After a 3 hours bus ride from Sucre we arrived in Potosí – now we were 4.000 meters closer to the stars! A difference of 1.300 meters which made a little difference! The best advise is to drink tea of cocaine leafs as it helps you to adjust to the altitude. Unfortunately I woke up with a huge headache which turned into feeling very bad in general but our guide Omar accompanied us to the pharmacy where I bought a very good pill – the “Sorrochi pills” against the sickness of high altitude and after an hour I already felt better. I guess it is better not to think about how much chemicals are in these pills – but all that counts was that I felt much better very quickly!
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During our city tour in Potosí we visited different churches, the central market and the museum “Casa de la Moneda”. We were pretty amazed by the things we learned in the museum. For example, that actually in history all money was made in Potosí as all the material was found in the “Cerro Rico”, especially silver. Furthermore the symbols of currencies found their origin in the money making in Potosi as they overlapped the letters of PoToSi to define the currency. Besides that the museum holds a collection of coins, medals and many machines that they used in the past for the money making. The most impressing machine was an old wodden construction which was shipped from Spain to Argentina and from there was transported with mules to Bolivia. This machine was used for the lamination process to get 3mm of material and it was moved by mules in the below part of the construction. The machines can still be found in its original place. Then it was lunch time and we ate the typical soup Kalapurka in the Restaurant El Empedradillo. This soup is served with a stone in the middle to keep the soup hot – and I can tell you, it was delicious!
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In the afternoon we continued a tour to discover the mine: the Cerro Rico! It is the same mine where they have been taking out the silver and all materials for the making of coins for many years and are still exploiting it for more minerals and silver. We got all the equipment to be prepared as a miner: rubber boots, pants and jacket as well as a helmet with a flash light. On the way we stopped at the famous street for miners in Potosí – the only street where EVERYONE can buy dynamite, 96% alcohol, special cigarettes and cocaine leafs. This is actually the survival package of each miner. The miners masticate cocaine leafs for different reasons: it indicates the time of their work as they chew it for about 4 hours and then it looses the taste and they repeat the process, besides it keeps them awake as they sometimes work up to 24-48 hours and it takes away the feeling of getting hungry or thursty. A pretty sad life in the dark…
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Then we entered the mine, walked and crawled through the various paths of the mine and our guide showed us all the different levels of the mine. Furthermore we talked to some mine workers and they showed us the different kinds of minerals they are looking for as well as the various ways how they put the dynamite and explore the exploded parts of the mine afterwards. They count the sounds of explosion and then wait for about 2 hours – so that the explosion powder has disappeared and they can discover the detonated parts. Normally they work in a team of 3 and need to take out 30 waggons of material each day. Furthermore they have a ritual twice a month with the uncle “tío” which is a figure that they have constructed themselves. The first Friday of each month they ask the “tío” for a successful month by finding many minerals. Then they use the celebration of the last Friday per month to thank the uncle “tío” for the passed weeks. In both ocassions they put cocaine leafs all over his body, smoke cigarettes and drink the pure 96% alcohol “with him” which means they drop the alcohol on him and put a cigarette in his mouth and sit down to drink and smoke “with him”- so it is actually a ritual and celebration they do with him. Due to all these circumstances and hard work, mine workers sadly have an average life expectation of only 45-50 years.
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We left the mine after about 1,5 hour and must say that we were very happy to see the day light again! But for us it was a great experience and I must say these experiences always teach one again how much we should appreciate this life we have!
After this great day in Potosí, we took a 4 hours bus ride to our next destination: Uyuni!