We finally get out of Uyuni, Bolivia (with cash in hand) and take the six hour bus to Potosi. Before coming here I knew that Potosi is a colonial town and a mining town, but what I did not know is that it would end up being one of the most fun visits that we have had in a while. A lot of this is just due to luck and the good timing of our arrival in June.
Baby You're a Rich Man
In 1545 Potosi was conceived around one of the richest silver mines in human history. In its heyday Potosi was the largest city in the New World and bigger than Paris or London. Up until the late 18th century, 45,000 tons of silver had been extracted. Standing over the town is the mountain Cerro Rico whose veins have been giving out these minerals for centuries while millions of indigenous people and African slaves gave up their lives in return to The Mountain That Eats Men. The Spanish used to force workers to stay underground for six months at a time. Today, 466 years later, there is hardly any silver here but miners are still working in Cerro Rico to find zinc and tin.
|Cerro Rico overlooking Potosi|
|The center of Potosi still has several gems and|
|ancient churches sprouting above town|
|The movie theater|
|A procession in front of the former Spanish mint|
We happen to arrive to Potosi on Saturday June 18th, a few days before the winter solstice. We and some others in our hotel are invited by two of the Bolivian staff to go with them to a party on a hill to commemorate winter solstice by welcoming the sunrise. On June 21, we leave our place in the cold and dark of 4:30 AM and walk about a half hour with just a thermos of coca tea and a bottle of Bolivian Whiskey - 96% pure evil cane alcohol - to keep us warm.
|Our first introduction to "Bolivian Whiskey" |
is this fire demonstration on the sidewalk
|One of the many bands on hand|
As light begins to climb over the hills to the east and the sun finally starts to rear its head, the fiesta stops and everyone turns to face the sun. It becomes very quiet. People raise their hands, palms out, to welcome the sun. Random individuals in the crowd make benedictions starting with the Quechua phrase "Hai Yai" and when finished everyone replies with "Hai Yai." I do not know what Hai Yai means.
|Facing the sun|
|Facing the crowd|
|Grilled llama for lunch|
|In the miners shop our second encounter with Bolivian|
Whiskey - the favorite drink of the miners.
We all take a swig of the 96% hell in a bottle and then our guide puts it back on the shelf
|A coca leaf seller|
|Our guide showing us specks of metal in the strainer.|
A lot of it is probably fool's gold
|There's something of value in there?|
|Having a break|
|Sharing coca leaves|
|Entrance to the mining area under Cerro Rico|
It's ready. Click here to read my second post about Potosi.
The video below is the trailer for the 2005 documentary film The Devil's Miner about a 14 year old boy working in the mines in Potosi and the miners' relationship with Tio below ground and their god above. The second mine that the boy works at, Rosario, is coincidentally the same one that we visit on our tour. I highly recommend you rent this film. It gives very good insight into life of the miners of Potosi.