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Published: December 18th 2008
Day 617 (06.12.08)
A morning on the internet in Sucre was followed by a bus trip to Potosi and we arrived in time to find a place to stay, grab a meal and watch a movie before bed.
Day 618 (07.12.08)
After a wonderfully lazy morning we eventually got our butts into gear and went for a walk around Potosi, the worlds' highest city, to see what it had to offer. This energetic change for the day was however spurred on by a need to eat so we started our walk with a trip to the market for a delicious cheap eat.
Feeling much more satisfied we took out a map we had commandeered and set off to view the city's numerous and ornate churches and landmarks. As it was sunday there as barely a soul on the street so we had the city to ourselves.
Due to the vast reseves of silver once buried in the hills around the city, Potosi was once the world's largest and most prosperous city, a claim that has long since expired, but which has left glimpses of its legacy in the grand churches left behind. Satisfied that we had
taken in the cities architecture and feel we opted to continue our walk down toward the bus terminal to book our ongoing transport. On the way however we managed to stumble upon a large market filled with local families starting preparations for xmas. Very festive.
Bus booked we started the walk back stopping to get a hair cut for mark (well it was starting to get a little unruly) and to watch a bit of local 5-a-side football before relaxing in the hostel.
Day 619 (08.12.08)
Today we were to go and see what had made this city so prosperous, the mines. Although many people are still employed or work for themselves in the mining industry, the numbers have been in decline due to the price of metal ore and the depletion of quality ore to be found. We had been recommended to go with an agency called Koala Tours (who give 15% of the money back to the miners) and had booked on the morning visit.
8.30 am sharp we were picked up from our hostel and driven across town to the house where we would pick up our kit for the mine tour. To
our suprise there were a lot of people also going on the same trip, but as we were getting ready we were split into our smaller groups and introduced to our guide.
Pulling on our over trousers, jacket, wellies, bandana, miner hat and lamp we were ready for the mine! However before we were to go sub terranian our guide 'Pedro Scorpion' (or something like that) took us out to the miners market where we saw all the equipment the miners used and where they could buy all their supplies. Apparently, this area in Potosi is one of the only places where anyone, and we mean anyone, can buy dynomite. As we were going to buy a couple of prezzies for the miners we couldnt resist testing this by getting one of them a full 'completo' of explosive, fuse detonator - basically the works - which came to the huge price of 1 pound 80 pence. Wow, being destructive is cheap here. Also picking up some fizzy pop and a big bag of coca leaves we were laden with our gifts and ready to go.
On the way to the mine we stopped off at the refinery plant
where the raw materal mined from the area is broken down and turned into a more saleable material. The muddy looking gunk behind Chrissie in the picture is 30% silver.
Our final visit for the morning was what we'd got all dressed up for. It was time to go underground. Entering the mine shaft we gradually dropped into the mountain with a lot of ducking and aching necks we continued underground. At first the air was cold but the further in we went the warmer it got, warm enough to make you know that it was going to be a sweaty scramble.
Stopping in a makeshift museum, we were able to read up on the history of mining and the miners of the region which was really informative as well as pretty shocking.
Further in and we had a sit and chat with 'pedro', who as an ex miner himself, about life in the mine and what sort of life expectancy you sould expect. His father and uncle had both died in their mid 30s - that should give you an idea!
As we descended into the lower levels walking turned to sliding on your bum
and scrambling your way down the tunnels. By now our bandanas were having to work hard with all the dust in the already thin air. Down on level three we had to step aside as some of the miners working halled a huge cart of rubble through the passageway before continuing on our way through the maze of tunnels. At the end of this passage we found two men shovelling rock in to a basket which was then being hauled to the surface. Mark took up the shovel and helped for a basket load which was really tiring. Not only was the work exhausting, but you also had to contend with the heat, dust and altitide (even though you are underground, you are still over 4000m above sea leval).
More tunnels later and we met a solo miner who instead of working for a company or co-operative is simply looking for high quality material which he call haul himself to the surface. As we went round we were able to distribute our gifts to the miners we met.
Exploring more of the network of tunnels with a lot of crawling, belly sliding and scrambling back up toward the
entrance we eventually broke out into sunshine and fresh air again. Even with the use of our bandana and only having been down there for a couple of hours, the smell and taste of the fresh air filling your lungs was amazingly refreshing. Before jumping back on the bus we had a demonstration of the explosives used in the mine with Mark lighting the fuse on two 'bombs'.
The conditions the miners work under are appalling and going into the mine just gives a brief glimpse into what the life of a miner is like. It was great to give the fellas working there some prezzies and the fact that the tourism with the mines directly benefits the men working in them in some small way is good, however by no means goes anyway toward making their lives more 'comfortable'. It is a hard reality to accept that this is just a way of life here.
A visit to the mine is physically quite hard, mentally/emtionally quite hard - but a must do if you are in the area!
Back from the tour, we took some time to gather our things and catch up on the internet
before taking our night bus to Tupiza.
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