Working Hard To Make A Living

Trip Start Nov 22, 2005
Trip End May 15, 2006

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Monday, January 23, 2006

Probably one of my best experiences here in Bolivia was visiting the silver mines in Potosi. Potosi, back in its hey-day, was the largest and wealthiest city in Latin America by the end of the 18th century. Potosi was the primary source of silver to the Spanish economy and its monarchs for over 2 centuries. But by the end of the 19th century silver production declined and Potosi was abandoned for other silver mines found elsewhere around the world. Today Potosi is only a shadow of its former grand colonial days. Mining still continues but these days mainly for tin, zinc and lead.

The centre of attention amongst all of this is Cerro Rico (Rich Hill) where silver mining first began. Millions of indians and African slaves worked in the mines in extremely dangerous conditions. Many died either from accidents or pneumonia.

Mining tools used during the colonial days were the most advanced in the whole world. Today the same mining tools are being used and the 980 current miners work in very primitive conditions. I lasted about 40 minutes touring the mine. There was an option to go deeper into the mines but the dust and odour was so bad that I couldn't continue. Less than half our group actually completed the tour. A typical miner would work 12 hours straight and their diet in the mines would consist of marijuana cigarettes, fire water (98% alcohol), a few dried bananas, and an abundance of coca leaves. The sad fact is that, other than mining, there isn't a great deal of other employment opportunities in Potosi and men would start to work in the mines as young as 14. When we met with the miners we gave them gifts of food and drink and they were so excited to see us and receive our offerings. It was an experience that really brings home the reality these people face every day.

I'm never going to complain about working in front of a computer in an air conditioned office again.
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