Mines, fruit markets, cheap whisky and escaping Bolivia!
11.04.2012 - 16.05.2012
We arrived in Potosi at midnight after the differnet bus from Uyuni, the different part being that there was homeless man thrown of the bus halfway through the journey. We had tried to pre book a hostel but after seeing how many there were online we decided it would be easy to find one. However, this turned out not to be the case, as the bus drops you nowhere near anywhere central. We ended up getting a taxi to a hostel in the guidebook, only to there was no room at the Inn. So we donned our bags, and set of in the rain and dark to find a hostel or pub... We ended up at a hostel called Vicuna, which coincidently was the same hostel the people we had met on the bus were at, we revelled in the fact that once we had actually got a cheaper deal by not pre-booking.
The next day, I wasn't feeling too good, well, grumpy and tired if that counts for not feeling too good, so spent the morning in bed. We spent the afternoon exploring Potosi. It turns out there isn't much to see or do here. The markets are pretty cool, especially if you can find the indoor/outdoor bit of everything market at the top end of town. In the market, we found cheap whiskey at £5 a litre, cocca leaves and real crisps! The view point is also worth walking up to as you can see some of the mines and all of the town. We also found a place we thought was McDonalds, but turned out to be McEmpandas! We also spent the afternoon looking for cheap mine tours. Its worth shopping round as there are a few places that offer the tours. I ended up go with a company called Silver Tours, as it's run by ex-miners, and they don't take you to the private mines, so you get a better experience.
The mines tours are something else. Lucy decided not to come, as she is a little claustraphobic and went shopping insted. You meet at the tour agency at around 8am and then as with everything in Bolivia, they are half an hour late. They then kit you out with an attractive 'onesy', plastic bags for you feet with matching wellies and a helmet. They then take you down to the miners shops. At the shops, you can buy everything from breakfast to dynamite... Needless to say, I went for the dynamite option. It is also traditon when you go into the mines to take gifts for the miners, I went for the 98% alcohol, orange cordial and a packet of local cigarettes. You then get driven to the mines and are told about how the minerals are sorted and about the shifts the miners do. It's disgusting how they are actually treated, especially in the non-privatised mines. They are looking at £8 - £15 a day depending on what they bring out of the mines, and some days they work as long as 18 hour shifts because they haven't bought enough minerals out yet. On top of this, they have to buy their own equiptment, tools and oxygen for use in the mines. If they don't pay for the oxygen to be pumped into the mines, some companies will just shut the pumps down, with no warning!!! When they take you into the mines it's a real eye opener to what a shitty job is. The weird thing is, they all seem quite happy to be down there. We spoke to a guy who had been working for 14 hours, he stopped to have a drink with us, and to talk about the mines. He had been working there since he was 15 years old, as his father had got ill from working in the mines and couldn't go down anymore, so he had to take his place to support the family. There is no insurance for these guys, no fall back or safety net. If they don't work enough, it's not just them that suffers, it's their families. At they very bottom of the mine, we got to talk to some 'dynamiters'. Now bearing in mind each stick of dynamite costs 11B's (£1.10) and they have to buy it themselves, it takes 12 sticks to gain 15-20cm further into the mine and they might not get any minerals from that. However, seeing as I donated 4 sticks to them, they allowed me to light the fuse and run! In hindsight, not the smartest thing I've ever done... But an adrenaline rush all the less! On the way out, they stopped us at one of the 'Diablo' shrines. The shrines were put there by the Spanish when the mines first opened to make the miners work harder. The Spanish told them that if they didn't work hard enough, the devil would punish them and their families, so they worked. Obviously this is not believed so much anymore, but they still give offerings of cocca leaves, alcohol and cigarettes to it for a good haul. They don't only face the possibilities of being poisoned by dust and gases, possiblity of collapse, runaway carts, but also being punished by the devil. I spent two and a half hours down there and was relieved to see the daylight! All in all, it was worth going to see, I'll never curse my job again... well, try not to!!! But it didn't half leave me feeling sombre for the rest of the day and the 4 hour bus ride to Sucre...
When we arrived in Sucre, we jumped a taxi straight to Wasi Masi hostel, where our friend Dom was staying. However, the hostel was fully booked... Gutted, it's really nice. One of the guys there knew of another hostel down the road which turned out to be just as nice and cheaper called San Marcus. To our total suprise, Nico and Claudia, who we had met in La Paz, were also there. We didn't really get up to much in Sucre as there's not much tourism or stuff to see. The main plaza is stunning, with amazing architecture. The food markets are really impressive, with the best fresh fruit we've had in Bolivia. We spent the next three days drinking with Dom, Nico, Claudia and others. There's a really good nightlife there and some pretty good places to eat too. There was one club on top of a shopping mall which is almost Vanilla Sky-esque, if you get what I mean!?! It's also a really good place to pick up cheap pirate DVD's, whisky, chocolate and street pizzas, you have to see them to believe them!
Realising to our dismay, well more mine than Lucys, that our 30 day visa was nearly out, we hopped on our last Bolivian death bus overnight to Villazon to cross the border into Argentina... Woop!