|Well, Potosi was another overnight bus journey from La Paz. Back to Ormeño style,we travelled with Transportes Cobacabana, adn it was comfy,happy days!
The bus stopped at 2am for half and hour for a rest, felt like telling him I was doing all the resting I needed but think the driver meant the rest was for him!
Nae need to put the lights on mind ya!
Arrival at 530am was met by a tired me n Rach! Made oor way to oor hostel,Koala Den. Where we had chosen the cheap option of a dorm,sadly found oorselves in a tiny room with 9 beds, 3*3 bunks. An I was on the top, te guy put the light on, woke the other 5 people soundly sleeping, no happy.Slept till 9ish, woke a few more people up, ten decided to bite the bullet and pay the extra 15bols for a room to ourselves!
Saturday was spent on the Potosí silver mine tour. Shocking and undescribable was how the lonely planet described it, how true it was!
We were taken to get kitted up, miners troosers n jackets,welly boots m miners hat n lamp. Then we were off to the market to buy presents for the miners, loads of bottles of juice, sum 96% quality alcohol!!!!, n couple of sticks of dynamite. Sensible gifts we were advised by Pedro oor guide, who had worked in the mine for 5 years, encouraged since wee by his dad also a miner, discouraged by his mum, who wanted him to get an education.
Then it was mine time(after getting laughed at by the locals, of course!!). It started off okay,pretty chilly, lots of fresh air. Had to jump off the tracks every now and then, as a cart was coming screaming towards us at 40mph(well at least it seemed like that!!), with 2 miners crouching down on the back of it, 2 wheels in the air at all times!
The mine is a cooperative mine, whereby the miners work for themselves, there are 150 miners in the mine we visited.8000 miners in Potosí,60000 in Bolivia!
Every miner pays for the services he uses,eg air,electricity,and are arranged into teams of between 10 and 50 men(strong machismo society here,def no females allowed to work!!)
The average wage is 800-1200bols a month( /14 to get gbp)There are no maximum working hours, no EU working regs, the guys can work 24/7 if they so wish!
Saw a 10 year old boy working away, but apparently there are only a few hundred kids workin in the mine, not a huge problem apparently.....The mine was just awful, after the initial bit, it was warm, with no head space at all, pneumatic and electric cables hitting ya in the face if you werent low enough. Then the scramble down to the 3rd level where they are extracting zinc and silver, you would not believe it, crawling height, slipping and sliding down a few hundred feet, using the cables as hand holds, agility of a monkey needed, cant describe how bad it was, we were all sweating, coughing with teh dust. You can see from the pics the amount of dust in the air, at BP, we cannae even see the dust and we need to wear dust masks, here its like a cloud and we were all coughing constantly. These guys work in it every day of their workin lives. Was desperate, like everyone else in the gruop, to get out, felt horrible, mingin n sweaty and worried about the damage I was doin to my lungs, it was the worst experience ever, we were in for 2 hours! The guys use hammer and chisel to extract the mineral, they chew coca all day adn dont leave the mine from clock on to clock off. They dont eat, its the coca that keeps them goin, but u want to see the state of their teeth! All in all, a worthwhile experience, really difficult, seeing these guys working in medieval conditions, but its the way the world is, how our world used to be, but since moved on. Fresh air and sunlight was never so glad to be found as when we got out the never ending mine, after climbing and scrambling back up to the 1st level felt awful. We all came out a bit worse for wear. Happy for Pedro to be the entertainment by offering to let off a vomb. Carefully assembling it using stick of dynamite and ammonium nitrate and the fuse, he the ran off and put it in a hole. Couldnae believe the bang, it was SO loud!
Then a quick visit to the local processing plant where, as you can probably imagine. the conditions were prehistoric. Stepping over rotating machinery, with no guard, over dodgy planks of wood, live bus bars within fingers reach, oh man, it was scary!
Pedro then commentated on the pile of mud(silver apparently) that the quality not that great, nae wunner man! Its lying oot exposewd to every element, and bolivian workers pee n spit!
Glad to get back to new room in hostel, with shrek bedcovers!, and get a gid wash! Went out for dinner wit oor new pals from tour, another coupla girls from the Dam!, a German guy, some canadians and an american(who neva voted for Bush either, where are all those voters man!?!?!)
Saturday saw us hiking up to the lakes Kari Kari, using the company Silver Tours. After a desperate search to find something more than dry bread rolls for our breakfast and lunch, which we failed, we were off with Osvaldo in the local bus up to the mines...again!
Then it was for the off, we started at 4070m(height of potosí above sea level), and eventually hiked up to 4800m. The altitude really gets ya, feel so unfit huffing n puffing all the way up, and when we climbing, its climbing all the way!
The scenery wasnt anything spectacular, espe at the start when we were hiking thru mining country, ugly landscape. Today is Carnaval for the miners(always starts 2 weeks before the official Carnavale), and Carnavale for the miners means throwing water balloons at everybody and anybody, one wee guy came running out his house and belted Rachel square on the back with a balloon, it was pretty funny. she saw the funny side as well!!
All day dynamite was being let off, cheap fireworks!
After the trek we headed back into the middle of the festivities, well aware we ran the risk of being soaked. Just as well it happened, water balloons being fired at the gringos in shorts from all directions, we did well to duck from most of them, the spray foams cans were just as difficult to avoid! The rain came on just to get us even wetter! Celebrations Bolivian style!!