Bolivia didn’t start too well as I got the flu. My first stop was at Copacabana on the Lake Titicaca where I managed at least to have one of its famous trouts even though I couldn’t taste anything. I spent the following two days sick in bed but in La Paz this time. When I started to get better it was time to go to Potosí and here I am now.
At 4090m above sea level, this is considered to be the highest city in the world. Intensive mining and processing of silver, lead, tin and zinc ores have occurred in various locations within and around the city since 1545. The extraction and export of mineral wealth has dominated the political economy of Bolivia for centuries, however, the importance of mining has declined somewhat in recent decades. However, Potosí’s economy and roughly 150,000 residents are still heavily dependent upon mineral extraction and processing. Therefore, environmental law enforcement should be carefully applied and fitting solutions presented to lessen the impact of mining operations. Bolivia is currently the second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere (at the time of writing).
I planned to visit the mines here, located beneath the 4,824 meters-high Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain), accessible with local tour guides normally ex-miners themselves. I got to town in the morning after a 10 hours bus journey from La Paz and I had to join the last tour of the week in the afternoon. I thought that the Lares trek and climbing the Wayna Picchu was hard but this one was a killer. We had to walk fast and duck and squeeze though passages while breathing mineral dust – including arsenic apparently.
It was Saturday afternoon and unfortunately we missed lots of miners and as a consequence, photo opportunities for me but anyway, here’s the outcome. I took some videos too which probably give a better idea of what it’s like “down there” but my connection at the moment doesn’t allow big files uploads. The spooky figure is a representation of the Devil which the miners worship to help avoid fatalities and bring minerals. Last year 45 people died in here.