|The city of Potosi.|
By the 1800s Cerro Rico, wasn't too rico anymore, the silver was almost completely depleted so miners turned to zinc and tin. Today, the thousands of miners who still work in the mines are hoping to get lucky and strike a vein of silver. It is a rough, rough life to be a miner– I don't think I could ever do it. Most people who work in the mines don't live over 45– again, the main cause of this is silicosis. When miners have 50% silicosis of the lungs they can retire and collect miner's pension. But at that point, they really will only have a few years, or months, to live. Before going to Potosi I watched a film called The Devil's Miner. It is a documentary following the life of a 14 year-old boy as he works in the mines to support his family. He started working when he was 10; he had no choice but to turn to the mines when his father passed away and he became the sole provider for his family. It is a very moving and well done film and I highly recommend it to anyone.
So, after all this information about the mines and how dangerous they are... can you believe that I donned long pants, a long shirt, rubber boots, and a helmet equipped with a headlight and went into the mines for a full two hours? Yup, I did. This tour is definitely not for the claustrophobic as we were squeezing through small, dark, dirty spaces. When going down to the second level I actually had to get on my stomach and army crawl down this rock shaft. I kept a bandana over my mouth the whole time because I was nervous about breathing in all the dust and chemicals. The air was so thick, heavy,and just dirty feeling. And it was hot– on the third level it got to be 104º Farenheit. There are four levels, we went to the first three, the fourth is where the miners are still working so it is off-limit to tourists, for a good reason I would say! Even though we didn't descend to the working level, we did pass a few miners. There were two times where we had to stop and find a wide enough place where we could press our backs against the wall as a cart full of minerals zoomed by on the tracks. When we passed miners they would say, "buenas noches" which means goodnight (in a hello sense, not goodbye). It was explained that miners never say good morning or good afternoon because it is always dark in the mines; it is always night. What a depressing outlook. We also met a miner along the way who was taking a break– sitting on the floor, back against the rocks, with a big wad of coca leaves packed in his cheek. Miners chew coca leaves to combat fatigue, hunger, and pain. Coca leaves also help with the high altitude, although at this point of his life, he must be acclimated. This man had been working for 24 hours straight– and the crazy thing is, that isn't uncommon. Miners will often take double shifts. We left him with a bottle of coca cola– he is the guy in the photo on the left side.
|It was difficult to take photos while in the mine! But the blurry|
effect is sort of cool.
|In the refining plant.|
|Making our way through.|
|I don't know how I possibly look this happy. This is me|
crawling through that rock shaft, so I really
wasn't smiling like this... I guess I am a good