Potosi, the highest city in the world at over 4000m, is a welcome reminder to Bolivia with it´s busy markets and street food. As it´s a very old city (it was once the largest in the whole of South America), the streets are narrow and are bustling with people throughout the day and much of the night.
Potosi is most famous for it´s mines, which brought much wealth to the Spanish empire and are the reason for Potosi formally being so large. The mines are still running, owned by the miners as a co-operative and there are many tours visiting the mines. Before visiting the mines we bought dynamite and soft drinks as gifts for the miners and learned about the supremacy of Bolivan dynamite compared to Peruvian dynamite. That I was felling out of breath before we even entered the mines didn´t bode too well for me and the two hours we spent underground was one of the most grueling experiences of my life. We had to crawl through tiny gaps and up steep climbs without a ladder. To make it worse, the altitude and the air full of asbestos and other harmful particles made it extremely difficult to breathe. For the miners, sometimes working throughout the night down the mines, their life expectancy is reduced to around 40. While this is very shocking that such working conditions still exist, our guide, an ex miner, was telling us that the miners wage was more than that of a guide and they could at least make enough to support their families. The common response from visitors of the mines is the ambivalent "I´m glad I´ve done it". Thought it´s an unforgetable experience, I never want to visit a mine again. Even today I haven´t completly recovered even from two hours down the mine. How the miners can spend so long down the mines dragging carts and shovelling rocks is beyond comprehension.