If there ever was a controversial but incredibly exciting and eye-opening form of tourism, than this must be it – touring working mines in Bolivia, particularly Silver Mines of Potosi with dynamite strapped to your back. Now, if your immediate reaction to this idea is: “No way!”, bear with us. You will discover that going on one of these trips will not only change your perspective about ‘vacationing’ but will also have a fantastic educational effect on you. And when you see firsthand the difficult conditions that miners (many of them are not even 13-years-old) must endure for up to ten hours of day, we believe that the gratitude you have for your life will only grow.
Touring the Silver Mines is definitely not for the faint-hearted and the people who suffer from respiratory problems or claustrophobia. Potosi is the world’s highest city (4,090 metres / 13,420 feet) and the mines are located even further up – at 4,200 metres (or 13,779 feet) altitude – on the ‘silver mountain’ Cerro Rico. There is nothing ‘touristy’ and homely about Potosi but the town is a great testament to the authentic Bolivian history and culture.
Before descending 2,000 feet into the Silver Mines, you will be fitted with appropriate equipment, mask and helmet included. Once you get there, ‘the dynamite show’ begins. The mine walls will start to shake and fall apart around you and there is a real danger of cave-ins, toxic fumes building up and falling rocks hitting you on the head. Again, if you are apprehensive about experiencing all of this, we advise you to give the Silver Mines tour a miss.
You will be guided through small and dark mine passages in order to get the picture of tough miner’s life. The temperature will soar and the water you are threading through will become deeper and deeper. Sometimes it will even reach your knees. As you progress through the mine, the guide will point out to the veins of silver running along the mine’s walls and you will see miners carrying bags full of raw silver which can weigh up to 80 pounds.
Once the tour of the Silver Mines in Potosi is over and you find yourself breathing the fresh air again, you will be changed by the experience. If you feel charitable, you can donate some money to mining families which will be used for buying fresh food that is of critical importance to them, in addition to medical care. If that’s not tourism with purpose, we don’t know what is.
Subscribe to Jebiga for a dose of the best in gear, design, rides, tech and adventure.