Potosi greeted us with 3 lines of road blocks 4 km outside the city at 9 in the morning. Together with a Polish couple, the help of a corrupt taxi driver and by food we managed to make it through the picket lines and into town. Walking through the suburbs overshadowed by mount Potosi the city looked like a depressed mining town: Dust and garbage between simple brick houses and men bending over malfunctioning machinery. Once we arrived in
the old center the scenery changed, now reminding the heritage of the once richest city of the Americas. After discovering silver in mount Potosi in 1544 the Spanish conquerors exploited the enormous silver resources for the following 3 centuries creating wealth for the Spanish empire and making Potosi rich. Today Potosi’s mines produce zinc and lead as Bolivia’s major metallic exports.
Most of the mines are owned by the miner’s cooperation and working conditions are horrendous: Using primitive tools and explosives like in the last century and working in extreme temperature at 4200m above see level most miners die of silicosis pneumonia within 10 to 15 years after entering the mine. – The documentary “The Devil’s Miner” (2005) follows a 14 years old miner into the tunnels of mount Potosi.
A tour of the mines is one of the main tourist attractions. We found it grotesque to observe the suffering and slow death of the miners and opted for a visit of the Casa Nacional de Moneda instead. The beautiful museum in the building of the former mint displays paintings from the Spanish colonial times as well as everything related to Potosi’s silver production and the history of the mint.