All Hell For A Basement


*Please note my blog/website is now at http://nomadicsamuel.com
Please come and check it out!*
Imagine the most abominable day you´ve ever had at the office.  Unless you´ve been the unfortunate victim of a debilitating workplace injury you might piss and moan of an irrational & tyrannical boss, insolent customers or impossibly elongated working hours.  Although I´m sure you´ve got a point, and your expostulations are no doubt valid, they likely pale in comparison to what happens in a snug little place called Potosi located in southern most region of Bolivia.
Potosi is often particularized in superlatives and it becomes apparent upon arrival that it more than lives up to its prodigious reputation.  Impressive enough is the fact that this city is the highest in the world (4060m), a UNESCO heritage site and home to possibly the most ignominious mines on the entire planet.  Potosi in its heyday was the lifeblood of Spain during colonial times, supplying silver and literally fueling the empire.  Rumors has it that enough silver has been exported to Spain over the past centuries to build a bridge from Potosi to Spain and back while not even coming close to exhausting the -´then´ bounteous supplies.  Today reservoirs have largely been exhausted and the mines themselves severely depleted; however, without another viable option to drive the economy miners today still drudge for the remaining scraps under conditions that are in a word, SHOCKING!
The city itself was discovered in 1545 following the discovery of ore deposits in the mountains and quickly became the wealthiest city in all of South America.  The streets were ´paved´ by silver and the impressive colonial architecture that still stands today serves as a prime example of how this city went from riches to rags by dint of colonial exploitation.  Millions (mostly indigenous and some African slaves) have given their blood, sweat and LIVES in these mines under the most abhorrent of conditions known to man.  During colonial times it has been estimated that over 8 million workers have succumbed to the ghastly working conditions of the mines.  It this isn´t enough to send chills up your spin, present day reality doesn´t paint a rosier picture.
Current reality is just as bleak as it was for the slaves back in colonial times.  Today the cooperative mines are home to many workers who are desperately trying to carve out a living and support hungry mouths at home.  The workers are not associated with any particular company and are completely independent.  They fund and organize their own crews, equipment and designated working areas.  If they are lucky they can pocket as much as $150 a month under the most ideal conditions.  The unfortunate reality is that the lifespan of these workers is usually between one to two decades from the time they enter the mines.  They go in consciously knowing this fact, but faced with severely limited options, seem to accept they have no other choice in life as most workers are descendants of generations past who have known nothing else.  Most succumb to silicosis pneumonia via constant exposure to noxious chemicals, often diagnosed after spitting out blood.
A tour to these mines reveals the melancholic truth about a world that is filled with both splendor and woe.  It all begins with a trip to the miners market where gifts are purchased for the underemployed workers.  Most appreciated are sticks of dynamite, alcohol (96% variety), coca leaves, cigarettes, and soda.  We´re quickly whisked off to another section where we drape ourselves with grimy mining gear and finally arrive at the miscreant mines.  Upon arriving it quickly becomes apparent the conditions are bleak.  Accommodations nearby are equipped with all the decay one could ever imagine and seem to be on the brink of total ruin.  A small dark tunnel, hardly large enough for a hobbit awaits us as we begin the tour.  Upon entering the hole you quickly realizes the sudden drop in levels of oxygen and the ever present noxious gases penetrating your lungs.  It´s only the beginning as things seem to become narrower by the nano second.  We´re only on the first level and it apparently gets much worse on the lower levels as temperatures increase, space becomes more scarce and the chemicals fill your lungs with far more fervency.  The journey to lower levels is a claustrophobic individuals worst nightmare.  Crawling head first you worm your way down a shaft that digs into your ribs and offers little to no grip as you borrow you way further down.
Needless to say the one hour spent inside the mines was enough to make me realize I have a very felicitous existence.  Even as an athletic type who enjoys jogging and recurrent exercise, I came out of the shafts coughing and hacking up all kinds of hideous gunk and phlegm balls aplenty.  I honestly felt as if I had just reduced my lifespan by at least a month crawling around in these macabre mines and for the life of me couldn´t imagine workers toiling under these conditions day after day without reprieve.  It was a stark reminder that I´m very fortunate to roam the world as I please compared to those who spend their lives in Hell´s Basement.
*Please note my blog/website is now at http://nomadicsamuel.com
Please come and check it out!*
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About Samuel Jeffery

Samuel Jeffery is a perpetual backpacker, youtube enthusiast & author of a quirky blog who loves to travel and explore new culture and territory while connecting with other nomadic souls. WEBSITE http://www.nomadicsamuel.com PHOTOS http://photos.nomadicsamuel.com YOUTUBE VIDEO http://www.youtube.com/NomadicSamuel
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2 Responses to All Hell For A Basement

  1. Alessandro says:

    As cynical as it can be, I don’t think these are the worst mines in the world, simply because these were so famous back then that now they use it as a form of tourism… how many other mines in the world can say the same?

    anyway, I didn’t go in, it would have been too much for me…

    • I have a feeling you are right about other mines being worse than this one. However, the tour itself is based on shock value and nothing else. We were all lamenting about the fact we ´actually´ paid money to feel that uncomfortable, yet, at the end of the day the majority of us agreed it was an experience not to be missed. It´s hard to believe these men go into the mines knowing they only have 10-15 years of life ahead of them without being compensated properly. It´s a crazy world we live in and I´m sure as hell glad I´m fortunate enough not to be in that kind of position myself 🙂

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