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!!!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco was the original church on the Spanish side. It was built in 1547 but mostly torn down and rebuilt in 1707. However, you may still see where the original entrance was. It is where the large green cross is located on the left. The church is now a museum. Unfortunately, I did not have time to visit the crypts beneath the church.
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).
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..
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.
going up and down potosì it's really a good idea to get out the people flow and discover nice views and buildings. If they had built the town at a lower altitude walking could have been even nicer but you can't have everything from life :-)
The pic is actually shot from the the town centre
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.
An interesting tour in an old palace building to be the mint of the spanish empire. Inside you can see some of the first steps of industrial (slave operated) automation. The impressing wood machine to flatten silver slices to a coin thickness is still almost ready to be operated: you just need four mules for each of the four steps of the machine and plenty of people ready to loose their arms in the machine jaws. It seems the machine was pre-built in spain using spanish oak wood and then carried to potos? and assembled.
The second step of automation are the steam powered machines set by the bolivian government befor giving up with money printing (after long time in being the spanish empire free mint, nowadays bolivia pays spain to have his coins printed).
On the wooden floor you can notice the footprins of all the people that stood in the same position preparing money. The exibition is completed with all the tools and lockers necessary to produce and transport silver coins to spain, a collection of native art and woodden decorations from potos? churces and a little archeologic room.
The tour is either in english or spanish... if you're spanish be ready to a bit of bashing from the guide. Luckily she didn't remember where the man who started all that was from :-)
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.