Silver City

Trip Start Dec 25, 2012
1
49
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Trip End Aug 02, 2013


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Flag of Bolivia  , Potosi Department,
Sunday, June 23, 2013

We had come to Potosi to experience the tour through the mines. (Really I think Solomon was just missing work so much that he wanted to get underground) With not many other options for work readily available, the tunnels worming through the mountain of Cerro Rico (or Rich Hill) play a major part in the economy of this once well to do city. Our guide, Leonardo, informed us that he was fortunate enough to have only had to work underground for 2 months before gaining a job as a tour operator.

Once we were all suited up with protective clothing, rubber boots, a hard hat and a cap lamp, (Our gear, as we later saw, was a lot better then some of the equipment used by the miners) our next stop was to be the markets where we were to buy gifts for the miners. Hearing that some guys receive as little as $4 per day for up to 14 hours of work, it was hard not to buy the whole market. Later I happily discovered that some of the profits made from the tours were shared with the miners.

We finally reach the entrance of the mine and I am rather nervous! Walking through a space just big enough for a service bucket to be pushed through buy a couple of men, we all found out it was to only got worse from there. With spaces we had to crawl through on our bellies and makeshift ladders to climb up tiny tunnels, I could not help but to feel pity for the miners who have no choice but to do this everyday!

In every mine, there is a model depiction of the devil. Known as 'El Tio', they worship him and believe that by bringing offerings everyday he will reward them with quality minerals and safety from accidents.

The smell of sulphur was strong and the humidity high. It was hard to breath and I could taste the dust particles as they entered my mouth through the bandana wrapped loosely around my face! With explosions going off ahead of us, Miners using pick axes as they would have done half a century ago and the 'good old eucalyptus trees' forming what ground support there was, we traced through the tunnels cautiously. The tour took us four levels deep. Weaving up again to see 'the light at the end of the tunnel' we were all excited to taste the fresh air that streamed in from our exit.

Whilst visiting this historically interesting city we also had time to do a walking tour which took us to corners we would have never seen and educating us on information we would have never known.

Interesting facts:

1. Potosi used to be richest city in the world.

2. It is the highest city in the world

3. The peak height of Cerro Rico has dropped over 200m since they stared mining in 1545.

4. As many as 8 million people have died from mining Cerro Rico. Silicosis, pneumonia, cave ins and mercury poisoning are among the most common causes.
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