Saying goodbyes to the wildrover crew was tough. In the short time I'd been there they'd Become my new family. Diago, siel, Eran, Matze, Christine even the chefs Julio and Christian all such fun happy people. But I wasn't going to risk getting stuck in my comfort zone I was ready for a new challenge. I heard interesting things about a small mining town 10hours south of Bolivia called potosi. Was disappointed that I'd missed it on my way up but was making made the choice to skip over so I could see Leahmo, Andy and the lads. After a few chats with travel agents at the rover I was confident I could make it work. And after a few Aussie lads told me of there mining adventures I was in. The icing on the cake came when an English fellow staying at the hostel heard I was keen to get down there here gifted me a stick of dynamite, tube of imoneum nitrate, wick and a fuse. Intense explosives capable of serious destruction and he was just handing them over the bar to me. Watever you do keep the fuse separate from the rest he urged me.
Night bus from lapaz to potosi and I had the details of the hostel to get to that I would take the mine tour from.
Arrived bright and early in potosi and headed straight to the hostel for a little breakfast before the tour.
The silver mines tour is what makes potosi a popular tourist destination, and that's all. It's a really rundown depressing looking town with alot of construction going on.
The silver mines that are still operating today have 25'000 workers mining inside daily. These workers are broken up between 68 colonies and was told that around 1'500 of the workers are between the age of 11 and 13. Unbelievable.
Getting all suited up believe leaving was quite obvious that this wasn't going to be anysort of luxury tour.
Waterproof jacket tucked into Knee high gum boots, waterproof longsleave work shirt, mining helmet with light powered from waist belt and a duffle bag to put your gifts for the miners in.
All piled into the van and stopped once for a photo over looking the city and then up to the miners markets. The way that these tours are allowed to operate is that gringos need to bring in specific gifts for the miners.
Dynamite (plus other accessories)
& Bolivian whiskey (96% alcohol)
Before we went into the mines we had to make a toast with the whiskey. Holy shift, like copping a straight right to the Chest from mike Tyson.
Our guide gave some history of the mines and explained the way to use the dynamite. Wasn't even in yet but could tell this s*** was gonna be intense!
My group was a bit of a mixed but of nationalities but all blokes. Girls do a different tour to the guys.
Standing at the entrance to the mines I was some what apprehensive to how I was going to handle being KM's deep into this mine shaft. Such a confined space and with my height it was never going to be comfortable. But i didn't come all the way on lapaz to b**** it.
Taking your first steps into the pitch Black tunnel you would be in absolute darkness if it was not for yours and the others headlights.
I remember the mines themselves being far more poorly constructed then I was expecting. Literally held together from tree logs and blanks of wood. Looked as though it could cave at any second! One of our first check points was around a bend where our guide only let two of us approach at a time. Guys (two brothers) where drilling holes for dynamite. Defeating noise and dust everywhere- dusk mask was a great purchase.
Moved on from there with the rest of the group. Got stopped where there was an area that was covered from arsenic as the the result of explosion. If you were to ingest any of that rock or the water that we were walking in you'd be leaving those mines in a box.
From here on the walking terrain became far more rugged and the shaft itself far more tighter. At times crawling on all fours or having to contort your body into obscure shapes as you climbed up, over and around rock.
Finally reached a destination where there was two workers. An older guy and his young nephew. They were breaking rock and sorting into large bags pieces which contained most silver. Sitting around talking for a while two of us had to give our gifts. Our guide made up a potent brew using the whiskey and juice and each of us including the workers would of done close to half a dozen shots. Smoked a couple of home rolled Bolivian durries and this tour quickly turned into blokes world. Our guide talked to us of the beliefs of the miners. Saying that were committed to the fact of living life one day at a time. Doing the type of high risk work they did everyday they did not just accept the risk of death they embraced. Where most Bolivians on the outside where highly religious only to the paccha mamma - Mother Earth , miners also made offers to diablo, the devil ruler of the underground. Giving him offerings when in the mines was said to keep the miners safe as diablo would keep an eye on them. These guys were badass, and super passionate too! They were doing what they had to to support their families. None of the miners could speak English , most couldn't even speak Spanish! They spoke cechuay a native tongue of the incas!
After spinning more stories with the miners we headed off to blow some s*** up. Once at a safe distance our guide put together the explosive; 2 of regular size and one more big dog loaded with the nitrate. The dynamite has a 3minute fuse so that gave him plenty of time to get back to us after he'd planted them.
We all turned our head lights off and were waiting anxiously in the black.
Boom! Number 1 closely follwed by the second boom!!
At the very second that one of the lads finished saying we still got the big one : BOOOOM!!!!!!!!! It let out a terrifying thunder that shook the mine... Boys were high fiving and yahooin !
Hard to believe that this was the day to day tasks and the general working health and safety standards of other human beings. I've done some intense back breaking labour in my time but I'd do it ten times again to not have to work a normal day down that shaft. Pretty grim!
Stopped at a few other spots where guys were working but I was starting to clock watch and wonder when we'd be getting out. You stay inside for about 3hours and that's more than enough.
When you finally exit your elated to see the light of day and overall physically and emotionally drained.
Get back into fresh clothes at the hostel was the best.
Headed out for a beer and feed with two aussie lads from the tour and the guides that took us down there.
I booked a bus for that even to go straight back to lapaZ. Was stoked I'd got the tour in and didnt even have to stay the night in potosi. Tour was amazingly eye opening and I was proud of myself to make the effort on my own to do something that only I was interested in.
Bombed myself out with 2 sleeping pills on the bus and I was basically unconscious the whole way back. Was looking like I was making good pace and was confident I'd make it from lapaz through to punto in Peru with minimal delay!