The hostel does one thing.. It sends young backpackers to the mine every day. Like I said before, it is the only thing to "see" in Potosi if you don't have the freedom to travel and explore by motorcycle like us.
The mountain in the photo below, is the mine. Patrick had done it, everyone else are doing it, so I guess I should see it myself.
This small mountain called Cerro Rico has been mined full time since the 1500's. They've been able to pull heaps of silver out of it over the years, but it's mostly dried up now. I'm a bit nervous about going inside. They tell me there are so many tunnels in the hill, that it's like swiss cheese and could collapse in on itself.
However, I start the tour with other backpackers anyway. Our fist stop is to the miners shops. The one hill actually has several different syndicates, like miners unions. They don't get paid unless they pull something out. Many miners work so hard for 12-15 hours per day, several days in a row without getting any bit of metal, silver or zinc! AND, it's up to them to have their own dynamite in order to find silver and make some money.
So the tour guide encourages us to buy dynamite as to give the miners as a gift.
Then we're led to the little opening in the rock to tour the mine. I'm looking at that hole and already thinking that I really don't want to go in there.
I have to admit, I have been so spoiled in my life. I've been on some tours around the world, and they usually are full of annoying safety standards.. Now that I am faced with this quite possibly dangerous tour, I'm not real keen. There is no path for viewing with safety ropes. We have to walk amongst the miners, stop them and crawl through and over their carry carts while disrupting their work to get through.
Sheez, check out these conditions...
There are NO lights in this mine. Any photo you see is only from of the flash of my camera. We also carry a head torch, otherwise, it is pure black. The dust is unreal, I don't like breathing it in. I'm wearing my bandana, but it's not nice either. The mine is really hot inside, breathing through the bandana and the heat with dust, I feel like I'm suffocating already. I can NOT believe people come here and work 12-24 hours per day. It's SO cruel.
There was a young backpacker, an American college girl on our tour with her friends. To her this was all a party. She thought it was great. I'm mentioning it because it annoyed me a fair bit. We have our protective clothing on but she has her top open to her belly and her super size bra-less boobs hanging out as we walk through in a hunched over way, talking and laughing really loud. Maybe the miners loved it, but I didn't see the usual whistle and staring reaction. Interestingly, these boys and men seemed dazed, no reaction to her or anyone else. The fact that they didn't react to her flaunting her boobs is enough evidence to say the miners are in a bad way.
At around 20-30 minutes crawling through the dark dreadful mine, we stop at a large-ish hole in the rock for a break and some instruction that we are about to go down through another tunnel in the hill to a level where the temperature is around 40 degrees Celcius (104 F). While listening to the guide, these young kids come through that tiny hole in the rock, dragging their large bags of heavy stone. They looked about 13 years old. I asked them if I could take a photo, and only this one said yes, the others did not want a photo.
I was so sad, and imagining if my own nephews the same age had to do work like this. It was making me sick. The young boys stopped in the same pocket that we were sitting, trying to clear their noses so they can breathe. And a lot of coughing. If I didn't think it was cruel enough before, now I've had enough. I do not want or need to go down to the super hot level to see them work. I've seen documentaries on t.v. about horrible lives, slaves, hardship, but to see it in my face is more than I can take. I want out. I'm happy to give them money and gifts to help them get through another day, but I don't need to see any more.
An older man came out of that same hole a few minutes later and sat down next to me. I asked him for a photo and he agreed.
A Swiss couple felt the same way I did and stopped with me. While the 4 young Americans were thrilled to go further.
We crawled our way out and waited outside until their tour was over.
I didn't like that at all, so being in the fresh air and sunlight made it easy to smile again. Unfortunately for the miners, they have very little to smile about. They don't expect that hill to provide any more silver or income for the people of Potosi in less than 10 years. After that, what will they do, where will they go.. will the town die off completely.
I asked our tour guide if there is another hill, or does the government have a plan at all. He laughed and said No. The only thing the government does is make sure they keep working on this hill. It's estimated since the mine started in 1545, around 8 million men have died inside this mine. 8 Million!!! So many lives for somebody else to get rich.