We're Never Coming Back

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Day 64 - Potosí

bolivia Potosí is awesome. A total mining town, this place is cobbled, narrow and beautiful. We checked ourselves into a wicked hostel, went and played some video games in the local arcade (despite beating sam easily, some bolivian dude came and 2-playered me and beat me SO shamefully). The town is huge, and VERY high on the altitude stakes, being the highest city of its size in the world. You can practically see the altitude-sick travellers collapsing around you.


Most people only come here for one thing - the mine tours. 2 hours inside the enormous network of mines that occupy the mountain that overlooks the city. Most people from this town work there (out of the men, that is), and most start work at the age of 14 and continue until they are too ill to work (respiratory disease kills almost all the miners, of course) or have died. Ironically, the average life expectancy of a bolivian man (61 years) is less than the age for retirement (65 years). Killer.

Anyway, we took the bus up to the mountain, and after kitting ourselves out with dust proof clothes and boots, and buying gifts of dynamite and sugar drinks for the miners, we entered the mine in what looks like a scene from Indiana Jones. Actual truck loads of rock come whizzing out of the entrance every 2 or 3 minutes, with two kids hanging onto the back of it. Marcin spotted it first - I was properly nervous for possible the first time of the whole trip.

The mine is nuts. It starts pretty comfortably, with 5-foot high rock ceilings lining the main exit point for this mine (bolivians are a LOT shorter than you think). But then it starts to get smaller. There's no cash to make the tunnels nice, so unless there is good minerals in the rock, the miners leave the tunnels at just big enough to get a person through. At points, we are crawling on our hands and knees, through tunnels no bigger than 2 foot tall, and going down as steep as a staircase.



We chatted to some miners, giving them the presents where they were kind enough to let us take pictures. Our guide told us that they usually work 10 hour shifts, not leaving the mine during that time. and maybe once of twice a week, they work a 24 shift to get more money. again - no daylight in between. Its hot down there. sweaty. and dusty. and you can constantly hear the explosion of dynamite through the rocks from other parts of the mine. The whole thing was sickeningly humbling.



But, humbling and pitying thoughts aside, we had some spare dynamite to blow up. Our goofy guide packed some up, lit it, then passed it to me. I shit myself initially, before realising there was a whole minute on the fuse. so handed it back and let them bury it in the ground about 200m away. After shitting myself AGAIN at the explosion, we headed back to civilisation - hot showers, good food, and no dust.



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