It is certainly one of Bolivia’s most controversial tours yet one that guarantees to be an experience you’ll never forget. Potosí’s well-known mine tours promise a singular insight into the mining business as well as the working circumstances for people who make this their day job. Some travellers can’t wait to descend into the mine whereas others question the ethics of seeing other individuals’s suffering.
Upon visiting Potosí in Bolivia, I used to be torn by each safety considerations and the moral justification for visiting the mines. I went forwards and backwards over whether I agreed with such voyeurism and in the long run, vowed to look into corporations and first-hand experiences as much as I might.
During my research, I came throughout the company Potochij Excursions. The company was run by an ex-miner named Antonio and had rave critiques. After assembly with Antonio in individual, it wasn’t long before Tim and I launched into a mine tour.
Moving into character
The day started round 9.30am and we piled into a minivan with a handful of different curious travellers. Antonio announced that our first stop can be at a storehouse to get kitted out with the right gear for our adventure.
Here we have been sized up for overalls, helmets, welly boots and flashlights. Antonio also gave us gloves in case our skin reacted badly to the powder and mud in the mines.
Group pictures earlier than getting into the mine.
Getting dressed up felt a bit bizarre which was only enhanced when Antonio brought out giant dynamite and hammer replicas. We posed for group photographs, all of us feeling apprehensive about what was to return.
We headed back to the waiting minivan which would be taking us to the local Miner’s Market. Right here we had the chance to purchase presents for the miners. As well as particular person products, there was additionally the option to purchase a small hamper for 20 Bolivianos.
These hampers tended to include a mix of fizzy drinks, cigarettes, biscuits or coca leaves. It was additionally potential to buy dynamite at the steal of 20 Bolivianos per stick! (Potosí Miner’s Market is the only place on the planet where you’ll be able to legally purchase dynamite on the street!)
Coca leaves are a very good present for the miners as this is how they inform the time throughout their working days. With no pure mild in the mines, the line between daylight and nighttime can simply blur. Antonio advised us that a miner will chew a full bag of coca leaves over the course of a working day. Which means by the point they get to the top of the bag, they may know it is round house time.
You should purchase coca leaves, cigarettes and even dynamite at the Miner’s Market!
Tim and I bought a hamper between the 2 of us in addition to two surgical masks for us to put on in the mines. Antonio informed us that the two Bolivianos per mask was value it to avoid inhaling numerous the mud that’s kicked up inside the mine.
Whilst I used to be stunned to see gadgets comparable to fizzy drinks and cigarettes in the hampers, Antonio explained that the miners have a a lot decrease life expectancy owing to their work, so well being considerations are minimal to them. Most miners solely are likely to reside until their mid-forties. This scary statistic actually hit residence and I couldn’t assist but marvel if we have been doing the appropriate factor by venturing into this hopeless place…
Into the Mine
We drove up to Cerro Rico which is the place the Potosí silver mines are situated. Antonio purchased our entrance tickets which have been included in the price of the tour.
I was pleased to seek out out that all the proceeds from the price of the tickets, primarily act as insurance coverage in case of an accident. It wasn’t good to imagine issues going improper within the mine but naturally, in this type of working surroundings, incidents are sadly a given.
As we approached the entrance to the mine, Antonio outlined slightly of Potosí’s historical past as a mining metropolis and in addition informed us about his personal previous working in the mine. He comes from generations of miners and it was solely when his father passed away because of years spent within the mines, he determined to call it quits.
The mines at Cerro Rico overlook the town of Potosí.
Antonio advised us that the mine that we might be visiting was part of his previous co-operative and subsequently a spot he is aware of just like the again of his hand. Although there are a number of ranges to the mine, we might solely be visiting the first two.
As we waited for the go-ahead to enter, I heard one in every of my fellow travellers whisper to her boyfriend, “I don’t know if I want to go in there now”. I too felt torn but strongly consider that if you will eat a product or materials, in this occasion silver, you need to a minimum of have the center to see where it comes from.
Antonio poured a number of the 98% alcohol he had purchased, on the entrance to the mine. He stated this was for Pachamama, to ask for our protected passage. We appeared nervously at each other before he beckoned us in and we descended the lengthy ladder out of daylight.
While I had initially thought the dressing up was purely for the good thing about vacationer pictures, it turns out I wasn’t fairly right. The mines have been extremely dusty and the small passageways we needed to traverse, typically meant crouched and uncomfortable journeys.
It turned shortly obvious that had it not been for the overalls, our own clothes would have been ruined. I felt far more comfy after discovering that this wasn’t a tongue in cheek impersonation of the miners but truly something utterly essential.
Antonio led us down a slender tunnel, stopping recurrently to make sure that the remainder of the group have been in tow. He stopped in a aspect passage and commanded us all to take a seat down. It was cramped but we have been relieved to stop crouching.
Time to satisfy Tio
After we have been settled, Antonio pointed out a sinister determine sitting at the finish of the tunnel. He launched him as Tio. The model seemed just like a person but with horns. It was explained that this illustration of the satan is in all places all through the mines.
Tio is usually believed to be the guardian of the mines.
Tio is the creature that the miners make choices to in an effort to guarantee their safety. He is an extension of the Pachamama (Mom Earth) and it’s believed that if introduced with offerings, he’ll shield the miners from harm.
Previous habits die onerous and Antonio scattered coca leaves at the website and in addition poured alcohol over Tio’s ft and arms. I had been cynical when Antonio informed us the power of this alcohol but after he passed it across the group and all of us had the prospect to odor it, I utterly believed him!
Exploring the tunnels
After making some choices to Tio, we all reversed out of the aspect alley and adopted Antonio to degree one. It was here that we saw the first of the miners working.
Surprisingly, the miners have been very jolly and greeted us with enthusiasm. It was then that Antonio stated we should always hand out a few our presents that we had purchased from the market. The miners thanked us after which went on their approach.
The mines are dark and cramped.
Antonio explained that although working within the mines just isn’t a massively fascinating job, it pays very nicely compared to other choices in and around Potosí. A waiter in a city restaurant makes around 50 Bolivianos per day, whereas a miner makes round 150 Bolivianos, 3 times the typical.
In fact, mining comes with big well being dangers but many men are prepared to danger it for the cash that it will probably supply. Although it’s predominantly younger men working within the mines, all of them have totally different jobs. For example, it is just the oldest miners that set off the dynamite. The younger miners are likely to work extra with the trolleys and do the heavy lifting.
As we made our method by way of winding tunnels, I heard low rumbles within the distance. Antonio knowledgeable us all that this was dynamite.
We spent round an hour inside the mine and crawled up slender passages to see the miners work. Though I had feared this might be a voyeuristic go to where tourists revelled within the discomfort of the miners, it felt nothing like that.
All the miners we met seemed very glad that the tourists have been visiting their administrative center. I’m unsure whether this can be a direct result of the presents that we handed out to the employees or because of their want to share their world with us. Both method, they definitely seemed welcoming of vacationers and I never once felt like I was intruding. I felt far more like an invited visitor.
Whilst my trip into the mine was undoubtedly eye-opening, I don’t regret it. As a shopper of the minerals mined, I feel it is very important realise the human value of such luxuries. I additionally assume, that if you’ll tour the mine, it is massively essential to go together with a responsible supplier. Antonio, as an ex-miner, knows the plight of those staff solely too nicely and is decided to ensure that they profit from tourists.
As well as the charge from the doorway ticket immediately benefiting injured miners, a big proportion of the proceeds from Antonio’s tours are also flushed immediately back into the mine. As these tours might so easily flip right into a voyeuristic exploit, it is undoubtedly essential to choose a company with a social conscience.
I used to be relieved to be out of the mine.
As we neared the top of our time inside the mine, one of the different travellers in our group requested how many accidents occurred inside. Antonio refused to discuss deaths or accidents contained in the mine saying it was dangerous luck. This was the point the place the danger of what we have been doing dawned on me once extra.
Is going right into a mine protected?
It is very important know that in the event you go on certainly one of Potosí’s mine excursions you are not going to a reproduction mine. These are real, lively mines and sure, they are harmful places.
After we had exited the mine, Antonio thanked Pachamama for making certain our safety and started to elucidate concerning the frequency of accidents. Collapsing tunnels are quite common and explosions also go improper with alarming frequency. Just one yr in the past, someone by accident blew themselves up and needed to be recovered in pieces.
The menace doesn’t stop for miners once they depart the mines either. Owing to the damaging powders that the miners breathe in day by day, additionally they endure long-term effects from their job. Respiration circumstances like emphysema and silicosis are persistent issues for ex-miners and may end up in their untimely deaths.
Recommendation from the NHS says that visiting a mine on a tour is unlikely to go away you with any lasting well being circumstances. You’d have to be very unfortunate for something to occur in the course of the hour or so that you simply have been inside the mine. Nevertheless, this isn’t to say that this stuff don’t occur.
In the event you endure from claustrophobia, extreme altitude sickness or any sort of physical condition that gained’t permit you to bend freely, it is best to keep away from a go to to the mine.
Regardless of being a shadow of its former self, the mining business in Potosí continues to be massive enterprise. If you’ll venture into an lively mine, heed the next advice:
- Be sure to are getting into with a accountable company with good evaluations.
- Wear the right gear e.g. helmet and lamp.
- Keep in mind that the miners are individuals too, not animals to be gawped at.
- Purchase some presents for the miners, it creates a great relationship.
- Never, ever, depart your information.
- Deal with the experience as a chance to study, not to gloat.
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