A day in Hell in a Bolivian silver mine
Trip Start Nov 02, 2007
29Trip End Mar 01, 2008
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
Where I stayed
Las Tres Portadas
Dear family (by Dave)
Well, i know at least one recipient of this mail will be shaking their head over my disobediance at not restricting my ŽextremeŽ activities whilst on the road, but this one is worth an few sentences.
We are currently at Potosi which is famous in Bolivia as the largest mining town in the country, producing primarily silver, zinc and lead. Anyway, today Benj and i did a guided tour of the mine and it will certainly go down as one of the most memorable parts of our trips, but not for all the right reasons.
The tour was for about 5 hours in total but included some gearing up (we were going deep underground after all!) and shopping for gifts for the miners at a makeshift miners hypermarket ...
We headed into the mine which has been in operation for over 500 years since the Spanish conquered the area! Silver is on the way out and Zinc is now the most common mineral found there. Guides said it was quiet a strenuous trip and i have to say even for us in good physical condition it was a big understatement. We were in the mine for about 2 hours, and it was about 1.9 hours too much! The average miner can only work for 10-15 years before dying from silicosis or some horrible lung infection. Kids as young as 13 sometimes work down there. We had to crawl along most of the shafts on our hands and knees, and the choking dust everywhere made it very hard to breath, (all on top of the fact that the mine is located at 4200 metres so we were short of breath from walking 10 metres anyway).
Benj decided quite rightly to head back after about 20 mins because the tunnels were so cramped and it was clearly a bit of a health hazard being there, not to mention a relative feeling of ŽunsafenessŽ. She categorically made her mind up to turn back (guided of course) when we were watching a miner at the top of an elevator shaft (more like a rope tow lugging huge rubber bags of earth and rock up a vertical shaft in the rock) unload the bags of crap into a trapdoor which then opened to drop the material into those old trolley cars you would have seen in the Indiana Jones movies
It was a good move of BenjŽs to turn back, because after that we headed from the first floor down the second and third floors of the mine, which has a total of eight. In the safe and often used sections, we were on our hands and knees, and sometimes on our bellies just to pass through the tunnels connecting the mine! The heat was oppressive, the air almost non existent, and dust was everywhere, whilst these guys are doing some of the most strenous physical labour imaginable. I picked up a shovel and started filling a rubber barrel and was soon puffed in a minute! These guys have a huge wedge of coca leaves permanently stuck in their cheeks as sustenance. Slaving away for what we would consider a pittance, and all with the full realisation and expectation of a early and painful death from lung diseases. Bolivia being Bolivia, safety was non existent and the tools they were using have hardly advanced from when the mine opened some 500 years ago
Well the fun and games were not quite over once we finally made our way out of the mine (the saying Žlight at the end of the tunnelŽ certainly takes on new meaning for me now!). Time for a bit of a demolition derby! Yep, we took the explosives that we had bought earlier, and prepared it. The following explosions were quite shocking, extremely loud and certainly and sight to experience! An amazing experience, but certainly not one i will be doing again for a while, and it really makes you appreciate your lot in life.
Potosi, Bolivie. Dave raconte dans ce texte notre periple dans une mine dŽargent qui est operationelle depuis lŽarrivee des conquistadores Espagnols il y a 500 ans. Ceux-ci ayant usurpe la totalite des mineraux precieux comme lŽArgent, la mine aujourdŽhui ne produit plus que du Zinc et dŽautres metaux (Plomb).
Nous avons dŽabord ete equipes des pieds a la tete avec casque, masques, combinaison et bottes de surete
Nous avons ensuite vu dans une station de traitement comment le minerai brut est melange avec des produits chimiques pour separer par effet de flottaison, les differents mineraux. Venu le temps accompagnes dŽanciens mineurs de descendre dans la mine, qui est composee aujourdŽhui de 8 niveaux, seuls les 3 premiers etants accessibles aux touristes car surs et empruntes regulierement. Au premier abord, il est clair que la mine nŽa pas beaucoup evolue dans les 500 dernieres annees puisque geree sous forme de cooperative de mineurs qui ne permet pas dŽeffectuer les investissements necessaires en matiere de systemes de surete et de securite...Pas rassuree la Benj!
Apres 200m a lŽinterieur de la montagne, je decide finallement de faire demi-tour, lŽair se faisant trop rare et le sentiment de claustrophobie grandissant. Pas de panique, mais juste le sentiment que cet endroit nŽest pas fait pour moi! Apparement jŽai eu bien raison, car des le 2eme niveau dans la mine il aurait fallu crapahuter dans les tunels dans une chaleur tropicale....
Lorsque le groupe est resorti et trouva la lumiere au bout du tunel (!), les guides nous ont fait une petite demo de lŽutilisation de la dynamite qui nous a bien interesse!
Mais en bref, la moralite de lŽhistoire est surtout que les conditions de travail sont absolument terribles, mais que 94% des mineurs choisissent le metier car il nŽy a rien dŽautre a faire dans la region. JŽespere donc que dŽautres secteurs se developperont a lŽavenir pour offrir des activites alternatives a la population comme dans notre belle region du chŽnord! Peut etre aurait-on pu aussi aller visiter le bassin minier plutot que de venir se perdre ici....!!!