Day-294

Today we did an awesome tour of the massive silver mines of Potosi. There are tonnes of tour operators around Potosi offering tours of the mines, however there is only one tour company called “Big deal tours” which is owned and run by ex miners. Their tour is a little more expensive than the rest but highly recommended and well worth the extra $5 or so.

The tour started off with the 8 of us visiting the local “miners market” to buy presents for the miners and the guide explaining the different products on sale. Coco leaves and soft drink were the present of choice, although you could also buy them Alcohol, cigarettes, dynamite and ampho explosives if you wished, yes dynamite was for sale for anyone who had the money and dirt cheap (about $2 AUD for one stick).

The next stop was to a small warehouse to change into our mining outfits which included a jacket, pants, boots, hessian sack back pack, helmet and headlamp. After looking the part we walked to a nearby processing plant where the raw minerals are processed, however today they were repairing some of the ancient looking machines so we couldn’t see any of it running unfortunately.

After the processing plant we jumped into a minivan and headed up to the mines with a quick stop at a lookout point to take a few snaps then piled back in to get to the mines entrance. At the entrance we were greeted by hundreds of miners who had gathered for a meeting of some kind, so we weaved our way through the crowd to the mines entrance. For the next 2 hours we weaved our way 2.5 kilometres through the mine, form one side of the mountain and exited the opposite side having to duck and crouch most of the time and sometimes crawl through small muddy shafts and climb over miners carts and wheelbarrows just to reach the other side.

We stopped plenty of times along the way where the guide explained the history of the mines, the minerals and the working and living conditions. We also stopped to chat to miners who still work the mines by hand (and dynamite) and give them gifts of coco leaves and drinks. We climbed about 100 meters up some rickety ladders to visit the Tio which is a human sized statue of the devil who the miners worship and bring gifts. Along the way you could clearly see how unsafe the conditions inside are, from the broken support beams, to collapsed mines, to bright blue toxic arsenic stalactites hanging from the ceiling and the dust particles wafting through the shafts.

The tour was excellent and I highly doubt there is any other place in the world which would give you the same experience, its definitely not for the claustrophobic, safety Sam’s, or the overly tall and Prob the best thing in Bolivia so far. However tomorrow we are heading to Uyuni to begin a 3 day trip on the largest salt flats in the world, which may just be even better.