Today was absolutely amazing!!! Such an eye opener to see a real working mine and to have even a small idea of the conditions that they work in! our tour operator (Pedro Negro - Black Peter) was an absolute crack up and kept cracking jokes and swearing all the time.
We left the hostel at 8:30 to begin the tour, and stopped along the way to change clothes into the protective jacket, pants and gumboots. VERY stylish! We also got bandanas to help with the dust and then set off in our little groups. We drove up to the 'miners market' where we picked up gifts for the miners. We picked up dynamite, nitrous oxide and a fuse for 20 Bolivians (about $4) for us to play with, as well as some soft drink and coca leaves for the miners. We also tried this RANK drink which was 96% alcohol which the miners absolutely love. Apparently the one litre bottle lasts 3 of them… we each had about 1/3 of a capful and were struggling for breath afterwards. Intense. Lol While we waited to jump back on the bus Kirbs and I sampled some local street food which we had no idea what it was other than it looked like an empanada and was 1 Boliviano. Tasted pretty awesome considering!
First stop was at the mineral refinery where we got to see them refining the rocks into silver. So very loud, and amazing to see that they can manage with such old equipment!! It was incredible to hear that the refineries are all government owned, and to hear about how the miners all work in their own private groups.
The next stop was at the mines. I cannot even begin to explain what it was like. Suffice to say it was even smaller than the Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam. The spaces were so small, at some parts we were wriggling along on hands and knees without enough room to look up to see where you were going. The mine we went into had 7 layers, and we only made it to the 3 level. The temperature went up with each level, as did the dust and the lack of oxygen. To get between the various levels they don't have set steps or even proper support. Essentially you just slide on your butt to get to the next level, or climb up trying to use the rocks without sliding back down. So the mines also are no longer privately owned - instead the miners have to work in a mine for 10 years before they can start their own mine group. Once they do that they can start their own group and rent out part of the mine. Once they become a mine leader they have to pay tax though, and need to supply all of the equipment for the other miners in their group. A minor will start out as an assistant (normally a young kid who will get about 10 Bolivianos a day. Legally they're not meant to be working there if they're under 14 but the government never goes to check out the mines so the kids get as young as 8 down there!), then move up to a second hand, then can move up to a leader after 10 to 15 years in the same mine.
We met several miners along the way, the youngest of whom was 8 yrs old! These little kids spend the whole day in the mines working 6 days, and sometimes up to 11 hours. It was absolutely insane to see these young children working so hard in such terrible conditions. They don't wear masks unless they work the drills (which of course the kids don't do) as they say they find it too hard to breathe (something that we found out as well!). The miners don't have holidays either as they are all privately owned they only get paid when they are at work. Apparently they do take Friday's as their day that they can drink in the mines, and they also take offerings to the Devil (who they believe owns the mines) to ensure that they stay safe and get plentiful catches from the mines. They also have celebrations in the mine so they will decorate the mines as well as the trolleys (and of course drink their 96% proof drink!)
It was so strange going through a working mine, and crazy to think that so many of them have to work in the mines as it is the only industry around there. Our tour guide was telling us that without the mine that the town would be deserted! Our guide also told us
So after spending enough time in the mine to lose our breath, become really dirty and physically exhausted we made our way back out the mine. Even more hard yakka considering that the way you went in was the same way you tried to get out… lol. So I have to remind you we're at 4500 above sea level, in tiny mine holes that get to 45C and that are such a tight squeeze that you can't look up to see where you are going half the time. I must have smacked my head a dozen times on the roof today… and those helmets are SO heavy!!!
So we finally got out the mine, you could feel the temperature dropping the higher we climbed, and by the time we could see the light at the end of the tunnel (literally) everyone picked up the pace! All we were craving was some fresh air, and the chance to not inhale half of the mine in dust…
After the tour of the mine we got to pack the dynamite then blow it up. Which was of course really freaking cool. Something really scary about holding lit dynamite despite being told it has a 5 minute fuse… lol
So that's pretty much today! Tomorrow we head off to Sucre, so hopefully we'll be able to get some horse riding in!
Missing you all heaps!!!