Between the city and the Cerro is the miners' market where the miners buy the essentials they need for their work - all from dynamite to coca leaves. The guides suggest that the visitors should buy at least coca leaves against the effects of the soroche (altitude sickness) which is a much bigger problem inside the mountain than outside (due to the different and even rather poisonous composition of the atmosphere in the mines.
I was chewing coca leaves myself when I was inside but it did not help me much, the only effect I felt reminded me of the feeling in the mouth coming from the local anesthetics I got from my dentist. I think the main problem we are meeting in the Cerro Rico is that the Bolivian miners are in the average about 150 cm "tall" and so are all non-productive parts of the mines which means that an average tourist only seldom can walk or stand upright which further worsenes the breathing of the poor air there. I felt completely normal about 20 minutes after leaving the mines..
Cerro Rico ("rich mountain") was the one and only reason for the foundation of Potosí. Soon after the Spanish conquistadores reached this region it was detected that this ugly mountain consists mainly of silver ore. Silver was at the end of the Middle Ages in the Old World mined from several mines in the Alps, the Carpathians and other areas, mostly by experienced and relatively well paid miners who formed a very special group of the society with quite a good standing.
Here the miners were an unpaid workforce consisting of slaves recruited locally but even brought from Africa and so the silver from Potosí could easily compete with the silver mined in the Old World.
I had the great change to take the tour of the mines, with an ex-miner who has a good knowlegde of the mines. where i was be able to see the market where coca leaves, cigarretes and dynamite can be bought as gift for the miners. then i went to the Candelaria mine where i could crawl around inside the terrifying but awe ispiring labyrinth in wich over 200 miners are working.
i think that the most impressive thing that i saw was the youngest miners who works at least 10 hours a day in a very warm and hard conditions. when they are hungry they eat coca leaves and drink alcohol which is almost 95 percent alcohol. So i?m almost sure that after seeing them working you will apreciatte your job more.
believe me it?s such an experience that you wouldn?t be able to miss it!!!
Amigos tuve la gran experiencia de hacer el tour de minas. En donde conoci a mi guia Efrain, que tiene un gran conocimiento del trabajo. tambien puedes ver la calle del minero en donde se puede adquirir dinamitas, cigarros, alcohol. esas cosas que les gusta a los mineros. Por que claro ellos trabajan en condiciones duras y extremas empiezan a trabajar desde muy temprana edad, en condiciones dificiles com el calor que hace adentro y el duro trabajo. Estoy seguro que después de verlos trabajar a ellos van a apreciar mas su trabajo. bueno veanlo por ustedes mismo que no se lo pueden perder!!!
There are several silver mines at Cerro Rico, and you can visit them with a guide; getting into the mine is a very distressing experience, but very touching as well.
The miners work by their own; have no hours, and may spent all day inside the mine, with no food. They begin to work since their childhood, and often die young. Of course, their salaries hardly satisfy their needs.
Hay varias minas de plata en el Cerro Rico, y se pueden visitar con un guía; ingresar a las minas es una experiencia angustiante, pero muy conmovedora al mismo tiempo.
Los mineros trabajan por su cuenta; no tienen horas, y pueden pasar todo el día dentro de la mina, sin comida. Comienzan a trabajar desde la infancia, y frecuentemente mueren jóvenes. Claro está que sus salarios apenas alcanzan a cubrir sus necesidades básicas.
Close to the mountain there is a market where miners buy stuff for their job: dynamite, fuses, detonators, alcohol, and coca leaves.
You must wear a helmet and a raincoat to visit the mines, and give some presents to the miners (a bag of coca leaves, or some dynamite, that you buy in the miners market).
Cerca de la montaña hay un mercado en donde los mineros compran los materiales necesarios para su trabajo: dinamita, mechas, detonadores, alcohol y hojas de coca.
Debes usar casco y un impermeable para visitar las minas, y llevar algunos regalos para los mineros (una bolsa de hojas de coca, o un poco de dinamita, que puedes comprar en el mercado de los mineros).
At the entrance of the mine there is a christian altar; the miners pray for their families; inside the tunnels, there are some altars to "el Tío" (uncle), that means the devil. They give offerings to him, to find a good seam.
Darkness rules inside the mine; this men move like moles. Some dangers go after the miners: explosions, collapsing or respiratory diseases.
I got sick inside the mine; I thought it was something physical, but when I got out the mine, I realised it was just anguish...
A la entrada de la mina hay un altar cristiano; los mineros piden por sus familias; dentro de los túneles, hay varios altares dedicados al "Tío", el diablo. Le dejan ofrendas, para poder encontrar una buena veta.
La oscuridad reina dentro de la mina; estos hombres se mueven como topos. Algunos peligros acechan a los mineros: explosiones, derrumbes y enfermedades respiratorias.
Yo me sentí mal dentro de la mina; creí que se trataba de algo físico, pero cuando salí de la mina, me di cuenta que era angustia...
My guide, Roberto Mendez, performs at the Belen Theater. He can take you up on the roof for some great views of the city and Cerro Rico. If you are afraid of heights, don't even consider it. La Torre de la Compania is another place to get rooftop views.
The former royal mint is now supposed to be the best museum in Bolivia; however, I did not have time to visit it. La Torre de la Compania is in the left background. The bell tower is all that is left of a Jesuit church founded in 1581 and completed in 1707.
Before we went to visit the mines on Cerro Rico, we had to go to the Miner's Market to buy coca leaves for tips. A large bag cost 5 Bs. That is my guide, Roberto Mendez, talking on the cell phone. He is a former miner himself. See my General Tips for more about Roberto.
Plaza el Minero is near the Miner's Market. There is a monument there to commemorate the men and women miners who fought for Bolivian independence. Note the large hat on the lady miner. They are no longer in style but we did see one elderly lady in Potosi wearing one.
Women miners may have it even worse. They live on the piles of scree from the mines, breaking up rocks to try and find small veins of silver or tin. It may take them days to find enough to earn a few bolivianos. This lady was a widow. Many miners die young of accidents and lung diseases, as her husband did.
The lady miner lives and works on this pile of scree. The shelter where she lives is in the lower right corner of the picture. Only an incredibly strong person (mentally and physically) could survive.
Centuries of mining have left Cerro Rico pockmarked with openings and covered in tailings. The mountain started at 5165 m but is now 4830 m. It is scarred within and without. That is the price for who knows how many beautiful silver items in history.
Besides being a little claustrophobic, I was concerned about how safe it was inside the mines. Roberto would have taken me inside but I declined. The miner in the picture had just finished a couple of days in the mine. You can see he had a chaw of coca leaves in his cheek and was pleased to have more. They do not eat while working in the mine, getting by on coca leaves, cigarettes and alcohol.
In the main plaza of Potosi, there is a small replica of the Statue of Liberty in New York. It commemorates Bolivian independence. Bolivians are still known for their independence. In fact a political demonstration was going on at the very time this picture was taken. Peaceful, I might add. The Cathedral is in the background. It's kind of "new," i.e., 1836 (the old church that was there collapsed in 1807).