Potosi & Uyuni

Trip Start Sep 04, 2007
Trip End May 28, 2008

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Monday, October 29, 2007

After La Paz we went to Potosi, which claims to be the highest city in the world at over 4000m. Potosi is famous for the silver mines in the nearby Cerro Rico (Rich mountain).

We went for a tour of the mines to see what life is like for the miners. First of all we stopped off at the miners market to buy some fairly unusual gifts... like sticks of dynamite, coca leaves and pure sugar cane alcohol (96%). We then got dressed up in all the mining gear with helmets and lamps.

Our guide demonstrated the power of dynamite when we visited the top of the mountain. We had actually bought sticks of TNT for Ģ1 each.... no security issues here. The explosive was like a soft green plastic which could be molded into shapes. Simply insert the detonator, attach the fuse, light it and then run. The bang was impressive.

The entrance to the mine we visited was at 4260m. Safety isnīt exactly up to European standards so we had to be careful where we went. All the work is carried out in the traditional way, with no power tools. One guy we visited was trying to locate seams of minerals using a long metal spike and a hammer. He let me have a go and it was really hard work, but I impressed him enough to be offered a 1 month work placement (no thanks!). They have children as young as 13 working in the mines. 

Deep in the mine we saw a seam of silver and tin. Over hundreds of years, thousands of tons of pure silver have been extracted from the mountain, and millions of miners have died. Most of the silver was shipped to Spain.

In the afternoon I visited the Royal Mint where the silver used to be made into coins.They have the old machines on display, including mule driven rolling machines to thin the silver ingots down to coin thickness, and more modern steam powered and electrical machines. It was a really interesting museum. The Bolivians seem quite bitter with the Spanish for taking all the silver (I was just thinking it was nice to hear bad colonial things about the Spanish for once rather than the British, when the guide mentioned a few British pirates!).

We then had a really rough day on the road to get to Uyuni which is famous for the Salar de Uyuni, the worldīs largest salt flat. We had a great day out on the salt flats and spent ages taking photos. The plain white ground stretches to the horizon so by playing around with perspective we could take silly photos.

At sunset we visited the train graveyard, where steam engines from all over South America have been abandoned.  Allegedly one of the steam trains was the victim of a robbery by Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid. I really enjoyed walking around, over and in the decaying locomotives.

More photos at
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=19303&l=2691f& id=660876856
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