Imagine working 8-10 hours a day in pretty harsh conditions without seeing any daylight and getting about 1 dollar an hour for the job you do. Imagine your work being so hard that your life expectancy would be no higher than 40 years old. These are the conditions in which the Bolivian workers spend each day in the mines of Potosi.
The famous silver mines in Potosi are the reason the city, and the mines themselves, get a lot of visitors each day. On my second day in the town I decided to take the tour to the mines as well.
We set off early in the morning to visit the miners market where our guide explained to us the importance of coca leaves for the miners (they chew on coca leaves all day long. It stops them from feeling hunger and keeps them stronger). We got a chance to buy a dynamite, which you can buy on the market without any permission, and also gifts, like coca leaves, bolivian rum (96%) biscuits and cigaretts as gifts for the miners. Afterwards we went up the Cerro Potosi – the mountain where the mines are- the locals call it ‘the mountain that eats people alive’. Each entrance to the mine is covered in llama blood. Llamas are often sacrificed for the miners’ god – Tio, who is supposed to protect the workers from accidents and help them find good veins. Our guide told us that outside the miners are protected by God but he doesn’t reach as far as the mine and the only God that exist below is the devil – Tio. He strictly told us not to make any cross signs inside so as to not to make the Tio angry. After walking for about 2 hours through caves full of ashes, seeing the miners at work, visiting countless statues of Tios and blowing up dynamite inside the mine (that part was very scary) we made it back to the top safely. It was great but at the same time a very sad experience. Unofficial data says that around 8 million people lost their lives within these mines.
Nowadays there is hardly any silver left in the Potosi mines. They were depleted after 1800 and today tin is the main product that’s being mined.
For anyone who is interested in this topic I would recommend a documentary: ”the devil’s miner” about a 14 year old bolivian boy who has to work in the mines of Potosi in order to provide for himself and his family.