After finishing the Salar de Uyuni tour, I took a bus to go to Potosi in route to Sucre. Potosi is a very small town, with not much happening, but it’s a major silver mining town, where the people still use the traditional ways to mine and earn their living. It used to be one of the largest and wealthiest cities in South America, once upon a time, when mining was at its peak.
I took a mine tour, where we actually visit a working mine where the people still work in the same traditional ways. All miners are organized in cooperatives and whatever they mine is their earnings. It’s sad to know that most of them don’t live past 40 years old due to all the dangerous gases and poisons they are being exposed to while mining.
Before going to the tour, we stopped at a shop and bought some coca leaves, cigarettes, alcohol (96% PROOF Alchohol and they drink that thing) and explosives for the miners are gifts. Before giving it to the miners, we offered some to the Mine Gods, that protect the miners and provide them with luck in finding the best minerals and silver. Then we actually visited the mines and talked to the working miners and even helped them a bit with some shoveling and stuff.
We had a very diverse group of people in our Tour group – one Israeli, one Norwegian, one British, one American, one Dutch and one Mauritian. Very rare to find these nationalities all together in the same van 🙂
A bit of history of Potosi taken from Wikipedia.org – Sad that because the mules could not work in the high altitude city of Potosi, they replaced 4 mules by 20 African slaves, who will last more than 2 months working in the mines.
“It is from Potosí that most of the silver shipped through the Spanish Main came. According to official records, 45,000 tons of pure silver were mined from Cerro Rico from 1556 to 1783. Of this total, 9,000 tons went to the Spanish monarchy. Indian laborers, forced byFrancisco de Toledo, Count of Oropesa through the traditional Incan mita institution of contributed labor, came to die by the thousands, not simply from exposure and brutal labor, but by mercury poisoning: in the patio process the silver-ore, having been crushed to powder by hydraulic machinery, was cold-mixed with mercury and trodden to an amalgam by the native workers with their bare feet.  The mercury was then driven off by heating, producing deadly vapors.
To compensate for the diminishing indigenous labor force, the colonists made a request in 1608 to the Crown in Madrid to begin allowing for the importation of 1500 to 2000 African slaves per year. An estimated total of 30,000 African slaves were taken to Potosí throughout the colonial era. African slaves were also forced to work in the Casa de la Moneda as acémilas humanas (human mules). Since mules would die after couple of months pushing the mills, the colonists replaced the four mules with twenty African slaves. (Angola Maconde 1999)”