“The toe” appeared to be on the mend, but the altitude seemed to have turned Eugene`s legs to an aching weight of lead. It was a bad night`s sleep. Maybe it was revenge from the llama steak he`d eaten the night before?!! Bravely, we soldiered on as we`d booked our tour to visit the silver mines.
I`d booked on this trip with Eugene to see the refineries and miners market but there was NO WAY I was subjecting myself to the tortuous gloom of a dark airless silver mine. Everyone on the tour got kitted out in wellies, yellow overalls and hard hats. I was glad to keep my cosy gillet around me – thanks Gran! The bus puffed its way up the hillside and we stopped to buy drinks, 97% alcohol, coca leaves and dynamite – complete with sticks, fuse and a bit of extra TNT as gifts for the miners. Terrorists could have a bonanza. It was a bit scary how this stuff could be bought so easily.
With my Health and Safety hard-hat on, I could have had a field day at the “refinery”. Brian – people wearing their lab coats when using the loo or even stepping into the lab without PPE pales into insignificance! There was big fast-moving machinery (with no signage Nick!) all around us. Zinc and silver were being washed and flicking particles everywhere. The noise was incredible. The walkway between all this equipment was wet and unstable. I`m sure there`d been some mention of cyanide used for washing – it could have been anywhere and everywhere! Outside were huge pits of wet “silver” and “zinc” – you really had to be careful where you stepped. The workers seemed fairly happy in their work and did have hard hats and boots – and the obligatory mouthfulls of coca leaves!
And then it was up to the mine itself. All the booty that the tour members had bought for the miners was stuffed into a bag. One of the organisers detonated a stick of dynamite for us – a massive noise. Sounded worse than Dad`s old shotgun going off! Everyone was heading down the mine except for me – and I was glad! They were kitted out with antiquated acetylene lamps – hot, dangerous and smelly. Even the miners working these days have got wise to battery powered lamps. I was a bit worried for Eugene. Then they were gone into the dark tunnel of the Rosario mine. The work continued with miners flying in and out of the same entrance with wagons of earth.
I made myself a seat around the corner from the makeshift bogs – didn`t notice the smell too much after a while. Black clouds were approaching. A baked-bean-faced worker called Bernado came over for a chat while he delved into his bag of coca leaves. We had a basic chat. I found out that he wasn`t going to work on Christmas day but was going to get hammered and party instead. Fair play to the man. Then I was visited by 5 stinky pigs who appeared down the mountain side from nowhere. They all visited the makeshift bogs – their noses and stench gave the game away. After snaffling around a few metres in front of me they chipped off – thank goodness, I couldn`t hold my breath much longer!
Then a few drops of rain. Not enough to warrant a visit into the miners mess though. Then the tour guide appeared “Hey Lady! Come here! You have tablet for headache? Just rub his head”. She showed me Eugene, who looking like he`d been on a bender at the students union in Liverpool. The guide went back into the mine to find the rest of the guys on the tour. Eugene had felt so bad in there that he`d had to come out – after an hour and a half, I`m not surprised. We went into the miners mess as the rain then hail pelted down outside. Poor thing. The headache and bad legs had got to him. We were grateful when the bus turned up and even more grateful when the rest of the tour emerged from the mine.
Back in Potosi, we said our goodbyes to the guys we`d met on the tour from hell and picked up our cab back to Sucre. It was a relief to know we were going back down! Unfortunately, we had more of a flat-cap Sunday driver taking us back to sweet Sucre. And as our headaches developed on the way back, we realised he had a carbon monoxide problem from his exhaust into the car. That was why he permanently kept his window open!!!
Ahhh, the Hostal de Su Merced, we`ve missed you! And an upgrade to room 16. This place can`t get much better.
Tags: Bolivia at last!