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The Travel Journal of Jacqui and Lars


Bolivia - 14 December, 2001



Location Latitude Longitude Elevation

Travel Distance

Start Hotel Jerusalem, Potosi S1935.107' W06545.374' 3,970 m
Tour of the Cerro Rico mines . . ~ 4,400 m 5 km (on foot)
Finish Hotel Jerusalem, Potosi S1935.107' W06545.374' 3,970 m 30 km (by minibus)

Leg 1 Total:

6,410 km


771 km

Grand Total:

7,181 km


Weather: Clear, sunny and hot in the morning.  Cloudy and cool in the afternoon.  Cold at night.



Today we go and tour the cooperative mines of Potosi up on Cerro Rico.  While the Spanish dug out most of the silver and other valuable metals, there is still enough left to entice local men to go and work in appalling conditions in the mines.  After the minibus comes to pick us up, we go and get our outfits.  We are given wellies, jacket and pants and helmet (some with and some without lights - we are glad that we brought our own torches).


Bolivia01_Potosi2_Mine01_Dynamite_Lars_C160_Web.jpg (70022 bytes)

From there we head to the miners market to go and buy some gifts for the miners.  We can pick up all the essentials - dynamite, ammonia nitrate, fuses and 96% alcohol.  We get some of each.  Buying dynamite is like buying candy - only a little bit cheaper!!  The local stuff costs less than 20 US cents a stick and the imported stuff about 30 cents a stick.  We bought a bunch and headed on.


Bolivia01_Potosi2_Mine03_CityView_Group_C162_Web.jpg (86289 bytes)

We drove up to Cerro Rico and got off to have a view of the city.  The guide also took this opportunity to give us some coca leaves to chew - this is what the miners chew all day to make their work bearable.  They do not eat or drink all day while underground - the coca leaves provides the protein (and drugs) to sustain them.  We try some and discover that it tastes more pleasant and is much stronger (our mouths went numb very quickly!).


Then it was to the mines - we spent about 2 hours underground and that was enough.  It is hard to see how the mine workers can handle all day underground (in the old days the slaves at times worked 3 or 5 or 7 days underground) in the narrow, hot and smelly tunnels that they have dug out of the rock at this altitude (over 4,000 meters high).


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We walked hunched over for most of the time.  There were rail tracks running through the tunnels and the guide every once in a while would yell to us to hurry up and find a spot to get out of the way.  As we huddled in a corner, four men, hunched over, would then come by pulling and pushing an ore car that could weigh from half to one and a half tonnes (in the 50's they used mules, but animal activists put a stop to it, so now men have to do the job).  They would stop and chat with the guide.  We would then give away some of our gifts - it turned out that the most popular was the 96% drinking alcohol!!  It was Friday and tonight they would go and drink themselves silly.


Bolivia01_Potosi2_Mine07_Devil_C166_Web.jpg (26962 bytes)

We were taken to see the shrine to the devil.  The miners, who believe in a god in heaven, believe that there must be a devil beneath the earth where it is not and uncomfortable.  They believe that the devil owns the minerals and they need to appease him as they dynamite the ore out of the earth.  They call him Tio (uncle), never Diablo.  It is a scary figure and we also give him some gifts.


Bolivia01_Potosi2_Mine08_Crawl_Jac_C167_Web.jpg (107304 bytes)

We then have to crawl through some tight places - one one our stomach through a narrow crevice.  It was a tight squeeze.  We went down about three levels, where it kept getting hotter and hotter.  At one point, we had to turn back as the miners had detected poisonous gases.  The toughest part was a climb up a vertical shaft from the second to the first level.  It was straight up and we needed every hand and foot hold to make it up to the first level.


From there, we walked out through another entrance.  Along the way, the guide yelled to us to get out of the way, and a few minutes later a full ore car came roaring by on the tracks with two miners holding on at the back.  The tracks slope downhill, so they get up a good speed - there is a big mess if some one gets in the way or the ore car derails on the bumpy tracks.  It is good to emerge into the daylight - we have come form medieval conditions back into the 21st century (or at least the 20th century).  Most miners die from silicosis pneumonia within 10 years of entering the mines.  The conditions are horrible.


Bolivia01_Potosi2_Mine15_Explosion_C176_Web.jpg (91747 bytes)

Once out of the mine we get ready blow up the few remaining sticks of dynamite.  Sam had brought a watermelon and he carved out a hole into which the dynamite was placed.  The remaining space was filled with ammonia nitrate to enhance the explosion.  The fuse was then lit (yes, the fuse was already lit when this picture was taken) and Sam walked down the hill to place the watermelon at a safe distance.


Bolivia01_Potosi2_Mine16_Explosion_C177_Web.jpg (68469 bytes)

The fuse had about 3 minutes and we waited for the explosion.  When it came, it was huge and load.  The ground shook and the shock wave pounded our ears.  It was cool!  We then headed back to the hotel to have a good shower - the guide said that it would be a good idea with all the bad stuff in the mines.


The rest of the afternoon was spent doing some more sightseeing.  We walked to the Museo and Convento de Santa Teresa.  We could not find any lunch place open along the way, so we skipped lunch and went straight to the convent.  We had been told yesterday that an English tour would start at 3 PM, so we did not want to miss it.


Bolivia01_Potosi2_STeresa1_Yard_C180_Web.jpg (84113 bytes)

In the end, the tour of the convent took over 3 hours.  There were so many rooms to cover and so much to see.  This convent still had many of the dowries that the rich families gave when they sent their second daughters here.  The dowries included paintings, silver and gold objects, relics, and so on.  While it was long, it was well worth it.  Many of the rooms, such as the kitchen and dining room (with it's skull) were in original condition.  The church was amazing.


We had a relaxing evening.  We just went to a small restaurant nearby and ate lots (we had skipped lunch, after all).  Then back to the hotel to work on our journal and relax.


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