Tuesday, October 18, 2005

In too Deep

And the prize for world´s most dangerous job goes too.....

The miners of Potosi.

Now just a bit of background info. Potosi is the world´s highest city at about 4200 metres which basically means that it´s really fucken cold and there isn't enough oxygen as the air is thin...
Unfortunately, 500 years ago the Spanish discovered the world's largest supply of silver and proceeded to exploit the hell out of a bunch of Indians, slaves and whoever else they could get their hands on. Before you could say that´s a lovely silver statue of the virgin, Potosi had become the world´s largest city with about 200,000 inhabitants, 36 churches and the amount of silver being extracted was said to be enough to build a bridge from Bolivia to Spain. Spaniards being Spaniards they kept all the silver for themselves and Potosi 500 years later is one of the poorest cities in Bolivia which is the poorest country in South America. Work that one out. Today the mine is still going albeit working conditions are pretty much the same as the middle ages. There is no machinery inside the mine. Miners use picks and smash a hole in the rock which takes about 1 to three hours and then shove some dynamite inside it which makes a one metre square hole. Then some lucky buggers get to break up the rock, throw it into some Indian Jones trolly's and push the thing in 40 degree heat a few kilometres in arsenic laden air. Of course the miners can´t eat anything all day as the arsenic would poison their food. About 40 miners die due to collapsed mines a year, There are no mining regulations here other than a please don´t build a tunnel within 10 metres of my one, and the real killer is the fumes which limits a miners life to about 42 years where they usually die a painful death of siliocosis.

The great thing about all this is that rich, fat western tourists can come and gawp at the miners working their arse off for about 5 dollars a day. (and take silly photos of themselves holding rocks). So yes the big attraction in Potosi is the mine tour and we joined the throngs and dressed up in very fashionable yellow jumpsuits and began crawling around in 500 year old tunnels on our hands and knees a few claustrophobic miles underground. Of course we came bearing gifts. 2 litre bottles of coke, a few bags of coca leaves, 10 packs of ciggies and as much dynamite as we could carry. The latter we heard detonated far too close to our important western bodies. Of course 2 hours was way too much time for us to bear and we left the mine early clutching our throats and gagging for a few chilled litres of the black doctor. So next time I complain about helping Margaret lift some furniture in the office hopefully I will remember those miners in Potosi.

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