The city of Potosi is the highest city in the world and is located at an altitude of 4090 meters. Previously, the city was the largest in the Americas due to the richest silver mines, which were inside the Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain)
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The photo Rich Mountain, which still dominates the Potosi.
View of Potosi from the foot of Rich Mountain:
Today, Bolivia announced Rich Mountain as the national property, which imposes certain restrictions on the extraction of metal in it. But miners are still working there and protesting against government intervention. From Potosi (accent on the last syllable), there is the opportunity to visit with a tour of the mines. I chose the agency that created by the miners. In this picture, a group with which I came to Rich Mountain. True then reasons unknown to me, and I shared a group led by a mountain guide shafts in Nelson (third from the left on this photo), while the rest were another group with another guide. So I had a personal tour Mountains, which was absolutely incredible, because he worked at Mount Nelson 20 years, knew where every nook and cranny, and most importantly enthusiastic burned all show and tell. So we went through a lot of additional mines, where tourists usually do not drive, and talked with many of the miners, acquaintances Nelson.
The tour starts with the miners' store. In this photo - stick of dynamite in the free market in Bolivia, is I understand 16 bolivianos (about the euro). Miners use them to increase the tunnels inside the mountain.
And other vital elements for the miners - coca leaves and cigarettes. They chew them without ceasing, as this will maintain the necessary level of hemoglobin in the blood, which is critical at this altitude. At the same time the miners did not have lunch in the afternoon, coca leaves their main support.
Before you go into the mountains, we also visited one of the factories in which the ore is cleansed of impurities. Hell smell and working conditions at the plant I was immediately reminded of the conditions at the plant "Silmet," which I've attended many years ago when I was still working in Estonia. This plant in Sillamäe from the ore produced pure rare earth metals. There, too, was quite diabolical smell and people working there looked like they breathe acids (which in fact correspond to the truth).
A typical call to the wall of the plant - "during forbidden to drink." The miner's store we were immediately treated to a 96-percent alcohol brands Buen gusto («Good Taste") that there is also worth a penny. According to Nelson, the problem of alcoholism are serious.
Then we went into the mountains. The Mountain about 180 mines, and they go on many levels, communicating with each other and allow you to enter into the mountain from one side and exit on the other hand, without departing from the surface, which we did. It is about 3 kilometers in narrow mountain tunnels, many of which are just a meter in height, so that has to go completely bent over and still occasionally bumping into the ceiling of the helmet. We are talking about the tunnels, which are at 4300 meters above sea level. The path takes a few hours. I do not suffer from claustrophobia, so no fear inside the mountain. Except for one time when we had to change the level - why it was necessary to climb up several steep staircases inside the narrow vertical shaft. At this point, I began to choke, probably just from the physical effort at the height - but inside a narrow high vertical shaft that was very unpleasant. However, I very lightly - in the other group were people who were really bad.
In one of the passages inside the mountain. Tio means Uncle.
Historians estimate that in the mountains and on the results of it was lost about 8 million people. In colonial times, all the Indians in the surrounding areas were taxed the system of forced labor ("Mita"). Every 7 years, every land had to spend 6 months in the mountains. According to my guide, at that time they had no right at all to go to the light of day, and even hardly imagine how much time they spent there. Proceeds from the Potosi silver deposits were the main income of the Spanish Empire and allowed her to lead the endless war on the European continent.
All veins are inside the mountain from north to south and from top to bottom. so in colonial times and they have developed, creating inside the mountain long vertical precipice. That of course led to a huge number of victims.
The compounds of different metals, stood on the ceilings of mines. Nelson insistently repeated to me that they can not touch. I generally did not want.
More allocation in the form of stalactites, dripping with water:
Miners believe in Jesus Christ, but he reigns over the world is mine. A subterranean world is controlled according to their beliefs quite different master - which they call Uncle. We are talking about the devil, although that name is never mentioned. Inside the mountain there are many idols Uncle. One of them, which led me Nelson.
Sitting next to Uncle Nelson pulled out a jar of alcohol and poured it twice at the statue of Uncle and on the ground, in honor of the Pachamama (earth goddess). Inside the mines are not allowed to operate a woman - not to Pachamama zarevnoval. Then he took a sip of his double, suggesting the same thing and I do.
But the most exciting moment was when Nelson turned off my lights on and his helmet and we plunged into complete, hopeless darkness. Somewhere inside an infinitely long mine under the hill, next to the idol Uncle we listened to almost absolute silence. Then he spilled a little alcohol on their fingers, lit a lighter and brought it to a finger. Finger caught fire and this fire he lit a cigarette. And then for a while we sat in the dark, where the only speck was a smoldering cigarette butt in his hands. There can be smoked, because in these mines no hazardous gases such as methane, unlike mines elsewhere. There, he talked about how in the abandoned mines are sometimes collected deposits of acetylene, which can easily stifle the lost miners. In the presence of deposits of cigarette smoke spread along the ground. I asked him then pour alcohol, and also my fingers and light. It looks very impressive.
Wandering in the mountains, of course it is difficult to get rid of the associations with Erebor, the Lonely Mountain, which stores huge treasure dwarfs Podgorny Kingdom Tolkien "The Hobbit" and that the dwarves and Bilbo to Gandalf otvoёvyvali the dragon Smaug. Another very strong association I had with tunnels in the City of David in Jerusalem, hacked ancient inhabitants in the interior of the cliffs, where as here it seems that you are in the center of the earth and that the sunlight separates you insurmountable barrier.
Miners removal of spent ore from the mine. On this day, working miners were relatively few because the day before was a football match that the local team lost. And Nelson explained to me a lot on this issue have used too much alcohol.
Mines controlled by the mining cooperatives, although in reality, each core is controlled by a specific miner = member of the cooperative. Before entering into a cooperative, a newcomer must have worked for 3 years at another miner, with its degree of autonomy gradually increases. Yet the mining business is largely a matter of luck - lived vein strife, there is a very thin wires that are barely allow to subsist; And there are smiles of fate - when almost pure silver goes to a few meters - the owner of a conductor today owns a network of hotels and transport companies in Potosi.
Miner thing - family. In this picture a guy 13 years younger. Sam Nelson began working in the mines at age 8 and worked there for 21 years. Miner is a prestigious status. I could not wince in disbelief when Nelson quite seriously told me that the life of a miner is "good, but short." They live for 40 years and die from silicosis (a disease of the lungs caused by the constant inhalation of dust). As miners work essentially on themselves, most of them can not or will not afford expensive masks and other attributes of safety. In Bolivia cheap dynamite ...
Then I also visited the main tourist attraction in Potosi - The National House of Coins. This mint, in which several hundred printed silver coin of the Spanish king. Huge luxurious building, which allows to feel the magnitude of the then Potosi. It was one of the most cosmopolitan cities in which going adventurers and seekers of fast career with the empire. Also, many slaves were brought here, including the black slaves from Africa. The truth of them is nothing left - the death rate was very high.
The main courtyard of the House of Coins - which is strange mask - a symbol of Potosi.
Mask has been set in the 19th century and its original meaning is forgotten. But to what extent it reflects the ironic look spectacular destiny of the city - which has arisen in the wake of the enormous wealth at the cost of lives of many slaves and now forgotten world.