Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The One in the Mines

A beautiful sunny day, we headed en mass, sans Irish, to the Potosi Mint, for a rather dull tour, by a pompous guide who was both a misogynist and tried to make everybody feel stupid. Talk about diminishing your tip! We arrived an hour into his tour (through no fault of our own, as even the signs downstairs did not display a start time).

For such a pompous man he was also a terrible tour guide - he managed to lose us twice!

Anyway, i did manage to fathom that the silver was melted into blocks, rolled through 12 stages of Mule driven wheels, cut into circles and manually stamped with the denomination. I also leartn that the pirates "pieces of eight" refer to the 8 reals coin! Somethingto mention when it goes quiet in the snug!

To be honest the building in itself was well worth the visit, and although I´m no architect I can appreciate that a curved brick ceiling looks good!

During the tour we heard dynamite going off in the street - enough to make any person jumpy - and as we left the building we walked into the middle of a protest. The students were revolting!!!! Apparantely the teachers don´t really teach and tell them to look things up on the internet and they were protesting trying to get real lessons! We tried to avoid the mad throng and the explosions that went with them!

In the afternoon we met for our tour of the Cerro Rico (Rich mountain) Mine. We went first to get togged up, and looked fantastic in a mixture of red and yellow shell suits, hard hats, head torches and wellies!
At the base of the hill we stopped to buy the miners presents. For just over one pound we got coca leaves, crackers, dynamite and fuse, and cigarettes made from eucalyptus, coca, tobacco and cinnamon)

Boys start working at the mine aged 12 and the mortality rate is high. You could well believe it as we made our way in through one of the 10,00 entrances avoid vast drops into nothingness.

The mine is full of all sorts of minerals - Silver, Zinc, iron and Fools Gold, and you earn more dependign on where you decide to mine. The lower in the mine you are the more money you get, but the more dangeropus it is the less time you will live.

The miners also "worship" the devil - although I´m not sure worship is the right word. Statues of the Devil are all over the mine, and he is respected as a fellow miner as he is associated with the underworld, and also fertility. The Miners leave him offerings of alcohol, cigarettes and coca in the hope that they will be fruitful in their mining - they are paid on commission.

Getting about the mine was tought work. We had to crawl and wiggle up through small holes, with drops into the abyss all over the place. Who´d have thought that a fear of heights could kick in underground.

We found some miners, to hand our goods to. One was 17 and had been working in the mine for 5 years since the mine took his father. His mother is also dead, and he provides for his family, going to school in the evenings after an eight hour shift down the mine. Puts things in perspective.

With a new view on how lucky we are in the UK, we headed back to the hotel. That evening we murdered a few tunes in the local Kareoke, and tried to keep up with the Spanish on a couple of Bolivian classics!

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