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Published: August 8th 2018
Potosí Silver Mine: Playing with Dynamite (15/07/2018-16/07/2018)
Silver is big business in Bolivia.
In Potosí (4000m) lies Cerro Rico (4800m): a huge mountain full of silver veins.
Since the beginning of the mining, Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain) has lost over 400 meters in height due to the now 60 miles of tunnels created in eager search of silver. Now it is in imminent danger of collapsing into itself but all thanks to Bolivia's lack of health and safety standards, gringos are allowed to enter. Yay!
Not only that, but you can buy miners presents from the local miners market and give them as gifts during the tour. Some bought lemonade, some bought gloves, some bought masks.. But I bought an actual stick of dynamite (it also comes with detonator and a bag of ammonium nitrate to make it extra powerful). Double yay!
After signing our lives away, buying gifts, shotting 96 percent proof alcohol (the miners tipple), we were armed with masks, boots, hard hats, torches... the full shebang.
Upon crawling into the tiny mine entrance, we met El Tio, the horned devil of the underworld (with a massive penis). The miners worship him
by offering him coca leaves, alcohol, and lighting a cigarette in his mouth, in exchange for protection in their dark and dangerous workplace. We didn´t want to piss off the devil, so were no exception.
Bear in mind we were already 4,100 meters up, so the air is pretty thin. As we descended further into the mines, the already limited air gets even more thin, and gets replaced by toxic dusts and gases. Our head lamps light the ridiculous amount of dust floating around us, and it got far worse the further in we got.
For 2 hours, we crawled through tight gaps, up tiny ladders, ducked through small holes and met some of the (very dusty) miners. I'd tell you their hilarious nicknames but they were all too rude for the blog (they believe the bad language gives them power and energy).
The risks are great working in these mines, but so are the rewards. Most miners work for themselves (and therefore decide their working hours) and whoever discovers a large vein of silver gets to keep all the profits. Their salaries are above the average wage, but their lifespans are shorter than most.
are going to use the dynamite now; do you want to stay and listen?" our guide said. 50 meters away from the dynamite, we were huddled in the "safe zone" (still had a crumbling ceiling and was lined with very pretty sulphate crystals. "Don't touch the walls, that is sulphate" our guide said. Oopps, too late. My friend Toon had been touching the walls for the last 20 minutes.
Minutes later, there was loud yelling (the dynamite warning) and 2 dusty miners appeared from a small hole. We all sat very nervously in silence, me and Khmyo gripping onto each other in a ball on the floor. Our heads were in our hands. "Don't worry", our guide said, "they are only using 25% of the dynamite".
Then came an almighty boom, one after another, each one totally shaking the mine and vibrating through my whole body. The ceiling crumbled a little as some involuntary swear words escaped our mouths and me and Khmyo squeezed each other tighter. 16 incredible, anxiety-inducing booms later, and we left the "safe zone" and exited the mine quickly and eagerly. I have never been so glad to see fresh, clean air and literally,
the light at the end of the tunnel.
It was an unbelievable experience and very eye-opening to see the lengths we go to for silver. The men of Potosí’s silver mine are seriously tough guys! Sucre: Learning Spanish in Sucre (13/07/2018-15/07/2018)
Sucre is the most beautiful city in Bolivia; a whole world away from La Paz.
Come here to see pretty quiet streets, white-washed colonial buildings, and bell towers.
We stayed in Kulture Berlin, a great hostel with a buffet breakfast any backpacker would die for. I thoroughly recommend.
It is also a very popular place to enroll in Spanish school; which is exactly what I did. I had a few hours of private one-on-one tuition at a mere 35 BOB (£3.84) an hour. I was a good girl and even finished all my homework. Then had a few too many happy hour mojitos with the crew and unfortunately we didn't make it to the following days lessons (not such a good girl, afterall).
Sucre is also home to one of the largest collections of dinosaur footprints in the World (in the middle of a cement factory, how random). A
very knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide takes you round the museum, and you can go right up to the impressive crumbling wall of prints that are millions of years old. The wall is now a practically vertical 1.2km limestone cliff, all thanks to tectonic plate movement. Awesome stuff!
I also recommend doing the short hike up the back streets to get to the El Mirador (a very pretty lookout!). The free city tour will take you here. The tour also takes you to a 'bar' (very lose term) full of friendly (and drunk) Bolivian locals. We drank chica (a traditional, fermented drink made from corn) out of glasses in the shape of women's bodies and coconut shells, then played Sapo (a popular South American game whereby you throw coins at a table with holes in). Fun times!
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