Many of the streets in Potosí are quite steep. When you are strolling along them be aware that you are at more than 4000 meters above sea level. If you are not sufficiently adapted to the high altitude you may experience interesting effects or even a collapse.
Wherever I am traveling I try to see the one or other market. The markets here cover - as everywhere - the needs for food of the locals but here exist some specific needs. To chew coca is very common here and has traditions reading back millennia into the past. On the second pic you see a scene from the small miners market just below the mines of the Cerro Rico. The lady is selling coca to the miners. It helps against the soroche, the high altitude sickness and can even keep the appetite back. I tried it myself as well and have to confess that the taste was not bad but I did not feel much else. It was in my mouth like after the anesthetic injection you get from the dentist.
First choose your tour company. There are many companies and many mines.
I can tell you about the one I chose, based on what i had been told.
Koala Tours right by the cathedral charged $10 for the tour.
Tours leave at 8.30am and 2.30pm and last about 4-5 hours.
The group are collected by minibus and taken to a house up the hill to get changed into the overalls. You get a hardhat and lamp as well as boots and overalls.
Then you head off to the miner market. Here you can buy gifts for the miners. Everyone dives in for the dynamite, fuse and amonia nitrate (combined £1). The miners told us this though....
ONLY BUY 1 SET BETWEEN YOUR GROUP. MINERS DO NOT WANT THIS, THEY WOULD MUCH RATHER HAVE COLD SOFT DRINKS.
We exchanged some of the dynamite for cold drink and coca leaves and headed on off to the mines.
At the entrance, you get a display of the dynamite then you head into the mine. Our guide was fantastic. He spoke brilliant English and was one of the funniest guys I have met. He even knew sarchasm and used it well.
You head first to the mine museum which is actually in the mine. Here are some statues, fact and photos of the mine.
The tales of miners are funny. Some of the nicknames are un publishable. They also tell about the miners who have made lots of money. It is not all doom and gloom despite the tough conditions.
You then climb down a hole and make your way about 600m down into the maze of shafts. You talk to miners and have to dive out of the way to avoid the speeding carts full of mineral.
In the mine, the air is thick. Make sure to buy the dust mask at the market (10p). The temp is about 45 C, it is tough.
At the end, you climb out of the mine and head to the refinery to look at the machines they use.
What an amazing trip. The guide/company you use is essential to your experience.
And don't forget to tip the guide.
Construido en 1761, guarda una bella colección de cuadros y objetos religiosos procedentes de las dotes de las 21 monjas de clausura , de la nobleza de Potosí , que vivían en el convento
Built on 1761 , it has a very beautiful collection of paintings and religious objects from the dowries of the 21 nuns , of the Potosí nobility that lived in the Convent
Es la primera iglesia que se edificó en Potosí En su interior muestra una exposición de cuadros de la colonia , entre ellos uno de Melchor Perez Holguín
Desde sus terrazas hay una buena vista del Cerro Rico
The first church built in Potosí .Inside is an important paintings exposition , between them is one of Melchor Perez Holguín
From his terraces there is a good view of the "Cerro Rico"
La Iglesia de San Lorenzo tiene una portada labrada con las más representativas imágenes del arte mestizo y es el ejemplo más significativo de la arquitectura americana .
Incluye deidades indígenas , como el sol, la luna y las estrellas, junto a los símbolos del cristianismo.
San Lorenzo Church has a facade carved with the most representatives figures ofthe native art and is the most relevant example of the American architecture
Includes native gods , like the sun , the moon , and the stars with the Christian symbols
Siempre hubo discusiones sobre cuál era el significado del Mascarón que hay en la Casa de la Moneda. Hoy en día se sigue sin tener una respuesta clara y se manejan las siguientes opciones : Dios Baco , Dios de los Indígenas , Caricatura de Presidente , Caricatura del Director , Rostro de Diego Huallpa ( El primer indígena que extrajo plata del Cerro Rico) o Burla a la codicia Always there were discussions about the meaning of the Casa de la Moneda Mask . Nowadays there is not a clear answer and the following options are managed :
Bacus God , native God , Caricature of the president , Caricature of the Director , Diego Hualpa Face ( The first native who got silver in Cerro Rico) or the Mock of the Avarice
Debido a la gran extracción de plata del Cerro Rico , el crecimiento de la población y la expansión del comercio el virrey Francisco de Toledo decide construir la Primera Casa de la Moneda
La visita es muy interesante , pues se puede ver una gran exposición de cuadros , de esculturas , de minerales , de monedas y las antiguas máquinas con las que laminaban y acuñaban las monedas de plata
Due to the big silver extraction in Cerro Rico , the population growing and the commerce expansion , the Viceroy Francisco Toledo decided to build the First Casa de la Moneda in 1572
the visit is very interesting , you may see a great painting exhibition , sculptures , minerals , coins and the old machines they used to roll and make the silver coins
The silver from the Cerro has of course left some remarkable traces in Potosí itself - there were some very rich people living here who had nice houses and even spent some of the money to build nice churches.
The strolls through the steep roads of the city are really nice - provided you are already acclimatized to the high altitude.
The silver from Cerro Rico was brought to this complex where the coins were produced to be shipped to Europe and to destroy there first the flourishing economy at the end of the Middle ages which finally resulted in the 30 year's war 1618 - 48 and later also destroyed the Spanish economy which is now recovering from it thanks to the help of the European Union....
The "must do" thing in Potosi is to go on a tour of the mines. However, be aware that this is not something for the claustrophic. You will walk down in the real mines, with the workers being in there. There will a lot of traffic in and out of the mine, all in a very crambed space. There will be spots where you will almost have to walk on all four for maybe 20 yards.....you might have to crawl at some places....the workers down there will beg you for coca leaves and something to drink....this is not a show, this is real life....STILL UP FOR IT?????
Then I recommend Victoria Tours right next to Casa Huespedes Maria Victoria (Chuquisaca 48). Your guide will be Jaime Marca (one of the most recommended guides in Potosi) who is a former miner. However, he has spent the last 15 years or so as a guide and is good at what he is doing. His office open btw 8am-9pm. If there's nobody there, just hang out for a little bit and somebody will show up. Jaime will be there after he has finished that day's tours.
Count on the guide tour to take most of the day, the guide costs about 50bs (can be bargained). Your first stop will be to stop at a market to buy presents for the miners (coca leaves, drinks, smokes), so you need to bring money for this as well. Then you will get your saftey gear and head up the mountain....
SEE MY TRAVELOUGE FOR MORE PICS
When visiting the mines its worth buying a few gifts to give to the poor Miners...The best buys are cigarettes,Coca Leaves,Pick axe handles and dyamite.Vodka,and Candles , In the pictures here can be seen the pickaxe handles and the dyanamite, in the other picture the Coca leaves are in the big sacks.
When i visited Potosi about 6/7 years ago it was very easy to arrange a trip into the depths of the Cerro Rico. the miners still toll from dawn to dusk, and generators pump air into the tunnels so they can breathe,the miners keep going by chewing coca leaves, but its still a very dangous place very cramped tunnels with very little room when the trucks roll by!
El Tio ("the uncle") is the miner's god of the underground (above the surface they all pretend to be Catholics - since 400 years). To keep El Tio in good mood he gets regularly cigarets and coca leaves. But it seems that el Tio was not much more merciful to the miners in the Cerro than the Christian Trinity and all the saints - the mining of the silver was the second biggest holocaust between Jengis Khan and Hitler, about 8 millions of victims, almost comparable to the indians who were killed when the US conquered the "Wild" West.
The way to the mine leads over the leftovers of centuries of exploitaiton - even in these stones a lot of ore, even some silver ore, can be found. There are still many miners working in the Cerro, under conditions which resemble early capitalistic exploitaition of human workforce. Most miners die before they reach the age of 40. The work seems to be as hazardous as in Ukrainian coal mines.