After getting a completely unecessary private coach to Potosi from Uyuni as we had been warned about the so-called "Death Road", we reached Potosi well and truly alive but slightly jolted by the terrible road surface endured for five hours! Arriving at the hotel "Jerusalem" we were gobsmacked that after four basic accomodation days this hotel did not seem like a luxury but rather a dump and we continually justified to the group the real Jerusalem is a completely different kettle of fish!
Emma, craving steak, accidently ordered what seemed like an entire cow at dinner much to everyone´s amusement, although impressively she managed to eat all of it after her four days of starvation!
Potosi is known for its silver mines and everywhere in the town there are tourists dressed head to toe in mining outfits eagerly awaiting their tours. En route to the mines we stopped to buy a compulsory miners´ package consisting of dynamite, coca leaves, 96% alcohol, herbal cigarettes and crackers. We were informed that mining shifts can last up to 24 hours and as a result, they drink the alcohol in small doses and the coca leaves to numb their mouths and supress their appetites.
Mining can begin from the age of 9 as we saw from Emma´s tour guide. After entering the mines we met a fourteen-year old miner who had the task of shifting tonnes of rocks a day in a wheelbarrow ready to be separated into the different minerals. The stronger members of the group attempted to lift the rocks from a well, Emma proving girls too are capable! The mines are made up of narrow pathways with extremely low ceilings and great holes and drops on either side of the path. It is completely dark except the head torch each miner wears but as they all work in separate areas, it seems isolated and a tragic existence. Although the mine we visitied was owned by a cooperative, each miner is self-employed and makes their wages solely on their findings of unprocessed rocks, which is barely anything.
Having given some miners our packages the group was given the option of Adventure tour (climbing through small holes on different levels of the mine and having to walk across timber boards with sheer drops) or the Regular tour which involved less climbing. The group split fairly evenly with Laura playing it safe whilst Emma took the more daring option. On both paths it was extremely difficult to breathe, as you are continually inhaling the dust and walking past aspestos. In one area we were shown llama blood on the wall as an offering to the Pachamama (Mother Earth) and the Devil, who is not considered evil but instead seen as a protector of the mines.
The two geologists in our tour, Matty and Sarah, enthusiastically explained the different rocks to us before we headed out of the mines to set off an explosion with some dynamite. Laura initially thought it was her duty to run with the lit bag of ammonia but was relieved when the guide took it from her and ran towards a rock pile leaving the dynamite and running for her life! Unlike our group who watched from a distance, we felt sorry for the miners whose ears must be destroyed due to the intensity of the sound at closer proximity.
After an eye-opening and adventurous morning, we clamboured aboard yet another coach headed for Sucre, the official Bolivian capital.