Travel

What is it like to go down a silver mine in Bolivia?

Po-to-si, po-to-si, po-to-siiiiiii! We followed the call at the bus station. The group of us all went off on another hairy bus journey. At this stage, we were travelling with a bunch of Argentinians that we’d picked up in Uyuni.

We reached Potosi and discovered it was a surprisingly pleasant place in its own right. It is made up of red and orange buildings built with the money from the silver mining. The Args bartered for our room, trip to the silver mines and our meal that evening complete with drinks so we were quids in.

Potosi has an interesting history, colonised as it was by the Spanish as the first ‘city of capitalism’ according to the author Jack Weatherford who was of course featured in the Guardian. The discovery of silver extraction meant that from the early 1570s onwards, people were enslaved and forced to work in barbaric conditions until they were broken.

A hill in Potosi was known in the indigenous Quechuan language as ‘the mountain that eats men’. There were 140 mills grinding up the silver ore. Madness, fighting, and death was the daily routine of Potosi.

It was naturally liberated by Simon Bolivar when the 1800s rolled around. That was then. Now it is a UNESCO town due to its significance as a cashbox for the Spanish city of Seville. More importantly, you can blow shit up and buy really shitty weed.

Some mining does go on as far as I’m aware, but the scary mines are on every backpacker’s list because if you’re not in mortal danger then what is the point? We went down the mines with a guide, as well as a load more Argentinian backpackers who had to translate for us.

It wasn’t as scary as I thought as there were no miners working down there. We had bought them some shitty weed as a gift and they also use coca leaves down there to help with the conditions.

We smoked the pot ourselves later and it tasted like twigs. The Argentinians had bought some dynamite so we blew that up – sorry UNESCO. As if the hill of Cerro Rico hadn’t been through enough already.

It was time for us to part ways with the Argentinians and go our own way. It had been a blast but they fannied around so much that we were keen to just do our own thing and not worry about 8 other people. We were off to Sucre, the constitutional capital of Bolivia.

 

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