Potosi is the world’s highest city (4060m) and a visit here is all about going to the mines. The fuss is all about silver as the city was formed in 1545 following the discovery of ore deposits in the beautiful mountain Cerro Rico. By the end of the 18th century Potosi was the wealthiest city in Latin America feeding the Spanish economy for years. Indigenous people and African slave labourers worked the mines in terrible conditions resulting in millions of deaths. Today there is little to envy about the city as it is now amongst the poorest provinces in South America. There are still workers in the mines today, and they start their careers here as young as thirteen years old. Some of them suffer back problems, nose-bleeds and serious respiratory conditions, but if they don’t go to work will not be able to feed their mothers and siblings.
Me and my new friends get a good night’s sleep on arrival and rise early the following morning to take a cooperative mine tour. We get kitted out in hard hats and boots, and scarves to cover our mouths to avoid breathing in too much dust. Then it’s off to miner’s street market to buy gifts for the miners such as coca leaves and cigarettes-oh and some dynamite, as you do in Potosi from the corner shop. A guide takes us on a tour of a mineral refinery before we drive up to Cerro Rico. We begin our walk into the mines, I duck but still my helmet often hits various pipes and things up above. It feels damp, and claustrophobic. Every now and then we stop in our tracks to let miners go by pushing wheelbarrows quickly from one place to the next. We watch the miners working and admire their strength and ability to persevere in conditions we could not cope with for more than 10 minutes! I’m
feeling very out of breath as we continue so leave the group to continue their descent, I didn’t think I was claustrophobic but this experience tells me that perhaps I am. Once outside we are given a demonstration blast of the dynamite we purchased earlier, we stand in anticipation as two of the miners run away from us and throw the dynamite into the air, then BANG! We all jump excitedly at the climatic end to our visit.
It’s after 1pm and we’re all feeling tired, dirty and hungry. After a hot shower we convene for lunch and wait 90 minutes for spaghetti bolognese. My heart sinks as soon as we place our order and see a woman leave and return to the restaurant carrying the ingredients for our lunch. Two of my friends leave having not received their order at all, it’s not fun when you haven’t eaten all day, but you’ve got to laugh! The Following morning we leave Potosi for our next destination…