Working in the coal mine

Trip Start Nov 20, 2007
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Trip End May 12, 2008


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Friday, April 11, 2008

We left Uyuni promptly for the relatively short bus ride (just 5 hours!) to Potosi - the highest city in the world (over 4000m). We found a hostel we liked the sound of in Lonely Planet but arrived to find it in pieces. We stayed in the only other one nearby and later discovered we were the only tourists staying there, the rest were Bolivian workmen! Not the nicest place we`ve stayed at but it would do for our short time there.

We arrived on the eve for the anniversary of the city so that night we watched the fireworks and other celebrations in the picturesque main plaza before enjoying a really good llama steak (yummy!). The next day there we watched more celebrations including school parades, bands and an appearance from the president. We also went to the Casa Real de la Moneda which explained about the times when Potosi was the richest city in the world due to the amount of silver discovered in the nearby mountains.

The next day was the most bizarre tour we have been on during our trip as we took a tour of the mines. They no long contain much silver but are still very much active today with an estimated 10,000 people mining the nearby mountains. The day started with us collecting our rather fetching overalls and then visiting a miners market where we bought presents for the miners, including fizzy drinks, cigarettes, dynamite and coca leaves (they chew these to combat against the altitude and fatigue). After a brief visit to a refinery it was time to enter the mine. It was incredibly hot and hard to breath with all the dust. It got very narrow at some points as well and we had to crawl on our hands and knees at various points (so not a tour for claustrophobics). We got to see many miners carrying out their daily work and even got to help out for a bit with a brief period of shovelling. It was incredible to see the poor conditions that these guys work in (some as young as 10) and shocking to hear that the average age of these miners is just 45. After an hour and a half inside the mine we all came out very relieved, coughing and spluttering.

To raise our spirits the final part of the tour involved playing with dynamite! The guides set up the dynamite, lit the fuse and handed it to us as we took pictures! The guides then grabbed the dynamite and ran off to bury it so that we could watch the explosions. Great fun! After the tour we then headed to the nearby town of Sucre for the next part of our trip.
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