Potosi – Between Silver And Dust

At 4800m above the sea level lies the highest city in the world – Potosi.
More than 500 years ago it used to be the world’s richest city because it practically exists on a gold and silver mountain, which even after five centuries of exploitation still has minerals to give to the world. Today it is a city with centuries of stories to tell.

From all the cities I’ve been in Latin America, this is the place is impressed me more for the blend of feelings it waked up in me: enjoyment for colonial architecture of the city, astonishment for the wealth of the glorious history, the pity for the basic working conditions of the mine workers, wrath for seeing children who live their childhood working illegally in mines.

As many of the tourists visiting Potosi, I’ve took the mines tour. Lonely planet, trip advisor, and the whole the internet talks about the Potosi mines and the improper working conditions. But there are sooo many such places in the world than one takes it as such. Just that the mines of Potosi were special for me: they had people, they had living stories, they had children and lives with stolen dreams.

In the tour the guide, former miner, took us through some tunnels of the mines, got us in contact with the miners, let us really get close to them and discover their live stories. So one talks to the miners, drink potable alcohol (96 degrees alcohol) with them, eats coca leaves with them. And they are dressed with simple cloths, gum boots, a helmet and a lamp. No mask, unless they work in literally heavy clouds of dust. They are working in the mine for even 24 hours, without having a resting norm, breathing the arsenic permanently, no regular medical checks, not always using gloves, doing almost everything manually as 500 years ago, instead using modern machines.

We all know the working conditions in a mine are hard and affect the health, but the states, companies and miners improve the working conditions permanently to minimize the risks on short and long term. But not in these mines. While I was talking to the miners, they were all so used with the idea they will die young – at about 35- 40 years old, without seeing their children grown up, but their only objective is to make money in the mine for their wives and children on their 20s, but not having better working conditions. Children coming from needy families work illegally in mines because they see them as the way they can help their families, while the mother takes care of the mining tools.  These children do not get the right to have a dream.

It’s tough, but all these are part of a traveler’s life and maybe they will inspire us to make this world a better place.

Travel Move. Live!

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