Potosi, Bolivia

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July 5, 2015 by kimberlyfenton

Minibus

A day I will never forget.
We took an extremely squished minibus, what else to expect in Bolivia, through Potosi and stopped off at the miners market to buy some gifts such as dynamite, cigarettes, 96% alcohol, biscuits and coca leaves. Sounds like an interesting selection, but this is the recommendation of what they so desperately desire. They suck on the coca leaves and keep it in their mouths, with a numbing sensation so that they don’t feel the hunger. This was a sad sign of things to come in this day which proved to be one of the most emotional and eye-opening days of my trip.

Children helping RickieWe got kitted out in yellow jump suits, boots and a smelly helmet thanks to some of the local children of the miners who were all very sweet. They told us about their fathers who had sadly died in the mines, whilst attaching the headtorches to our helmets- and it was really quite emotional listening to their stories. Then we used one of the dynamite sticks and ammonium that we bought from the miners market, to see the explosion outside of the mine. It was a pretty big explosion and the sound and vibration made us all scream.

Entrance to MineDynamite
We then entered the mine- it was MAD. Mental. The entrance was less than half the size of me, and some parts of the mines were unbelievably small that we had to crawl through- really bad if you get claustrophobic- I must admit I was a little panicky at sometimes. In other parts of the mine you would be cautiously walking through and then suddenly there were these random, deep, seemingly bottomless holes surrounding you… my legs were shaking the entire time. We could hear explosions from inside the mines which was completely unnerving, especially when little rocks fell on our heads. It was terrifying and I couldn’t help but think the worse, just waiting for a big fat rock to fall down, trapping us forever…

We came across a lot of miners and gave them gifts which we bought in the miners market. The Coco leaves is also used to overcome altitude sickness. I tried it and it was disgusting! However, they suck on this constantly, and drink the 96% alcohol to survive these appalling conditions in the mines, its their way of life, and its what they have to do to live. It was so sad speaking to the miners through our guide, as the majority were unbelievably shy and we found out that they can start working and risking their lives at 12 years old, and once they start they only have 15 years left to live due to the terrible conditions down in the mines. 15 years left to live. Unbelievably sad.

 

Carrying on our journey through the mines, I was at the front of the group and then all of a sudden, the most hideous and scariest statue came into view. It did not help that I was on edge already, in the pitch black, and the fact that I did not expect to see it at all. It was “The Devil.” I had to take a step back and let others discover it for themselves as I was so shocked! Our guide told us the story about why the miners worship the devil. All over the mines they have statues where the miners give offerings to the devil and make wishes. This is because they believe that the Devil was just left to rot in hell, just like the miners were simply forgotten about in the times of slavery and so the Devil is their friend. The statue was so unbelievably freaky though, and in order to make a wish you’re supposed to touch its penis which is erect and red.

We were underground for over an hour, and on the way back in the squished minibus there was an eerie silence as everything we had just experienced really hit home. Our guide then told us a heartbreaking fact about that particular mine:

One accident every day. 8 million deaths.

Really makes you appreciate the life you have, one of those life changing experiences, as it completely changes your outlook on life.

What a day. What an experience.

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