Short visit to Potosi, Bolivia + Mining tour
Somehow a group of us ended up in Potosi, Bolivia together without any hostel reservations or idea of what to do in the city. We walked to the first hostel, Compania de Jesus, thinking that finding a place for 8 would be impossible but I guess we were wrong. For about $6 USD a night, we were able to sleep in 4 person dorms with big comfy beds and a private bathroom. I was pretty shocked at how nice it was. The only thing lacking was the wifi but I wasn’t expecting much tbh. Bolivia’s wifi has been pretty spotty and that’s why updating the blog has been near to impossible. That and not having time to just sit down to write and edit photos.
We got in on a Friday, so we decided to head out for some cervezas and looking for something to do since it was a weekend. It was surprisingly hard to find a place! The night here was pretty empty and we could only find karaoke bars that had like 10 people inside. But hey, since we were a big group we just had our own party. We found a place on the second floor that resembled at first of a brothel because of the girl logo and flashing red lights. It turned out to be a pretty good time! We ordered a few rounds of beers and then danced to Spanish music. The DJ was so stoked to have us that he kept giving us shout outs aka for me “China” haha but I’ve gotten that everywhere here so no shocker there. We headed out around 12:30am and drank beers on the roof top. Not a bad first night in the city!
So today was supposed to be a chill relaxing day since we had all just gone on the 3 day Salar de Uyuni tour. We were planning to maybe see the town and hit up a hot springs later that day then do a mining tour on Sunday. However, it turned out that miners don’t work on Sunday and we either had to book an afternoon tour on Saturday or wait until Monday. Most of the others didn’t want to stay an extra day here so we ended up scrambling around for a few hours trying to compare different tour companies. The cheapest we found were for $60 Bolivianos a person, which was a bit too good to be true, then we went to this one tour company that really tried to sell us hard. Especially so because he spoke English. At the other companies, I had to communicate with everyone since I spoke the best Spanish, also a red flag since my Spanish is not great at all. This guy kept us around for a good 30 or so minutes selling us this tour for $150 Bolivianos and I wasn’t really for paying that much. Then we checked out a few other ones and went with Koala Tours which was in the middle at $100 and also a recommendation from a friend. Funny enough, we ran into the $150 tour guy after and he was saying that he would have lowered it to $100 too but there were two other people in the room who had paid the $150 price. Too bad, you just lost 7 customers!
The Potosi Mining Tour
We started off by heading to a warehouse to get changed into different clothes for the mines. We each got oversized jackets, pants, boots, helmets, and headlamp. We were driven to a high point to enter the mine and it’s a pretty scary and interesting place. I was only inside for max 2 hours but that was enough. I couldn’t imagine working there 6 days a week for years. It’s dark, damp, stuffy, and grueling work. However in Potosi, this is the most common work with about 90% of all men working in the mines. It’s apparently a really well paying job but also 14 men die a month from working in the mines, usually due to collapsing mines, deadly tonic, and drinking on the job. They have to climb up and down about 150 meters a day and the ladders aren’t the safest. There were some parts that required a bit of dodgy maneuvering and also ladders had missing steps so I had a hard time climbing up and down those parts. And if the workers are drunk, I can totally see how a misstep can send you falling to your death.
We were able to catch a few of the workings left on a Saturday afternoon/evening. They were carrying 35 kilo bags up from the bottom to get transported to the very top and sent to the refinery plants. Some workers start as young as 13 and work there for about 20+ years. The average age for these mine workers is about 45 due to the hard dust and chemicals that get into their lungs and body. An even crazier thing is that they don’t eat anything throughout the entire day! They just chew coca leaves and drink sodas or beer. They chew about 300 leaves every 3 hours. That’s their diet for the entire day!! Isn’t that so crazy?! Might be the next diet fad to hit Los Angeles… haha
We also visited the “Devil” is the owner of the mines and overlooks the men. When they go to them they have to light a cigarette for him and take a shot of 96% alcohol. Yeah it basically tasted like ethanol rubbing alcohol… Women aren’t allowed to work in the mines because they are believed to bring bad luck to the mines. The women work on the outside in the mountains for Pachamama while the men work on the inside. They believe that if the women worked on the inside, Mother Nature will get jealous and bring bad luck to the mines.
It was pretty interesting to see the workings of a mine and the conditions those men are working in. I give them major props for picking that lifestyle.
When we got back, we washed up and headed out for dinner and maybe another night on the town since it was a Saturday so things must be lively. So wrong we were… the town was completely dead. But I reckon it was because most locals live outside of the main plaza and that’s probably where everyone goes out in. The main plaza and near all the touristy sites was completely dead. We were recommend multiple places that weren’t actual bars… They were just restaurants that served drinks. We met this other group of travelers who warned us against going into such a place so then guess where we went… back to the karaoke bar. Lol we couldn’t find anything better… Tbh I wish we hadn’t met that other group because they weren’t at all interesting and the American girl gave Americans a bad rep. I was cringing when I had to sit next to her. Let’s just say you would immediately categorize her and just not really someone I wanted to associate with. Sorry! It also divided our group up. But the one good thing that came out of it was that I got free drinks from them so still a pretty decent night.
Doug and I still didn’t know what we were doing next. It was either heading to Sucre with the others or Cochabamba with Ben to visit the Toro Toro National Park. Our best bet was the be able to start Spanish lessons in Sucre the next day but I had just emailed that school the night before so we didn’t know if we could have actually lined anything up. Things were still up in the air and with such spotty wifi, we couldn’t confirm anything. However, just our luck, we the morning rolled around and we were still scrambling for what to do, we got a confirmation to start our lessons the next day so we joined the rest of the group to Sucre.