me holding some lit dinamite after the tour - yes it did go off but not in my hand
the older Tio smoking a fatty
250 K bag of dirt brought up by the machine
us and the guy manning the machine pully
a vein of silver, they used to be over a yard wide, now most are around a foot or so
Josh and I decided three cities in twenty four hours would be a good record, so after our flight from Rurrenabaque landed in La Paz we headed straight for the bus station and got on a bus for Potosi. Potosi was once the wealthiest city in South America due to its silver mines, but the Cerro Rico has a twisted history. In 1650 the town exploded with people looking to get rich quick, and of course this entailed the forced labor of over 8 million indigenous people in the mines. Over 8 million indigenous poeple also died in the mines after being forced to stay in the airless tunnels for as long as six months.
Today, the mines are almost depleted but the miners still make a pretty good living and still have a much shorter life span than most Bolivians. Only forty miners die in the mines every year, and the number would probably be less if the mines weren´t strewn with empty beer cans and plastic bottles of what I call rubbing alcohal, but what others call 95% drinkable grain alcohol. I tried some of it mixed with coke...wouldn´t take long to burn a hole in something with that stuff. However, if I had to work in the mines for 8 hours at a time with nothing but soda and coca leaves to fill my belly I might take to the hard stuff myself.
The tour of the mines takes about three hours, and begins in a room full of clothes. You done your work outfit and head back to the van. Outfitted in our pants, rainboots, jackets, belts, hard hats and head lamps we were separated into Spanish speakers and non-Spanish speakers.
looking silly in the streets of Potosi but ready for anything!
Turns out Josh and I were the only gringos fluent enough in Spanish to make it through the tour so we ended up with our own private guide!
He explained about the coca leaves, and how we needed to bring gifts the the miners to we could make them happy and take photos with them. We brought orange soda and coca leaves and headed to the mines.
no words necessary...so sexy though
miners outside the mines sorting the days work into piles of quality: pure rock with silver, less pure, and earth mixed with good stuff
We headed into the mines, and I realized that I was a little scared. What if the whole thing colapsed? The guide told me I was being silly, and to watch my head as I tested my hard hat against some obvious obstacle for the first of many times and we followed the tracks into the earth. We met some guys running the carts full of earth and silver out of the mines like the one being emptied above. The carts way a tone and a half, and these two guys need to bring carts like these out of the mine twenty times a day.
We then separated from the English speaking group and our guide to a reluctant me down seven levels into the earth and down nine wooden ladders that I climbed slowly and with a bit of fear even though I knew the miners scurry up and down these ladders all day.
At the lowest level there is just one worker filling up a rubber bag of earth that weighs about 50 K. This is attched to a manual pully that two men on the next level pull up. These men fill an even bigger bag of around 250 K which is attached to a mechanical pully. One man operates this machine on a higher level, and the other helps guide the rubber bin over to the side where its contents can be dumped and put into these wooden holders that jet out of the walls on the path in the mine which are emptied into the metal bins that are sent out of the mine.
We also saw a man drilling holes in the wal for dinamite. This a very high paying job due to the noise and dust the drill makes. The dust was so thick you could barely see him and I high tailed it out of there as soon as possible for the sake of my unprotected ears and nose. Miserable....
We then headed to visit the Tio of the mine. This statue was origionally supposed to be a devil, but since the natives didnt have the letter d in ther vocabulary it came out Tio instead of diablo. The big read statue with a rather large falus was surrounded by offerings, and the older head of another Tio of the mine had a smoking cigarette in it. Non filtered of course just like what the miners smoke. When an accident happens the miners say that the tio is angry and they have forgotten him. Another superstition is that women are bad for the mine. The earth is a female diety, and if the miners bring their wives into her mine she is jealous and the vein of silver will run out.
Sorry again for how the posts are looking, I am doing my best down here which isnt very good at all!!! But its something....From Potosi we headed to Uyuni but that post will have to come later!!