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Published: February 1st 2009
Ready to mine :-)
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.
- Marcel Proust
There are many reasons that I wanted to visit Bolivia, there just seemed to be so much you could do there, such diversity of place, people and sights. It did not disapoint. And here now, as I sit in Buenos Aires, about 6 blogs behind and a country further on, my travelling adventures coming to an end and a new adventure about to start, Bolivia has been by far the most interesting, stimuating, diverse and fascinating place that I have been blessed to experiance.
Having a background in Silversmithing, jeweller and Health and Safety, there really is no other place that i could find as interesting as this silver mine in this country. Aplace where Health and saftey is not even a concept. My spannish is sufficient these day but trying to explain to anyone there what health and safety was left them either looking at you like you were from some far off galaxy or left them crying in laughter like you had just told the funniest joke in the world. I had seen a few documentaries about how harsh the working condidtions were in the silver mines, but nothing had or
The biggest scar of a hill i have ever seen
really could have prepared me for what I was about to experiance. I had always had the intent too to be able to generate some money back into some fund for the workers from my earnings but never really made enough to permit that and never found such an organisation.
So, collected from the hostel early, a small group of backpackers were carted off to a courtyard in the back of a house and all dressed up into some miner-come-munchkin outfit. After our fancy dress outfits were assembled we weretaken to the onlyshp in the world (I hope) where chilldren can leagally walk in and buy dynamite. To visit the mines you have to by some gifts for the miners so they will be accepting of you being there in the mines. Any one can work in the mines and although women and children are not allowed, you will find very yung kids working with their fathers there. There simply are no other jobs available to the commnity to find work, they work in these pits of hell that will almst certanly kill you because there is no other option. So, feeling genuinly generous, interested, fascinated and
King Cola, pure alcohol and dynamite for gifts for the minors! and i mean minors, i gave a stick to a 13yr od kid!
potentially with a subconcius feeling of ethical morality due to my previous profession, I bought extra things for the miners. Bottles of king cola, tabbacco, bags of coca leaves and several sticks of dynmite later, I naievely believed Iwas ready for what lay ahead.
Straight away we all felt the heat. Bearing in mind we are about 4,100 meters above sea level, so the air is already thin, but as you descend into the mines, the depleted air gets even more thin and replaced by many toxic dusts and gases. As we waked into he dark tunnells, head lamps lighting the increadible amount of dust floating through the tunnells, our lungs began to hurt and we began to find ourselfs very out of breath, and there were another three levels down to go. The airseemed to suddenly become too dusty to not be concerned about and our guide turned round and quickly hurried us down a very small side tunell shouting at us to be quick, the group infront of us had knocked one of the air pipes and thrown so much dust into the air that we couldn't see five feet infront. The tunell we went
king cola and dynamite
down ended abruptly with some strange statue of the hill demon, a dedication from the workers for offerings and superstitions to ask for safe workings. We had to remain there, unable to stand or sit for about 20 mins untill the dust cleared.
The first downward tunell wasn't too bad. Well, that's a perspective of someone who has happily turned their back on many aspects of health and safety for the time being, and to be honest, you really didnt want to go down this slippery, non-grip, dark twisting abyss, but there was going to be nothing that would stop me experiancing the sphere of this place. Half way down, panting for air and unsure of my next foothold, there was an almighty rumble and everything shook around me for about 4 seconds. Dynamite somewhere close had just been set off.
Our guide at the bottom seemed unpurturbed by it s we all just accepted it as ok. It wasn't untill we got out that he told us that it was dangerously close to where we were. Several levels down now, I began to wonder how much worse the heat, dust and lack of
The first tunnell
Only 100ft in, brething was already hard.
oxygen was going to get, and if I could handle the next 2 levels. At this level we met a group of miners moving their carts, standing to the side we watched as they heaved a miner cart to what you would relate to only as something out of Indiana Jnones. This thing was full of rock and rubble that had been mined and was about to be hauled up and off to the processing plant. Just watching them made feel a plethora of emotions and questions as towhat I was doing there and what proffession I had been involved in. Just standing their, taking photos like you were on a tour of a zoo, being the dumb and ignorant tourist, judging yourself for even being there, yet unable to put the camera down due to the unqiue situation that you wanted to record and document. Miners working Miners working ight at the end of the tunnell Tunnell crawl
Our guide had one last thing for us, a challenge. Well, thats what I came away for and I think I had met my match with this place. There was an optional tunnell still to go through. A tiny passage that only belly crwaling
Some of the miners heaving their Tonne cart along the rickety tracks
would alow you to get through but would tear ur chest and legs up on the sharp rocks underneath that went on for about ten meters. I wouldnt allow myself to turn back at this point and no matter how much I didn't want to do it, I made myself. It was aweful. There is nothing else I can say about it.
By now we had been down 2 hours and it was time to return to the surface. I dont know if I have ever been more relieved in my life. Only 2 hours, these workers are there for 8 hours a day, 6 days a week. We met a miner on the way up who was 40 years old, the oldest miner in the hill. The oldest because no one ever lives past that age that works in the hill. He had a war of about a hundred coca leaves in the side of his mouth, which they chew to numb their hunger and give them the energy they need to work in such horrendous conditions. They are literaly breathing in things such as silicne dust, arsenic gas, asbestos and acety-fumes with no respirators. You
Trying t get up momentum to rock the cart over so the stones can be pulled up to the surface
would have been shcked then when we stopped and talked to Juan, a 13yr old boy who had been helping his father for years. I handed him a bag of dynamite as told to by our guide, he seemed so delighted but I couldn't help feel the exact opposite of the emotion he displayed on his face.
It was now that we found oursefs back on the first level and have never been so happy to experiance the light at the end of the tunell. When we got outside, I felt numb inside, the ony thing that kept me focused was knowing that now we got to have some fun as we had a few bags of dynamite put aside to blow up in the desert.
The silver factories really werent any safer. Ok, so there was the air, dust and gas conditions but the machinery was all so big with huge rotating arms and wheels with no protection to stop you losing any body part or indeed your life. With only small gaps between you and certain death, we all very carefully moved through the workshop. Trying to listen to what the guide
Juan is 13. he works down the mines and i gave him dynamite as a gift.
was telling us was hard due to the noise and concentration to not get a centimeter closer to and of the moving parts. It was fascinating to see how the silver and other minerals were processed and dried, but again, I was very happy to be out of the workshop, limbs in tact.
Outside in the desert, our guide showed us how we prepare the dynamite it and then lit it, taking each others photo in turn! The thing that was disapointing here was that when I thought I pressed record on my camera, I didn't. So I missed having the videoof our explosions in the desert, but it still was a fun end to a very horrific experiance of what is an unfortunate unescapeable reality for many people.
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