To celebrate my birthday (?) Iain, Ivor and myself went on a short tour down the main silver mine in Potosi; as Iain had already given me some silver jewelery we bought earlier in Cusco we thought we should see how it gets mined. Our first stop was at the miners’ market where it is customary for tourists to buy the miners gifts. These include bottles of pop, coca leaves with and without catalyst, 96% alcohol, cigarettes, sticks of dynamite, ammonium nitrate and detonators! It is the first and probably the last time we will ever buy dynamite off the street! We then got changed into our miner’s gear including NiFe cell and light, helmet and boots. The passages on the first level (there are five) were not too low and only needed us to crouch on occasion as we followed the lines that transport the empty and then full trucks to the surface. Splintering beams holding up 12 tons of rock did not make us feel too secure but gave us a flavour of the conditions endured every day by the miners here. Unsurprisingly there are many accidents and the miners take no food into the mine but only chew coca leaves all the time. Every Friday they celebrate and make offerings to the god of the mine (originally a devil devised by the Spanish) and get drunk so at weekends there are even more accidents. There are veins of silver, copper and tin not to mention crystalline deposits of asbestos so many miners die of silicosis and asbestosis. Their average life expectancy is only around 55 years and many as young as thirteen help their fathers as they all work in groups of three (no women work down the mine as the mountain is regarded as a woman who would get jealous and not give the miners minerals if they did). Each group has to rent its space from a co-operative but gets no help from them if they cannot find minerals or get injured.
After this experience we visited the Mint in Potosi where they exhibit the machines they used for rolling, pressing and cutting coins. Originally this was done with enormous wooden machines with wheels and gears turned by donkeys and then by steam.
We then collected our luggage and boarded the coach taking us to Sucre, a three hour drive through stunning scenery. We checked into our hotel which was beautiful with terraces everywhere festooned with pot plants and had a very welcome beer and chicken sandwich at 4pm. At 5pm we had a city tour, by van, and caught the sunset from the viewpoint by San Francisco church and on the roof terrace of San Phillipe convent school that one is allowed to visit for a small fee. We also visited the main square and Simon Bolivar park with its small imitation Arcs de Triumph and Eiffel Tower. Apparently some rich Bolivian, a self-styled Prince had a wife who was enamoured of Paris and he indulged her whim as she hadn’t been able to have children. We then had a rush getting ready for dinner which was a double celebration of my birthday and Wolfgang’s departure and was followed by a couple of glasses of wine on the terrace, although it was getting a bit cold!
The next day we just wandered around Sucre, visited the park and the chocolate shop, before meeting up at 1pm for an excellent lunch. It was the restaurant’s 20th anniversary so on departure we were each given a half bottle of red wine which we consumed later that day. We then visited the cemetery where there are many huge mausoleums before returning to the hotel to do the diary and play boggle, (and drink the wine). In the evening we went back to the same restaurant and had a private room which was a bit special. We caught the lunchtime flight to La Paz and five of us are now waiting in the airport for our flight to Lima at 6pm. Tomorrow we have our trip over the Nazca lines and then on Saturday evening we fly back home after a very enjoyable and interesting trip. We probably won't be posting again this trip so thank you to everyone who sent us comments and we hope you all enjoyed our travelogue! We will be in touch with people after 11th....lots of love Ann and Iain