8:30am on a private bus- in the nicest way possible thank god! On the public buses, although I agree that every tourist should experience these little things first hand, the public bus was just a nightmare! Completely crowded, especially when you think that we have to fit our big rucksacks onto the bus with us as well, there's no putting it under the seats out of the way like in England. Also another really sad thing, was seeing the children, the crying children in particular. The bus smelt extremely bad, its the smell you imagine when you think of poverty, if that is even possible, basically a mixture of BO with other bad smells. The bus was so crowded that there were a number of Bolivian mums with at least 2 if not 3 or 4 children somehow sat on her lap. The kids in front of me were so cute when they peered over the seats and smiled at us, but they had the permanent tears which had dried up at the corner of their eyes and to add to that, when handing them a baby wipe, when she wiped her finger it was as if layers of paint were coming off, this was very emotional and heart wrenching to witness. The tip of her finger looked sparkling white in comparison to the rest of her finger, which like the rest of her body, was permanently covered/stained in dirt, it was unbelievable, and again shows the level of poverty.

This private bus was amazing it even had a leg rest thing which we pulled out from underneath us, with blankets too- ideal for our 6 hour journey to Potosi. Furthermore, we each had two seats to ourselves and I read my book/listened to my iPod, whilst enjoying my left over pizza slices for lunch. We arrived at Potosi at around 3 and I had obviously become used to the altitude as it did not affect me at all this time, and I signed up for the mine tour which was at 4 (some chose not to join us.)

13 of us then took an extremely squished minibus, what else to expect in Bolivia, through Potosi and stopped off at the miners market to buy them gifts eg dynamite, cigarettes, 96% alcohol, biscuits and coco leaves which they keep in their mouths, numbing it so that they don't feel the hunger. This was a sad sign of things to come in this day which proved to be one of the most emotional days of my trip.

We then got kitted out in yellow jump suits, boots and a smelly helmet. Bolivian kids were on hand to help us out, they were very sweet and told us about their fathers who had sadly died in the mines, they attached our torches to our helmets- and it was really quite emotional listening to their stories. Then we used one of the dynamite sticks and ammonium that we bought from the miners market, to see the explosion outside of the mine. It was a pretty big explosion and the sound and vibration made us all scream haha! I would've hated it if that had happened when we were inside!

We then entered the mine- it was MAD. Mental. The entrance was less than half the size of me, and some parts of the mines were unbelievably small so we had to actually crawl through, really bad if you get claustrophobic, I must admit I was a little panicky at sometimes. In contrast, in other parts of the mine you would just be cautiously walking through and then suddenly there were these random, massive, deep holes surrounding you... my legs were shaking the entire time- it was terrifying! We could hear explosions from inside the mines which was completely unnerving, especially when little rocks fell on our heads. What have I put myself in for?! I was just waiting for a big fat rock to fall down, trapping us forever...

One accident every day. 8 million deaths. This was what we were told once we were safely back in the minibus. I honestly think if I had heard that on the way up, instead of the way down, to the mines I would have refused to go in, luckily I did though as it was such a cultural eye opener. Really makes you appreciate the life you have, one of those life changing experiences, as it completely changes your outlook on life.

We came across a lot of miners and gave them gifts which we bought in the miners market. The Coco leaves which they suck on constantly in their mouths, numbing their hunger, is also used to overcome altitude sickness. I tried it and it was disgusting! However, they suck on this, and drink the 96% alcohol to survive these appalling conditions in the mines, its a way of life, and its what they have to do to live. It was so sad speaking to the miners through our guide, as the majority were unbelievably shy and we found out that they can start working and risking their lives at 12 years old, and once they start they only have 15 years left to live. 15 years left to live. Unbelievable. This is due to the really bad conditions down in the mines, and the dust etc :(

Carrying on our journey through the mines, I was at the front of the group and then suddenly my head torch shone on the scariest thing I have ever seen. Well, this is due to my surroundings, the pitch black, and the fact that I did not expect to see it at all. It was "The Devil." I had to take a step back and let others discover it for themselves I was so shocked! Our guide told us the story about why the miners worship the devil. All over the mines they have statues where the miners give offerings to the devil and make wishes. This is because they believe that the Devil was just left to rot in hell, just like the miners were simply forgotten about in the times of slavery and so the Devil is their friend. The statue was so unbelievably freaky though, and in order to make a wish you're supposed to touch its penis which is erect and red.

We were underground for over an hour, and returned safe and sound to the hotel for 7. We walked to a posh restaurant and I had chicken and chips- much needed.

What a day. What an experience.
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