To Hell

Trip Start Oct 05, 2009
Trip End Jun 05, 2010

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Friday, February 5, 2010

 A breathtaking (literally) elevation of 4060 meters makes Potosi the
worldīs highest city.  However, its close proximity to the heavens is
of little benefit to the workers of the cooperative silver mines, who
after generations of unfulfilled opportunistic labor in the deadly
mines, have turned their prayers to the only deity that will hear them,
a devil of the hill they call Tio.

Immediately after silver was
found in the majestic rainbow Cerro Rico (rich hill) in the 1500īs, the
Spanish colonists built miles of tunnels through the mountain to
extract the valuable metal.  For centuries, millions of indigenous
people and African slaves were conscripted to work in appalling
conditions to appease Spanish silver greed.  Today, almost all of the
silver has been depleted and the state has abandoned the mines to the
6000 locals who work cooperatively to salvage the remaining copper,
zinc and other semiprecious minerals. 

The conditions and
methods of the mines have remained unchanged since their opening. 
Using crude tools in deep claustrophobic shafts, miners work eight to
twelve hour days shoveling rocks and hauling out minerals in backpacks
to personally sell to a smelter.  Children of mining families usually
begin work in The Hill at the age of ten, and are soon diagnosed with
lung cancer, pscillicous pneumonia or other pulmonary/respiratory
diseases from exposure to an abundance of noxious gasses.  The average
life expectancy is 15 years after entering the mine.

A journey
into the mine begins by offering coca leaves and alcohol to the statue
of Tio which sits at the narrow mine entrance.  A muddy path along the
mine cart tracks takes you deeper and deeper into the hill.  Tight
squeezes through muddy passageways and rickety ladders takes you
through caverns that range in temperature from below freezing to over
100 degrees Fahrenheit.  Blue quartz grows in the walls and the ceilings
shimmer with pyrite in front of light of your headlamp.  After a few
hours in the shaft, daylight has never looked so beautiful. 

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