Visit to the mines of Potosí
Visiting the mines of Potosí is a trip to the interior of the land in Bolivia. A special trip inside Cerro Rico and where you will also meet the protectors of the mine.
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How to get to mines of Potosí?
I arrived in the city of Potosí in February, with a pleasant temperature and already used to the altitude. This city is located more than 3900 meters above sea level and in some places like my hotel to more than 4000, where they have a nice sign indicating that they have the highest “cyber” in the world at 4100 meters above sea level.
The day I arrived in Potosí I asked about the area where the agencies are. Because I wanted to do the tour to the mines of Potosí, and just it’s possible with a guide. I asked in three agencies and I hired with one that I was well treated and was well priced. It was an almost private tour, I was me just with another couple and the guide.
The Potosí mining market
We started the tour on a Saturday morning, we met at the agency’s door and headed for the mining market. There they explain a few things, such as that miners mix coca leaves with other substances, for example baking soda or stevia. They told us in the market, that they use it to give it better flavor and above all, to produce more saliva and that the coca leaves have more effect.
In the mining market we buy gifts for miners who are already prepared for you. In the bag you are included in a bottle of soda, coca leaves and cigarettes. Although it is not mandatory it is more than advisable to buy something from them.
In order to visit the mines of Potosí you have to put on safety clothes that are included in the ticket price. It consists of trousers and shirt, which you put on top of your clothes and boots of water and helmet.
Arrival in Cerro Rico
With the clothes on we set our way to Cerro Rico, make a stop and explain the types of metals and minerals that are extracted from the mine. As I made the visit only with a couple, it was much easier to ask questions and consult doubts. It was very interesting and the views we had of the city and the landscape in general were magnificent.
In Cerro Rico there are many galleries through which you can enter the mountain and where the miners work, grouped in cooperatives. We’re approaching one of the entrances to the Potosí mines.
Once we arrived at the gate of the mine we saw some people work grinding stones so that we could separate the silver from the useless and worthless part. They do everything by hand and the machines used seem to take quite some time with them. Here we offer our gifts to the miners and within a few minutes we entered to the mine.
We met “el Tío” (The Uncle)
Well equipped and with the lights on we went through the little tunnel. We go in search of “el Tío”, the protector of the miners, the one who grants them their material desires, we go in search of the Devil (el Diablo).
Uncle, “el tío”, as the miners call him, is the God of the underworld. He offers them protection in exchange for offerings. There is usually a sculpture of The Uncle (el tío) in each gallery and there you can see the different offerings that the miners make to him. They offer him cigarettes, coca leaves, alcohol, among other things. In the carnival season, which is when I arrived, it is also adorned with streamers and cheerful colors. The devil is very important at this time of year.
Our guide made an offering to the Uncle, you can see it in the video.
Once the offering ends, we continue to travel the mine to the next protector, to which he grants spiritual desires. In this case it is a Christ, although as you will see in the photo it is covered by streamers and ornaments that make it difficult to guess what is underneath.
The way to get to it becomes more complicated. At times we have to bend down a lot because the tunnel gets smaller and smaller. I’d tell you, sometimes they were about a metre high, with the floor sloping. And sometimes you find the beams that hold the split ceiling and a darkness rotates only by the lights of our helmets.
Feeling a detonation inside the mine
And suddenly you hear a loud noise and look at the walls to see if anything moves. The guide asks you “felt that?” and you keep seeing that nothing moves, because what you heard was an explosion and you find yourself in the bowels of Cerro Rico. Then the guide tells us that it was a detonation that miners have made that are working in another gallery and that it is normal!
After visiting the two deities of the mine, we begin our way back. Once I’m gone, I ask the guide how far we’ve traveled, she tells me about 800 meters.
The truth is that the visit to the mine is very shocking. Because we were just walking bent through narrow tunnels, with the ground full of water. But miners work hours and hours in those conditions, and extraction is done by hand.
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Have you visited the mines of Potosí? What has been your experience?
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