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| Potosi-Cerro Mine • Bolivia 4wd Expedition
|JULY 20, 2006 THURSDAY|
|MINING, ROOFS, CHICKENS AND TEXTILES|
Silver Mines tours pick us up at the card park at 9am, and takes us to their dressing room where we put on protective clothing: nylon/pvc pants, jacket, plastic bags on our feet before the farm boots, helmets and lights with battery packs. We then make a stop at the “miners market” which consists of 1 man and 1 lady sitting on the sidewalk with things to sell for the miners. The rule is that it is goodluck for the miners if you give them gifts. The other rule is that you can only take pictures of the miners if you bring them gifts. (What a racket) The things that you could buy for them ranged from soda to dynamite, yes, DYNAMITE!!! There were also socks, gloves, and cocoa leaves. We all took pictures of us wearing our miners gear holding a stick of dynamite. In one of the books it said that if you bought dynamite, you could get them to do a special blast for you.
At the Cerra Rico mountain, there are about many separate mines. If I understood correctly, most mines are owned by different companies, although there is a big mine that is a national mine, whose employees get paid about $50 per week. Our guide, Freddie, explained that they must leave some of the minerals, minerals, in the mountain because it is like swiss cheese now, full of holes and tunnels, and would collapse if they took all of them. Very interesting is that this is the only mountain that has any minerals worth mining. That seems crazy because they all look alike. The main mineral from Cerro Rico has been silver for 400 years, but now it is mostly zinc and lead.
We were lead through the tunnels for the narrow gauge carts. When the rock is blasted, the men (boys as young as 15 can work in the mine for the summer) load the carts by hand. One cart holds about 1 ton of rock. Two men push the cart outside and dump it. Then the workers outside separate what they think is good from the bad, again by hand. As a cart of ore would come past us, Freddie would give them a “present” from the tourists.
Freddie explained that we were going to go up 4 levels in the mine. We all thought that was fantastic, until he showed us the straight up ladders through a small opening that disappeared into blackness. I can go up, but I don’t do down well. I don’t want to look like a chicken, and try to convince myself that I can buck up and do it. We start up . . . I am the third person going up, with what I think are 3 people behind me. So being in the middle, there is no going back! When you got to the top of the 1st scary ladder, there was a ledge about 2 feet wide to step on to the right and then continue up the next scary ladder. At the top of it, there was a 1-1/2 feet wide ledge to step on left, to the next ladder. When I was on ladder number 3, I heard someone say that they were turning back. My heart sunk because I knew I was too far up to go back now. I keep going, convincing myself that I can do one more ladder. At the top of number 4, there was a 3 foot ledge and ANOTHER LADDER. This is NOT what I bargained for! I thought only 4 total. There were 6!!! OK, I’m at the top of 6. There is a small “tunnel” with workers drilling holes and placing dynamite. The air was very stuffy and hot. They said that the minerals put off a gas and eats up the oxygen. (How safe is this really? Did I pay good money for this abuse to my lungs?)
Well I took my 3 pix of the sights 6 levels up – THEN IT IS TIME TO GO DOWN!!! Freddie offered to take us down a different way, WITHOUT LADDERS, but it was very narrow and we may have to crawl in places. I asked which was faster – ladders. Ladders it is. I kept talking all the way down (imagine that!) I kept saying “how much further?” “Ok, I am off of ladder 6, you can get on it.” “Where is the dumb landing? I can’t see it yet.” Finally I hear the voice of an angel down below. I know that if I can hear her, that the end must be near. I do survive, but I will mention for future travelers, that the tiny sliver of gray that was supposed to be the silver vein was definitely worth missing!
On the way out, Freddie took us by “Uncle George” or “Tio.” He is a statue sort of thing, or maybe a shrine would be a better word. The miners believe that he lives in the mountain and he must be brought gifts in order to bring them good luck. He is a devil looking character. The gifts are mostly cocoa leaves and cigarettes. While Freddie is telling us about him, he lights up a cigarette and puts it in the mouth of Uncle George. It doesn’t stay lit, so he does another. I thought we were going to suffocate! The cigarettes were so strong, and the air was not great to begin with. We were very glad to get out to a fresh air tunnel. I forgot to say, that one of the gifts were also cigarettes that you could buy for the miners. Something about bad air, strong cigarettes, and dynamite doesn’t mix.
Also, Freddie told us when we were 6 levels up, that the guys were rigging the dynamite to be blown at 5pm, then the air has all night to clear. My question was , WHO LIGHTS THE FUSES, then runs for the 6 levels of ladders? Not me!! It took me about 10 minutes to get down. The fuses are only a 2 minute fuse! Somebody is very brave.
Other points about the mine: There 20 levels to the mine, some up, some down. About 15 people die each year working in the mine. I am sure most of the deaths are the people that do the dynamiting. The workers get paid based on the quality and quantity of the ore they bring out. Average pay is about 1500 bs/month, (Almost $200/month). The miners never eat IN the mine. They believe it is bad luck. All they do is drink and chew cocoa leaves. They say that the cocoa leaves are NOT addictive, but are more like a caffeine stimulant or guarana. It gives them the energy they need to work in the conditions. The leaves are only chewed while working, not at home or away from work. (We each got a leaf to chew. They are dried, so it was like putting a bay leaf in and chewing. We all guessed that it must be an acquired taste!) There were no lights strung in the mines. They only have the lights on their helmets. Cerro Rico is 17,049 ft tall and has a circumference of over 18,000 feet.
After we disrobe, we head for lunch at the top of a nunnery, La Mercede. It is a beautiful coral color, Spanish style church front with 5 bells. You can eat on the open balcony, but the sun is too hot. It is only about 70 F, but at 12,000 feel, it feels like 90.
THE REST OF THE LOST KEY STORY . . .
We decide to hit some internet before textiling some more. Judy gets a call from Stephen that the policeman is there again about Michael’s keys. He rushes off. In about 45 minutes he is back, with a smile! He doesn’t understand exactly what the police was saying, but the gist is that Juan Carlo spent 200 bs in taxi fares and phone calls trying to find the keys. He found them, and had come to collect his recompensa, reward. So for 750bs, Michael has his keys back. Mo gave him a bright orange key necklace so he would not lose them again. Good ending to a bad event.
We go to try to find a city view. From the top of San Francisco chapel, there is a roof walk. We pay the 20 bs for the door to be unlocked, and up we go, through a narrow spiral out to the top of the roof. The view is spectacular! Very worth the photo opp. We were literally walking on the red tile roofs, climbing from one elevation to another, to the highest level, where the Cerra Rico mining mountain was nicely visible, along with all of the white buildings with red roofs. (I think we actually did this yesterday, otherwise Michael would have been with us.)
The roasted chicken store was a welcome site. They are cooked in a little storefront shop in a rotisserie type of glass case with 5 skewers, 4-5 chickens each. The smell was very good, so we bought 2. They cut them up also, which saves a huge mess at home. The price was actually about like they are at home 35 bs, so about $4. Glad to pay it to have the cooked chicken. This is the only food item that has been close to US prices. All else has been about – of the price. Michael finds a dairy store across from the chicken store. We are able to buy more fresh milk in the bags and some yogurt. Yea! Don’t have to drink the long-life stuff. It is called UHT, although no one can tell me what it stands for. I think that is because no one actually knows WHAT is in the UHT box to make it last for 5 years!!
One last TEXTILE-FEST before we leave the area. After sorting through all of the stacks of table runners, placemat sized pieces (although there are never more than 2 that match, if lucky), scavenging the placemats on display tables and in display cases, we make our selections. I had to use my US $100 that I had stashed, but I did buy my share. At home, these weavings would have been 4-5 times as much, if you could even find anything like them. (Yes, I guess I am justifying my purchases.)
We rush to dinner with our treasures, and have another great meal at El Fogon.
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