Potosi is the worlds highest city with its 4090 meters and was once one of the biggest and wealthiest city in all of the Americas because of the mines of Cerro Rico (“Rich Mountain”) that brough out more than 60 000 tonnes of silver. The mines have also claimed more than 8 million lives, and there are still a lot of people (also young children) working at around 200 of the total 500 mines today. Conditions were poor, as described in the movie “The Devils Miner“, and since the Spaniards had pretty much depleted the mines for silver before they left, the people today are risking their lives for rests of copper, zink and small amounts of silver, usually paying very poorly.
The main role (Basilio) of the Devils Miner and another guide showed us around in one of the caves still being worked, while explaining the life and working conditions in the mines. People were running around in the narrow caves with filled out trolleys, usually shouting in time for us to jump to the side before it swooshed right past us. The mine we visited was primitive and we also walked past miners hammering a spear into the wall to make room for dynamites. To keep them from eating during their eight to ten hour shifts, they had their cheecks filled with coca leaves, drank sips from bottles of pure alcohol and smoked cigarettes with dark tobacco rolled with thick paper. Although some told us that they had been working in the mines since they were eight and for fourty years, the life expectancy after starting to work in the mines would drop to around fifteen years.
The guided tour was very strong, but also interesting and well worth the 20 US we paid, including tips and gifts for the miners that we bought at the bottom before setting off. We bought some crisps and soda for the kids, and some bottles of 96% alcohol (less than a dollar for a bottle), coca leafs and cigarettes for the miners. We also bought some dynamite for ourself (20B/ less than four dollars) to blow up inside the mines, which I personally thought was the highlight of the tour.