No I don`t want to hold your dynamite!

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Day 94: Potosi, Bolivia

Would you really trust a man who puts lit dynamite in his mouth and screams wildly through the wad of coca leaves in his cheek? Well, we did and we even paid him! In Potosi, mining is the way of life, the business grandfathers pass to fathers who pass it to their sons and who will continue the tradition with their sons. Many go to work as early as 13 years old even though, technically, Bolivia has anti child labor laws. But when a family is hungry and has many mouths to feed, no law enforcement prevents children from being put to work.

Us in our miner gear

Us in our miner gear

We toured the mines where the men and boys of Potosi make their living, working 10 hour days without food. They can only eat before and after they go to the mines because of the harsh toxins and the dust in the air. It would sicken them to eat while in the mines. Sadly, most do not live much past 40 or 50 because of respiratory illnesses and other problems from working in such dangerous poisonous conditions. The air in the mines is thick with asbestos and the water that drips from the ceilings is tainted with arsenic.

Yes, that`s real dynamite in his mouth

Yes, that`s real dynamite in his mouth

Before the tour, we grappled with whether or not to go because we feared the tour would be somehow exploiting the poor conditions miners work in as well as take time away from the workers who work on quantity so their time is very valuable. In the end, we decided to go though we still felt ridiculous for dressing up as miners and going to poke around. A portion of the tour ticket price does go to the miners, though, and all the tour guides are ex-miners, though some still work in the mines for extra money on their days off.

Ore refinery

Ore refinery

It was an interesting experience, sad and harsh but it certainly made us appreciate our own working conditions and made us realize we have absolutely nothing, nothing at all, to complain about ever again when it comes to our work lives in our comfortable, air conditioned, clean offices. We crawled through tiny passage ways, tipped our hat to “El Tio” (god of the underworld and therefore god of the mines which the miners give offerings), and were involved in a minor cave in! The air was hot and dusty; we could hardly breathe as we were still dealing with the altitude. The ground would shake from dynamite going off in shafts around us.

"El Tio" God of the underworld

"El Tio" God of the underworld

Lin crawling down one of the tiny 20 foot shafts

Lin crawling down one of the tiny 20 foot shafts

Miner drilling hole by hand for a dynamite charge

Miner drilling hole by hand for a dynamite charge

After the tour, the guide blew up some dynamite that the group had pitched in to buy at the miners market earlier in the day (miners market mostly sells coca leaves and dynamite). Before he took off running with it to chuck it a safe distance, he posed for pictures and shoved it in people`s faces shouting “Take it! Take it!“ Of course most of us didn`t realize that there was indeed a safe amount of time before it exploded.

Our guide with a lit pack or dynamite and nitroglycerine in his mouth

Our guide and another miner with a lit pack of dynamite and nitroglycerine in his mouth

Saben holding lit dynamite, Lin at safe distance

Saben holding lit dynamite, Lin at safe distance

It made a monstrous boom that reverberated in our chests and made an equally large crater about 12 feet wide and maybe 4 feet deep. It`s not everyday when you get to play with dynamite!

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