Situated at an elevation of 4090m Potosi is one of the highest cities in the world.Lying at the foot of the Cerro Rico (“rich mountain”)—a mountain popularly conceived of as being “made of” silver it was established as a mining town in 1545.
Visiting one of these mines has proved to be another unforgettable travel experience that i have experienced.
The tours begin with a visit to the miners’ market, where miners stock up on acetylene rocks, dynamite, cigarettes and other essentials.Gifts are not expected, however these luxuries cost pittance and are goods that a miners’ meager earnings are scarcely sufficient.
Once adequately suited and booted, yes you will get extremely hot , sweaty and dirty doing this trip you enter the mine. All mines have a shrine, with effigies of the Virgin Mary and a Tio (Tio is actually a representation of the devil). The belief is that because the steaming bowels of the earth offer such riches, it must be he who owns them, rather than Pachamama (Mother Earth), or a Christian god from the heavens.Situated just past the entrance , it is our first stop.Every day, the miners perform a cha’lla, ( offering to the effigies. Tio is blessed by a cap-ful of alcohol poured at his feet, and then a cap-ful is consumed by the miner.
The passage ways are a challenging to negotiate in themselves, low ceilings , steep and muddy.Crawling through narrow shafts you end up going between 3-4km into the mountain,whilst being exposed to noxious chemicals and gases, including silica dust (the cause of silicosis), arsenic gas and acetylene vapors, as well as asbestos deposits
I will never forget when our guide informed us that it is a simple choice of money or life, yet when you choose to mine you are also risking your life.The average lifespan for a miner is 10-15 years; most die from silicosis pneumonia.
The safety standards are hit-and-miss; you really are going down at your own risk however you are getting a one off opportunity to witness working conditions that are among the most grueling imaginable.
One reason i travel is to broaden my horizons and to see how others live, even if this exposure makes you feel uncomfortable, guilty or depressed. The Lonely Planets description/warning sums it up well” We urge you not to underestimate the dangers involved in going into the mines and to consider the voyeuristic factor involved in seeing other people’s suffering. You may be left stunned and/or ill”.