You think your job is tough? I think you’ll reconsider once you check this out.
The Potosi mine in Bolivia is pretty impressive, and quite infamous. First of all, working in the highest city in the world, Potosi, at a height of 13,500 feet means even simple tasks like walking up a hill feel like a marathon. Now imagine working in a mine for days at a time while you chisel away using ineffective methods from hundreds of years ago.
The Spanish certainly did not do this. In fact, the wealth the Spanish gained from the mines practically funded their expansion of their empire in the Americas. Enough so that they could build a bridge of silver from Potosi to Spain, twice. At one time, the city of Potosi was more populous than London. Oh yeah, and Paris too .
But the ammount of Black and Indian slaves, who died from working in the mines from 1545 to 1825, is estimated to be over eight million. Even now Potosi is still a live mine, though the Bolvian miners now hunt for mostly zinc. Conditions are mostly unchanged. For example, a miner today is expected to only work 15 years before becoming to sick to work with illnesses like silicosis pneumonia. Even as I climbed around the mine I had to watch where I put my hand as there was arsenic all over the walls.
But the miners work as part of collectives. Despite knowing about the poor conditions, they do it anyways because it pays, at least.
My tour of the mine began near the mountain at the market where anything from dynamite to coca leaves could be bought. I chose both!
Following the early morning shopping we toured some of the processing plants. These looked more like meth labs from CSI but apparently its only minerals being cleaned.
A bus took us directly to the mine entrance where the bunch of us piled in as relied on our headlights for seeing. Despite ample light near the entrance, I somehow managed to step into a mud knee deep. For the rest of the tour my right foot was soaked, even inside my rubber boots.
The first stop was sort of the waiting room like in a doctor’s office, home to the shrine of Tio (Uncle). He represents the god of the underworld. In order to have good luck in the mines, the miners give many gifts and offerings to Tio – coca leaves, alcohol potable and cigarettes.
The mine was uncomfortable and the air unbearably hot. The tunnels were cramped and the air was filled with dust. Thankful I bought the red hankerchief, i relied on that as I got down on my hands and knees to crawl. We visited three different levels within the mine. To get between levels, we had to manually climb up or descend down nearly vertical tunnels that connected them.
Ever hear those stories about child labor in developing countries. That chisel in the picture below is being used by a 13 year old boy.
And once we ascended back up and out of the mine we had a bit of fun.
Our guide detonated some of our dynamite.