The highest city in the world at 4160m

Trip Start Jun 01, 2009
Trip End Dec 10, 2009

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Friday, July 17, 2009

We left Uyuni at 10am on Thursday for Potosi which was a 6 hour bus ride.  The bus was actually fine again - the seats were quite comfy.  We were near the back and a guy was pissed and kept pestering a woman.  Ror said she was hitting him a few times.  I was oblivious to this until I took off my earphones and a woman went up to tell the driver.  The bag boy came down and took the man away from the back - it was disgusting - he was falling all over the place and had blood on his face.  I was really scared but thankfully I was in by the window.  The bus made a pit stop then and they must have thrown him off thankfully.

Potosi was unreal driving into it - the road became tarred which was class - no bouncing around the place on dirt roads!  Potosi used to be one of the richest cities in the world because silver was found in the mines.  The buildings were plastered and painted which was a rare site in Bolivia thus far.  The city is built in the valley but also spreads into the mountains - it's beautiful.  When we got off the bus we felt out of breath again.  We relaxed in the hostel for a while and then went out for dinner.  We were both feeling a bit crap so we went to a nearby place called La Plata which is a pure gringo hangout but so what - we got nachos (yum!), lasagne and pasta alfredo and milkshakes - it was gorgeous and we started to feel better after it.  The buildings in Potosi are amazing - there are beautiful colonial churches and squares - a real sign of the money that was once in the city. 

On Friday morning we went on a mine tour.  Thankfully we were both feeling fine - this was the big worry coming to Potosi that the altitude would affect us again but we must be acclimatising.  Anyway our tour was run by ex miners.  We went to get our hard hats, lamps, wellies, pants and jackets first.  Then they brought us to the miners market.  Here we bought dynamite (they sell it to anyone over here no questions asked!), coco leaves, soft drink and alcohol for the miners we would talk to.  The miners can be down in the mines for 8 hours a day without eating any food so they chew coca leaves to keep hunger at bay.  They like soft drinks as it is so dry down there and on Friday they drink alcohol.  Ror tried the alcohol which was made from cane and was 96% vol!  Lol the look on his face was enough for me to pass on it!  The next stop on the tour was the lookout point from Cerro Rico down over Potosi which was cool.  We got to the mine which was basically a hole in the mountain.  We went in and I have to say I thought it would be more narrow than it was.  You had to duck down in most parts.  There was a 6ft 4" guy on our tour so I'd say his back was aching from crouching.  The Bolivians were skitting at him because they are all quite small.  I am guessing that it must be due to the lack of oxygen here?  Who knows but I fit in quite well here and at 5'1" could even be average height - I tower over some people so that's a first for me!  Anyway running the length of the track we were walking was a rail track and they use this to get the minerals out by pulling it out on trollies.  As I said there isn't really any silver there anymore so now they mine minerals like zinc.  The mines are co-operatives which means that the miners work for themselves.  Some mine quality and some mine quantity.  It is said that miners on average can die within 10 years of entering the mine from black lung or silicosis.  Women don't work the mines - they are seen as bad luck but they can work in the processing plants along with children.  Its human nature to complain and give out but we really should realise how lucky we are at home with our jobs and that children don't have to work to help families make ends meat - that we have a right to an education which is free (on the whole) so that we don't have to have a life like this - its a real eye opener when you see it first hand.  Anyway our guide brought us down to 2 miners to talk to them - firstly we had to get down to the lower level which was by means of an open hole in the earth and we had to careful climb our way down.  We sat down in a circle with the miners.  They were chiseling into the rock with a mallet - they would make a deep hole and then put dynamite into it and blow the mineral out.  The sweat that was pouring out of them was unreal and you have to have some strength to hammer up into hard rock.  We gave them the gifts and shared the alcohol with them.  It was mixed with half a bottle of orange and a bit of water.  What they do is they pour some drink onto the ground for Pachamama who is Mother Earth whom they thank for the mine which provides them with work and knock back the rest.  They also pray to Tio who looks like the Devil but only because they are working underground to keep them safe.  A few years ago a brother of one of the miners died when part of mine collapsed.  I got a bit uncomfortable at this bit of information - I wondered had it happened to any tourists.  I put it out of my mind and took the drink - he poured way too much for me so I offered quite a bit of it up to Pachamama and supped the rest - it was fine actually - well mixed but it kept me warm!  We left the miners after a good chat and had to go back up the way we came.  Ror had gone ahead of me and I heard him say from the top that I would find it tough getting up - damn right!  I climbed up a bit on whatever footholds I could find.  I was near the top and couldn't find anywhere to move.  The guide took my hand but if I moved my right hand I felt I would fall back but he grabbed my bag and somehow they pulled me up.  All the guys found it tough getting up so I didn't do too bad!  He brought us into another part of the mine and there were 4 guys working away.  One of them was only 16!  They started asking us if we had any sisters - they were very interested when Ror said he had an older sister and they said to put in a good word so Niamh we might have found you a miner lol!  As one guy said his sister would only be interested if they could mine gold and silver!  They were all characters.  They love Western women because our colouring is so different and our eyes are different colours - the woman over here have brown eyes.  We went back out and I was glad to see the daylight at the end of the tunnel.  We had kept one dynamite for a demonstration so one of the guides put a long white fuse in it and lit it.  He said it would take 2 minutes to blow so we all had a picture taken with it - its only now I am thinking that some dynamites could be duds and might blow unexpectedly?!  Anyway he threw it away and we were all standing a good bit back taking footage on our cameras.  The blast from it was deafening - I can't believe that they blow up parts of the inside of a mountain with it.  We even heard one when we were in there - you would imagine that it would all collapse!  We got out of it safe and sound and really enjoyed the day.  It was so interesting to see their lives and how hard they are.  There is a movie made about a young boy in the mines so I want to watch that when I get chance. 

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