In one of the world’s highest cities (4090m) we were about to test how well adjusted we were to altitude*. Thankfully we didn’t suffer to bad. Got a bit puffed out walking up and down all the hills/mountains in Potosi but I don’t know if this was due to altitude or just being extremely unfit!!
When we got off the bus in Potosi we hopped into a taxi and asked him to take us to our hostel, Kola Den, which he said he knew. Well at least that’s what we thought he said (I hadn’t really learnt much in my Spanish lessons…) which leads me to Tip 3: ALWAYS write down the address of where you are going to be staying. He ended up taking us to the police/military headquarters where hundreds of armed men were running around. How he thought this is where we wanted to go I have no idea. We eventually managed to get him to drop us off in the centre of town and then wandered around until we found the place.
The next morning we were off for our tour of the Silver mines, the main reason everyone comes to Potosi. The silver mine is located in a huge mountain, Cerro Potosi, and has been producing silver for over 200 years. The conditions the miners work in are extremely dangerous and the life expectancy isn’t very high. The mine has pretty much run out of sliver now and there are fears the whole mine will collapse soon. We started off the tour by heading to the miner’s markets to buy them some gifts. Apparently the gifts miners like are: coca leaves, cigarettes, alcohol and dynamite. We bought them a bag of coca leaves and a stick of dynamite. We then had to go and suit up for the mines. This was a lovely outfit consisting of a brownish colour onesie, wellies, a hard hat with a light on it and a battery pack belt. After we were all suited up it was off to the mine we went. Unfortunately it was a Saturday when we went so there really weren’t too many miners, but we still got an idea of how the mine worked and the ancient conditions they worked in. OH&S would have a field day here! Most of the mining is done by hand with picks and carried out in 20kg bags. They do have carts on tracks in some parts of the mine but these are all moved around manually. We did manage to find one miner working on his own and gave him a hand moving some of the rocks. When I say ‘we’ gave him a hand I mean Kirsten and I! The boys in our group were useless!! Most were complaining about the dust and the others were complaining that their backs hurt! So Kirsten and I carried the 20kg bags of rocks and filled and emptied the wheelbarrow. Even though the mine wasn’t really in action when we went it was still really interesting and I would definitely recommend people to go, except maybe not if you are claustrophobic….
*Little note: Altitude becomes a big topic of discussion when travelling around South America. Being from Perth (0m) I had never thought twice about Altitude but it seems to be the only thing people can talk about here. “How high have you been?” seems to be a commonly asked question and not in a ‘recreational’ sort of way but that changes when you get out of the Andes.