Day 36: Visiting the Miners of Potosi – A Tough Life

This morning started with a fight between the hotel manager and me. He forgot to mention that the parking of my bike is not part of the deal. The most expensive hotel in town let me pay a parking fee for a motorbike which does not take any space in the garage. GRRRRRRR! What the F”%&? I tried not to get upset and continued my way to todays destination: The mines of Potosi!

The ride from Sucre to Potosi was again legendary with many curves at the beginning and quite long straight roads through beautiful landscapes afterwards. I passed many sheeps, old women walking along the road (I am still asking myself where to since there was literally nothing), small villages and many other interesting spots.

When finally arriving after 3 hours in Potosi I struggled a bit with the oneway streets in the city centre. Not only my Garmin GPS but also Google Maps left me alone and I had to try to find the Plaza by myself. Luckily the town was not that big and I found a nice hotel pretty close by to the centrum with a decent garage where I immediately parked my bike. It is not advisable to let a motorbike standing outside for a very long time since it raises a lot of attention. Usually, the first question I get is: “How much does it cost?” I always tend to not understand what people are asking me: “No intendo”.

However, after sorting out the hotel I ordered a taxi which brought me first to one of the supermarkets in town to get some gifts organised for the miners. Rainer, a good old friend of mine recommended me to get some TNT with a 2 l lemonade, lol. Check out his blog entry on Potosi’s mines and the workers life here, which is very interesting. I spare you with the facts or details and focus on my impressions.

Unfortunately, the first and the second supermarket were running out of dynamite while I had to look for an alternative. And what better alternative could I find than coca leaves, cigarettes and lemonade? Bam!!!! I got everything I needed and we continued our way to the mine which was located at the highest mountain of the region, Cerro Rico.

I read a lot about the mines, the tours and related risks involved and decided to stay on the surface and get an overview from here. Unfortunately, my agoraphobia would not let me allow to enter a place like that. I already had some bad experiences with my first diving in the Philippines and did not want to experience the same situation where escaping is not really an option. I would have loved to explore the underground and to see the working conditions of the miners though.

Instead, I gained a first impression of what it might be to work in such a place like this. When I entered the mining area I saw the first men sitting on some sort of rusty metal vehicles, obviously just coming from a long shift under ground. When I first thought, they would be well equipped with protective gloves I realised their hands were instead completely covered in a dark dust. Also their faces were affected by what seemed to be omnipresent in the mines which is in fact coal or silica dust. Some workers could afford breathing masks while others obviously not. The average life span of a miner in Potosi is not often more than 40 years, no wonder under such circumstances. I offered them immediately the gifts which they happily accepted. Unfortunately, I could not really communicate with them but I guess they were anyways too tired to have a proper conversation with a “tourist”.

After a while I also observed a couple of miners coming out of the pitch black tunnel, first I could only see a couple of lights coming closer and closer while finally they would eventually reveal the “men”. In fact, they were only young, innocent boys and not even 18 years old. I was speechless and it took some time to process what I was just witnessed to see.

Since the mines and Potosi are located above 4’000 m I could feel every step I made and was exhausted. It was difficult to breath since oxygen starts to get scarce at such an altitude. I did not want to know the conditions inside the mines with its small tunnels, dust and explosions resulting from the dynamite.

I returned to the hotel and did not really realise what I just saw. And we are complaining about our working conditions back at home… “Na dann, Prost!”

An interesting experience and change in my perception of what it really means to have a hard life.

From Sucre to Potosi