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Miners town

Potosi, Bolivia

10th-11th Dec

Red eye is a 8pm- 6.30am bus. Lucky we had the greatest seats that went back quite a bit and the bus even had a pull down part from the back of the seat in front so you had like an actual bed. This was the first class of buses only because the bus companies name was ‘First Class‘. All was well except the toilet we were promised was not in order- or rather they had ’lost the key’, so it was there but we couldn’t use it-we crapped out. Laughable, no. Fact- its either dehydrate or piss yourself on Bolivian transport. The ride was fine apart from getting really cold in the early morning and I froze my toes off.
Potosi greeted us with the flashest bus station we have seen, not at all what we were expecting from a mining town in the middle of nowhere. We hopped in a cab and went to find a hostel, luckily the first one we went to had a room available straight away so we were able to put our stuff in there and get a few more hours sleep. We were shattered.
After a sleep in we went to have a look around the city. When we arrived in the morning it was pretty deserted and didn’t look like much, but by the time we went out people were about and it looked prettier. We stopped at a café to get some breakfast where the bacon was pretty much just fat. I managed to get a decent coffee however! We were in the main plaza, and there was some live music playing which was neat to watch.

We think they were trying to recruit people into the army from the look of the stalls. The should have had mariachis playing ’Chemical Warfare’ by Slayer to pep up the civilians, because by all accounts it was a pretty subdued affair; and if history has taught anything is that peaceful persuasion don’t win any recruits. See Tibetan army for my details.
We then went looking for a company that could give us a city tour that afternoon. The thing with Potosi is tourists go there to do the tours of the mines, which is not recommended for asthmatics (Pete) and people who don’t like confined spaces (Rochelle & lanky gringo Pete). But we didn’t want to miss out on experiencing the highest city in the world (4060 metres above sea level), so thought we would explore above ground. And we sure did.

We were the only people on our the tour we had chosen. With us was a driver and two guides, one main guide that could speak some English. The tour took us on a little walking expedition where our guides showed us the gates to the city, the women’s prison, which was actually a church, and explained some of the local architecture. They then took us to the miners square, which is where all protests and disputes over work conditions took place. Potosi is a lot bigger than we first expected and we found out that it used to be on the major cities in the world when the Spaniards were in charge due to the all important silver mines.

The miners never had any rights then, but they have a co-op and unions now (you’ll be happy to hear that Mez) and even though the pay still isn’t brilliant, they can work as hard as they want and whatever they find they profit from. The conditions are still really shitty in the mines and still to this day many miners die from the black lung. Our guides also showed us the dynamite the miners use, and the pure alcohol drink they have on Fridays to share with the underground demon that they leave sacrifices to (coca leaves, alcohol) to ensure there are no accidents underground and so that they may also prosper.

After the square they took us to the miner’s graveyard. This was a very moving and emotional place. Its where all the miners who have died either in or after working in the mines are buried, along with their spouses. Pete and I bought some flowers to pay respect to our guides family members. They were our age, and one had lost his 16 year old brother from a mining accident and both his parents and the other had lost his dad and 15 year old brother. This graveyard is so big its saddening and as we walked the guides would mutter “my aunty is down there” or “my uncle is down this way“. They have both lost so much family, but its not unusual there at thirty. We had a tear in our eyes as we left and we both felt very grateful to have all our immediate family still with us (love you all, Mums, Dads and Sisters). As sad as it was we are very glad that we got to see what the real Potosi is about and the impact that the mines have on this community.

We finished off our afternoon with a trip to a mountain which looks over the city and had a tower on it with a restaurant. A very mini version of the Sydney/Auckland sky towers. It was a great way to end it and a great look of the city. Our guide was hilarious and had us in fits of laughter with his humour, he said Pete looked like John Lennon,” but after twenty accidents.“
We finished off the day with dinner and then it was off to bed to get ready to catch a bus the next day to Tupiza.

permalink written by  Pete+Rochelle on December 18, 2010 from Potosi, Bolivia
from the travel blog: Round the world!!!
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