Potosi: Walking in Darkness

Posted on June 3, 2011

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It was a pleasant surprise to check into my hostel in Potosi, the Koala Den, and find it to be sociable, heated (this part of Bolivia is painfully cold at night) and providing a good included breakfast. I spent the first day strolling around town, which was nice but quiet. An early night was had as nightlife seemed to be minimal outside of weekends.

The next day I visited the Royal Mint Museum. Potosi being the base of a major silver mine, coins were minted there for many centuries, and the interesting English-language tour was enlightening on the history and techniques of this. Upon visiting a tour company, The Real Deal, to arrange the next day´s mine tour, I was invited to attend that evening´s Nacional Potosi v Sucre football match, and this proved to be my first live experience of South American football. A snip at twelve bolivianos, the quality was nevertheless poor, though I am unsure whether this was to do with the high altitude (400m) or the basic lack of quality. The low attendance testified to this, as well as the meaningless nature of the game between two mid-table teams.

The following morning I was up early to embark on my mine tour, the essential Potosi experience. After brief stops to change into appropriate clothing, buy gifts for the miners (alcohol, juice and dynamite) and visit a refinery, we entered the depths of the mine, scrambling and crawling through the dark and the wet into the appalling conditions in which the miners of Potosi work. The tour was hard work but fascinating, though we encountered less miners than we otherwise would have as a result of a planned protest march the same day. After two hours of endurance underground, we re-entered the real world with relief and also high levels of pity for the miners who must spend eight hours a day, six days a week for upwards of thirty-five years in such conditions.

I spent the evening drinking a few beers (it was weekend, so Potosi was finally alive) and passing a last enjoyable night at the hostel, with an early morning start for the bus to Uyuni ahead of me.

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Posted in: Experience, Travel