Potosi

Potosi is a mining town at the base of Cerro Rico. The Spanish discovered silver in the mountain and set up silver mines. Over the years, they took out at least 46,000 tonnes of silver. That is a mind boggling amount. They're still mining it at the moment.

According to our guide, the mountain is several hundred metres lower now than it was and has thousands of shafts in it, about 700 are currently in use and its possible to go from one side of the mountain to the other completely underground, if you know the way.

The town itself has a feel of a mining town, but a prosperous mining town. I went to the mint which is now a museum. The tour I was on had a Spanish guide, but I had been assured the exhibits had English plaques on them. Well, probably two or three did. Some things I had no idea what they were going on about, but most of the things I could figure out. If you like old machinery you should have a look.

We did go for a tour in the mine. I've been on mine tours in Australia and the Bolivian approach are quite different. As my sister would say, "Safety Sam doesn't visit very often" we were assured the safety record was good, but I find that hard to believe.

The mountain has two or three owners, a miner can go to the owner, pay a fee and a percentage of what they find and the miner can then start digging. Miners then employ workers who also get a salary and a percentage and hope they'll one day become a miner. On our tour, we met Pedro who was very friendly and enthusiastic and we still have no idea how he fitted up some of the tunnels to get to the working face.

Going down the mine was interesting to say the least. Most places when you visit, you provide a tip. For the miners, you bring them a gift. We stopped at a shop and they gave us the options of stuff we could buy for the miners. I took the easy route and went for a pre-packed bag of a drink, coca leaves and some sort of munchies. I should have bought them a stick of TNT, it cost 20bol and I could have got it with ammonium nitrate for a bigger bang. It was recommended we didn't buy the detonators though since they may be a little unstable.

Walking into the mine, we had on overalls, boots and a hard hat. It was wet, it at over 4000m so if you start finding it hard to breath, you're not sure if its the altitude or perhaps a bad pocket of air in the mine itself. It was dark inside; low ceilings, I had to be careful where I stood up; the beams and bracing was all tree trunks. We were shown some of the tunnels, then got to climb up (literally climb) a shaft to find a working face where we met Pedro, the miner who was working that area. Big language issues, but a cool guy, but a hair raising walk to work each morning.

It was interesting to see the mine working like that - lots of little miners. If it was in Australia, it would be a single company and they'd just take the top off and bring in the massive machinery. It's somehow refreshing to see things done that way. Hair-raising at the same time though.


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Welcome to Potosi, world's highest city - 4070m
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Potosi is dominated by Cerro Rico, the mountain they mine for silver
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Someone's garage door in Potosi
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I'm guessing this is a crane in Potosi
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Plaza 10 de Noviembre, one of the central plazas in Potosi
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Main door of the National Mint at Potosi
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Main door of the National Mint at Potosi
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First courtyard in Casa National de la Moneda (National Mint, now a museum)
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Sundial in the mint
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Badge on one of the steam trains on display in the mint
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Old die stamps used in making coins and medals
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The original horse drawn punches
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They look like medieval torture devices
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A carved frog made out of a single piece of stone
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Arches in the mint
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An old typesetting machine they had there
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Some of the silver displays
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My artistic shot of the old gears
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One of the locks at the Mint
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Milling machinery in the mint
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One of the old presses
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La Merced, one of the old churches in Potosi
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This cash register was in our hotel
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These are gifts we could buy to give to the miners - goodie bags of food, drink and coca leaves. 94% alcohol. Ammonium Nitrate. Even sticks of TNT
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Kei's next friend
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An old sewing machine... very old
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Cerro Rico and all the different mines over it
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Getting ready for the mine in Potosi
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Jana, Manuel and Kei all set for the mines
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Jana and Heather and their friend
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Walking in the dark...
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The entrance we used and what looks like asbestos on the walls
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Manuel discovers he can find valuables in the ground
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Then everyone else had to have a shot
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Pedro and Manuel
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Pedro and Netsumi
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Jana and Pedro
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Mineral deposits
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Back down the rabbit hole
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Jansen waiting his turn
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I never noticed the broken beam at the time, I just wanted a shot of the tunnel
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Netsumi. I wonder if she knew about that beam above her?
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Netsumi heading back to the surface
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Back out on the surface and looking at the tailing dumps
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Looking back up at the remains of a once proud mountain
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Last modified: May 27 2012 04:08:58.
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