Into the Mines...at an altitude of 4500m
Trip Start Nov 15, 2006
117Trip End Ongoing
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Just yesterday we did a tour into the mines 30-40m underground. Much of the Spanish
wealth came from the hill called Cerro Rico and they used the local people as slaves to extract vast amounts of silver. The mines are very basic, and men and women are still pushing trolleys on small rails. We climbed 50m into the hill via wooden ladders where they were working an active vein of zinc and tin with hammers and dynamite
We took presents of coca leaves, dynamite, ammonium nitrate, drinks and food to
the miners, some who still work in medieval conditions.
For centuries the local people have chewed the leaves to supress appetite when hungry, supplement calcium in their diet, and alleviate altitude sickness. We have been lucky so far in that we have not suffered from altitude sickness. Chewing coca leaves and drinking the tea has definitely helped.
The Spanish and the Catholic Church tried to stop the indigenous people using coca leaves. And now of course the US is trying to stop the growing of coca in South America because they canīt control their own cocaine demand. Here, it is evident even after a few weeks, that chewing coca leaves and drinking coca tea is a natural and essential part of life.
Another first in Potosi for us was discovering chicharron - basically cheap, greasy, tasty bits of pork (or chicken) served with giant corn kernals and potatoes. No knives and forks with this dish - just fingers and a good beer or soft drink to cut through it all!