Oh to be a Miner
Trip Start Sep 07, 2011
289Trip End Sep 06, 2012
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Where I stayed
Hostel Casarte Takabuco
We were kitted out in orange overalls, hard hats and lights and were taken up to the mines which were about 4600 metres above sea level.
First of all on the way up to the mines, we stopped off at a little market to buy gifts for the miners. Can you believe you can buy dynamite on the streets to give as gifts!! The other options were Coca leaves, which the miners chew on all day to stop them from being hungry, alcohol which is 96% proof (I tried a little and it was like rocket fuel, it just burnt your insides!), special cigarettes, juice and water. I asked what would they prefer and was told Coca leaves and juice. The total cost of this was 10 bolivianos which equates to 1 pound.
We got to the mines and the woman who was leading the tour explained that obviously this is a working mine and we have to be careful down there and if we hear the metal trolleys coming, we need to get out of the way pretty quickly.
It was quite horrible going down the mines. We were led down all these little tunnels which were dark, wet and cold and it was quite hard to breathe. I had a scarf over my mouth to stop all the dust going down into my lungs. Most of the tunnels were very low so we all had to bend down and shuffle through them. It's not surprising they are so low as the Bolivians are very short people. I did ask in the tour office if it would be difficult to get through as my back was still pretty sore and they said no. Yeah right, they just want your money!
After about 15 minutes we mad a stop after crawling through one of the tunnels. This is where the miners have made a statue of a devil which they all give offerings to, who is called Tio (Uncle) God of the mines. The reason they have made a devil is that he is part of the earth, as god is up above. They offer him cigarettes so that he dies into the ground and they survive, they also give him alcohol for another reason that I cannot remember, but it is all to do with keeping the miners safe and string whilst they are working in the mines.
We went through many tunnels, stopping and talking to miners along the way and also giving them gifts as we go. They have a bloody hard life down there and it certainly put my life into perspective. Never will I complain about how hard I have it when you see what they go through and what they get paid for it
There was one point as we headed down the mines, the temperature suddenly rose and we were sweating buckets. I really don;t know who these guys do it. The starting age of a miner is about 14 and most of them work until at least 55 - 60, depending on health etc. We were told that miners die quite young due to the chemicals and conditions that they are exposed to. It is absolutely terrible.
Whilst we were down the mine, we witnessed dynamite being exploded. We were moved a distance away whilst three blasts were made. My god, the second blast felt like it went off just over our heads. The vibration of the blast was incredible.
We were down the mine for a good 3 hours and it was so interesting to be down there, if a little scary. All the miners had such a good sense of humour, all laughing and joking with us. You really need this working down there
The last part of the tour was to go to the silver refinery plant where they wash all the material and sift through all the rubbish to get the good stuff. Out of every 8 tonnes of rubble, 1 tonne of good silver comes out!!!
I really enjoyed this tour and so did the others. At least some of our money which we paid for the tour actually goes back to the miners for health care and food.
That afternoon, myself and Mike caught a bus to Sucre, as apart from the mining tour, there isn;t much to do in Potosi and also it is really hard to walk up and down the hill all day long. Lilly was going to Cochabamba. Our bus left at 5 pm and it took 4 hours to get to Sucre. It was on another local bus which was pretty uncomfortable and also very noisy. For the whole 4 hours they had the same CD on repeat. It was Bolivian music, which was fine, but after listening to it for the 5th time, it got a little annoying!
We managed to find a hostel in Sucre, but the dorm room was not ready so I ended up sharing a twin room with Mike, which was fine as we have been sharing a dorm room so what's the difference. The good thing about getting a twin room is that you get an ensuite bathroom and in this hostel we also had our own kitchen. Happy days!
Let's see in the morning what Sucre has to offer