Potosi: Going Underground

Next stop on the Bolivian tour was Potosi.

Another early start for a bus – and once again we have to stop as we get a flat tyre. Luckily this was an easy fix so we only lost about 20 minutes. Bolivia health and safety isn’t really present so buses don’t have annual services or any real checks on them, so bus issues are fairly normal… We arrived in time for lunch and then went to see the mines.

minesPotosi back in the day used to be a massively important town. They found that they had lots of zinc, lead, silver and gold and minerals in the earth in the area, and so people flocked to the area to get in on the action. Sadly, all the money and resources were taken straight out of the city and Potosi is now a fairly derelict city. There are still active mines, but most of the minerals have been found but people still work in the mines taking as much as they can out of it. So we visited an active mine.

Working our outfits as best we could 🙂

minersIt was really interesting, but very sad to see. Miners work anything up to 24 hours at a time in the mines and get paid about 200 Bolivianos for their time – which equates to around £20 a day. They chew coca leaves to get them through the day – and most have a massive ball of leaves which they keep in their mouth. We met a few miners who were all in their mid-late 20s and had started working at 18 in the mines, and would likely stay there until retirement age of around 50.

minerEvery day they give an offering to the devil – usually tobacco, alcohol, coca leaves.

devilWe had bought food & drinks to share with the miners as they were unlikely to eat much when down in the caves. We also had the chance to buy dynamite if we wanted!

Learning about how the miners cope in the conditions… with coca leaves
The special cigarettes which miners smoke – a combination of tobacco but other herbs to help clear the mine out of their lungs (a bit)
97% alcohol they drink to also ‘clear’ their lungs….

Being in the mines for around 3 hours really made you realize the conditions – the smell, the lack of light, the long hours and this is still happening around the world… After the mines we went to see how they take the mined stones and separate the rocks – such as the lead and silver from each other using chemicals.


Then the raw materials are sold to companies or countries and it all repeats each day. It was good to get out and breathe some fresh air! Dinner in a French restaurant was the next stop – and I managed to have Chateaubriand & a delicious glass of red all for £8… it’s crazy the prices here! Plus how different the cities in Bolivia have been to date… Next destination – we make our way to Uyuni and the salt flats – for which I’m very excited!


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