In the silver mines of Potosi
When I first arrived in Potosi, I noticed the elevation (13,400) feet) fairly soon. After checking into the hotel, I went for a walk around town to find the Plaza - all the towns we visted have at least one plaza when there is usually a large park like area surrounded on 4 sides by city streets, with a church or cathedral facing the plaza. Shops, restaurants, and markets also can be found facing or near the plaza. Anyway, after walking 8-10 blocks I found the plaza and I bought a beer and some chips to take back the the hotel room. The walk back to the hotel was all uphill and I was quite out of breath from the high altitude when I got back.
My second day on Potosi was a challenge - the night before I started having problems with the altitude. I had a bad headache and trouble breathing. On the second day we were suppose to go to see the local silver mine and the mint. But I felt pretty bad that morning because of the altitude. So I got some medication for the altitude sickness and rested all morning. Coca tea also helps a lot with altitude sickness, so I drank 2 pots of coca tea in the morning and by lunch time I was fine. So after lunch we went of the silver mine to see how the miners work and to blow up some dynamite!
Before going to the mine, we stopped at the local market to pick up some things. I needed to get some dynamite and also gifts for the miners that we going to show me how to set off the dynamite. At one store I bought 2 sticks of dynamite, 2 blasting caps with 3 minute fuzes, 3 bags of coca leaves, a bottle of 98% alcohol, and a bottle of orange soda. All that stuff cost about $8 US. Anyone can by dynamite at the local market - it's all part of doing business in Potosi.
Before going in the mine I donned a hard hat with light and overalls. Climbing down into the mine was somewhat challenging but not a problem. It would, however, be a problem is you were overweight because I did have to crawl through some tight spaces. Soon after entering in the mine, I was told that the miners were setting up explosives further inside the tunnel. At the right time, we were told to cover our ears - then a series of 15 explosions took place down the mine shaft. I could feel the pressure wave from each explosion - exciting!!. Later, one of the miners showed me how to set the fuse in dynamite and I lit the fuse before we made a hasty retreat back through the tunnel to a safe place and we waited for the explosion. After the explosion, they showed me some veins of the minerals before going out of the tunnel. I left the 1 stick of dynamite and blasting cap, the coca leaves, alcohol, and orange soda as thank you gifts to the miners for showing me their work.
BTW, I am way too tall to be a miner in Potosi. Thank goodness I was wearing a helmet and overalls, I'm 6'1" and I must have banged my head more than a dozen times inside the mine - but the helmet saved me from harm. In most places the tunnels were about 5 to 5 1/2 feet high but sometimes only 4 1/2 feet high. There were places I could stand up straight, but they were few and far between. Climbing in and out of the mine also required climbing through some tight spaces.
In the mine with 2 miners, some dynamite and a fuse!
The miners drink that 98% alcohol straight!!! They also give small offerings of alcohol to El Tio - the spirit of the mountain - for good luck and they make offerings to Pachamama - the goddess revered by the indigenous people of the Andes also for good luck. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pachamama
Orange soda is just to drink when thirsty.