Today, I very last minute decided to do the mining tour in Potosi. After arriving in the bus terminal from Sucre and being told I had a solid nine hours before the next bus left for La Paz, I thought “Why not?”
I took my first micro bus which is basically a public taxi. Anyone can jump on wherever, and anyone can jump off wherever by yelling “Voy a bajar aqui.” I followed the other’s lead and found myself in the town center.
This tour was actually not on my list for a couple of reasons. The first being health. I read that I would be exposed to silica dust, arsenic gas, acetylene vapors, and asbestos deposits. I have no idea what that means but none sound particularly fun.
The second was a concern for my safety. Some of the mines were constructed over 400 years ago, and after watching that movie about the Chilean miners that got stuck underground, my head said no.
The last reason was that I knew seeing these men, and some young boys working in these horrible conditions would bring the waterworks.
This final reason actually became why I thought I should do it.
I knew it would touch my heart and open my mind to what’s going in worlds that aren’t mine.
Therefore, I hopped onto the bus with six other crazies, geared up, and headed for the mountain.
Before entering the mine, however, our guide, Sol, stopped at a market just outside. She explained to us that the miners do not eat anything all day. Instead, they chew on coca leaves and hold them in their cheeks, eventually numbing their mouths, so that they don’t feel their hunger. Their shifts depend on how many wagons of minerals are pushed out. A good day’s work consists of ten to fifteen wagons, and if that happens to take 18 hours instead of six, then so be it.
We were able to buy gifts for the miners here. Gloves, juice, coca leaves, and alcohol (96% alcohol to be specific) are delicacies for them.
The mine was cold at first but grew extremely hot as we descended. Sol told us about the demonic looking statues just inside the mines. The miners believe that the minerals belong to (their version of the devil) “Tío”, or “Supay” because they are so close to hell. In order to be protected in the mine and to find good fortune, they offer alcohol, coca leaves, and place a lighted cigarette in the mouth of the idol before working.
We met a couple of miners in the middle of their work, and they were quite happy to take a break so they could talk with us. Unfortunately, we only met these few. Usually, there are more people working, but because it was are Monday, and there was a fútbol match the day before, most of the workers were taking the day off to cure their hangovers. One of the miners that asked to take a picture with us was especially friendly. This man exuberated joy and life and had the biggest smile. He is working one of the most physically demanding and dangerous jobs in the world, and still had genuine kindness to share with our group. His son was working with him, dutifully pushing a wheelbarrow back and forth. These men have to do what it takes in order to provide. This humbling experience made me realize just how silly most of my complaining is. The tour companies are working hard to improve the working conditions here, but it will be a while before any progress is made.
My bus was scheduled to leave at ten that night. I got to the bus terminal and asked around for my gate. A lady looked at my ticket and pointed at one of the buses. I put my backpack down so it could be loaded, and I boarded. My seat was 39P, but there was someone in it already. After a bit of confusion, he looked at my ticket and explained that this bus was going to Cochabamba. I had the wrong bus.
Okay, no big deal, I still had 15 minutes before my actual bus left since I was a bit early. I went to grab my backpack from the loading bin, but everything had already been loaded.
The bus started up.
I ran to the bus driver and told him why he couldn’t leave yet. He looked highly irritated but turned off the motor. He told the lady who was in charge of the loading crew.
I have never had someone look at me with so much hate.
This lady opened up the luggage compartment to show me that there was no hope. It was a WRECK in there.
The lady started cursing at me and calling me names, asking how I could be so stupid.
“There’s too much stuff. We don’t have time to get it out. We’re leaving.”
I started weeping and begging with her.
“Please! All of my things are on this bus! I need it! I’ll help unload and put everything back! I’m sorry!”
9:55pm and the bus started up.
They didn’t care.
I was screaming now.
“I NEED my stuff!”
People started getting off the bus to watch this scene. A couple of ladies helped me to plead with the lady and finally, she opened back up the luggage compartment for me. She motioned with her arms giving me permission to look, stood back, and crossed them, watching me heave huge boxes and crates. I finally found it and embarrassed by the now massive crowd watching, I ran back into the terminal crying.
I have worked in customer service for five years and never have I had someone yell at me so hatefully.
10:05. I didn’t have time to sit and cry. I finally found the right bus just as it was starting up, and immediately turned my seat into a bed. I’m not even going to lie. Literally, the ONLY thing I wanted was a mom hug.
Sleep didn’t work to put off the sadness either as I had a terrible nightmare.
My sisters were throwing all of my things into the ocean, yelling at me for leaving to South America. My dad just sat back and watched, telling me I deserve it.
Not a great night. Praying tomorrow will make up for it. Sorry to be a bummer, man.