Posted on March 5, 2013
In the second part of the Bolivian stories I wrote about the “Oruro bacteria”. It sounds scary and for that moment it also was. The last carnival evening we stayed just a small group of the most dedicated carnival people and we decided to eat in the local pizzeria. I ate there before, so the place was tested and approved. Although this night we were unlucky. It was either the cheese, or mushrooms or whatever else, almost everyone got sick. Not a nice end of the carnival, but this was also a part of the travel experience, especially in the countries like Bolivia and Peru (sorry guys…) At the end of the carnival, I decided to join Andy from Germany and we took a bus to Potosí, one of the highest cities in the world (4010m above the sea level). It is famous for its mines, so we wanted to do a mine tour. After a long bus ride, not really feeling well and the bus breaking down, we finally got to Potosí.
Joel from couchsurfing recommended the Koala Den hostel and it was a great choice. Good atmosphere, nice rooms, good breakfast (with fresh fruit!) and even their own travel agency. However, I was unlucky and the unpleasant bus tour as well as the “Oruro bacteria” knocked me down and I had a flu. It was the first (and hopefully the last time) that I was sick on this trip. Three days of chill and I was back on my feet and we could go to the mines.
This was one of the hardest tours that I’ve ever experienced. It was hard physically, because we spent two hours inside of a dusty mountain, in the actual working mine. Some corridors were so narrow that we had to crawl on our knees. My recommendation is that if you have problems with breathing in small and narrow surroundings, don’t do this tour. Otherwise it is doable, just keep in mind that at some point you will get out and use a mask or a scarf because it is very dusty. The other reason why this tour was so hard was the fact that I saw the working conditions of the miners. Can you image being closed in a space that is inside of a mountain, 45°C, lack of air and exploding the dynamite every day? Usually, the miners don’t eat the whole day and they just chew coca leaves that keep them awake and focused on their job. Many of them start working in the mine when they are very young (teenagers). Our guide told us that if these guys are smart enough, they’ll leave the mine after 2-3 years, after making some money. Otherwise the ones that stay in the mine for many years, will have serious health damage leading to death (some die already after 10 years of working in the mine).
I wanted to talk to the miners in person, but we didn’t meet that many inside of the mine, because they were still visiting their homes and celebrating the carnival with families. At least they can party once in a while… Our guide also told us that the salary varies from 1000 – 3000 Bolivianos (100 – 300 EUR). Bolivia is a cheap country, but I still find this salary unbelievably low for such a hard job. It is a pity that Bolivia was one of the richest countries for primal resources and currently is in this hard situation.
At the end of the tour we stopped to say hi to the Miner’s God and give him coca leaves and alcohol that has 96%. This is usually what miners do, pour one shot to the God and one for them. I haven’t tried it, our homemade 52% slivovica is enough for me 🙂 I was happy when we left the God, because I heard that Pachamama (Mother Earth) is jealous when women enter the mine and come close to the God. I didn’t want to cause any troubles and when I saw the light at the end of the tuneI I felt unbelievably happy. This tour was definitely an eye-opening experience.
The same evening we left Potosí and the direction was Uyuni! I couldn’t wait for the famous Salt flats tour. Next time: Photo essay from the salt flats tour!