Cierro Rico, Potosí
In southwestern Bolivia, 13,420 feet [4,090 m] above sea level, there exists a city called Potosí. It was once considered the largest and wealthiest city of the Americas back in 1600. Funny, because no one knows about it today.
When the Spaniards colonized the New World, they found silver inside of a huge mountain at the foot of Potosí. They quickly began mining and the city became Spain's #1 supplier of silver and most important city.
Unknown to the rest of the world, in this city strange things happen underground. Literally.
You see, millions of people, mostly indigenous slaves, have died mining for silver inside of that mountain. By the 1800's, the mountain's silver supply was completely depleted. Gone. No more silver.
To this day, Bolivians still continue to mine in that mountain. Why? Because they have hope of one day finding silver and becoming rich.
Because Bolivia is a Third World Country, these miners still use equipment and techniques that were used in the 17th century. It's dangerous business. Miners don't live very long. Those who don't die in a mining accident usually contract silicosis and don't live beyond 40.
I learned that a tour company takes tourists down into the mine to see how miners work. In retrospect, it seems unethical to exploit poor Bolivian miners as a tourist attraction to white gringos. But, it only cost $15, so I went.
The first thing we did was change into some heavy-duty miner clothes.
Next we went to the market to buy gifts for the miners. The tour operated on the premise that, because the miners let us visit their mine, we bring them gifts - mostly soda to drink and cocoa leaves to chew. Also, 91% alcohol. Miners believe that if they drink pure alcohol, they will find pure silver. They'll also find serious liver problems, but that's beside the point.
It's interesting to note that they also sell dynamite at that miner's market. A stick of dynamite - $3. It comes with a baggie of ammonium nitrate, which you use to blow it up with.
Our tour guide showing us dynamite.
That seemed so awesome to me. To buy dynamite for $3.00. No permit, no regestration, nothing. It was no different than buying candy. I even considered buying dynamite to take home, but the TSA probably wouldn't enjoy that too much.
Posing with my stick of dynamite. Ammonium nitrate in my right hand.
The inside of the mine was dark, stuffy, and cramped. As you preceded through it, the walkway became narrower and smaller. At some points, we had to crawl on our hands and knees to get through. One European guy in our group began to hyperventilate.
We stepped aside to let a couple of Bolivians, their cheeks full of cocoa leaves for energy, push a cart past us.
The mine was dusty and it was hard to breathe, so I used a bandanna to cover my nose and mouth. I thought of the miners, some of them children, who had to spend 8-10 hours a day in these mines. I had no reason to complain about my 9-5 job from that point forward.
What made being inside the dusty mine worse was the fact that there were harmful chemicals flying around in the air. I remember the tour guide mentioning arsenic and sulfate, which I'm pretty sure I learned to be hazardous in my college chemistry class. I'm positive that having to breathe these chemicals for 8+ hours a day violates every single labor law in the world.
But then again, it's Bolivia. No labor laws here.
Interestingly, the chemicals have begun to leave a colorful blue-green residue on the walls. Pretty dark green stalactites hang from the ceiling. Looks are deceiving, though, and our guide told us not to touch them because they were harmful.
In retrospect. We were in a dark mine, dusty and filled with deadly chemicals and safety hazards. It was full of miners, some of them kids, who work for hours a day searching for silver that isn't even there. It sounds like hell on Earth. That is why I wasn't surprised when I learned that there is a
statue of the devil that the miners worship inside the mine.
It's a hideous statue. Back in the 1600's, the Spaniards created it to scare the indigenous slaves, telling then that "El Diablo [the devil] will kill you if you don't work harder." Over the years, this statue of "El Diablo" became "El Dio" [God], whom the miners now call "Tio" [uncle].
Over the years, the miners began to serve this statue. Regardless of the fact that most miners are Catholics, they say that "God rules on ground, but the devil rules underground." They offer cigarettes to this statue of the devil. They sprinkle him to cocoa leaves. They offer pure 91% alcohol to this devil statue, because they believe he will help them find pure silver.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that people still, in the year 2013, worship and offer sacrifices to idols. Legit idols. No offense, dear Bolivian miners, but you're not finding any silver and are instead dying of accidents, chemicals, and diseases. I'm sure you can draw your own conclusions. The God of the universe is almighty. And he is a jealous GOD.
I pray for God to have mercy on these miners, who've made a God out of a graven image and so plainly violated the 1st and 2nd commandments.
As we were leaving the mine, we passed a few miners who were using hammers and picks to break down the walls of the mine. No jackhammer. Our guide told us that the work these miners do in two months can be completed in 14 hours if they had modern equipment.
...so I gave them my dynamite. Glad to help.
Potosí Mine Tour. I would recommend it.
It'll help you realize how good we have it at our boring desk jobs.
And help realize how sinful this world is before God.