Saturday, December 20, 2008

Great Mines Think Alike

You'll no doubt be as relieved to know as I am, that the swelling has gone down (most of the time anyway) and there seems to be no lasting damage as a result of the last bee sting. You can rest easy now. Especially the ladies out there....

So anyway, we left Uyuni for Potosí, the original and richest mining town in Bolivia. The road was about 200km long, and unsealed all the way. After a shakey start with rather more sand than I like, and one or two eye-opening construction sites (a general wave of the flag to skirt round the construction works with the bikes saved us a lot of waiting around for big trucks to finish doing whatever it was they were doing), it calmed down to a really rather good gravel road, and with my confidence at an all time high (but still not at the expense of my caution, I promise), we had a very enjoyable ride to Potosí. Not a very glamourous city at first glance, and the whole place lives in the shadow of the Cerro Rico, the huuuuge mountain that has been the subject of mining operations since 1545 and source of just about every mineral you can think of, from silver and gold to lead and tin, zinc and iron, copper sulphate and who knows what else, and they're still going. currently, 17000 miners work the hill, all as part of various co-operatives, so they fortunes are up and down as dramatically as the world markets that govern their income. last year, for example, there were more Hummers in Potosí than the rest of Bolivia put together, but this year the prices have crashed, and they are back in their crappy trucks.
How do I know so much about the mountain? Why, I went on a tour, of course. And more surprising than that, so did Rich. We went on one of the "Mine Tours", taken underground into the working mines by an ex-miner who is now about 50 years old, but worked there from age 13 to 20. Much as many youngsters do today, in fact. It was an incredible tour, scurrying through tunnels and getting out of the way of classic Indiana Jones style mine trolleys as they were pushed past by groups of local workers. Empty, they are a mere 300kg. Full, they gain an extra 1000kg (that's a ton in old language) of rocks and earth that has to be either pushed to the surface, or to shaft where it is emptied into a heap and then hauled a bag at a time to the surface. Soul destroying stuff. On the up side, we were encouraged to take in a 2 litre bottles of fizzy pop for them each and a bag of coca leaves, the local cure-all that staves off altitude sickness, reduces appetite and gives a bit of an energy kick to boot. All presents gratefully received, not least the stick of dynamite we bought from a street vendor to take down for them. And a spare to get a demonstration outside afterwards from our guide...and another spare to take away secretly and blow up later of course....
Dynamite is loud!! The 2 sticks the guide blew up for us rattled our eardrums, and it was actually very useful to watch him prepare it so we could copy later (now that is a bit of vid I will try my hardest to up load!), and slightly comical to watch this fairly chunky old fella carry the sticks to the detonation site, and then run like hell to a safe distance!
Anyhow, despite the altitude (the mine entrance we used was about 4300m), and the heat underground (yes, it was hot and stuffy), we both managed to keep up and not get too puffed from our exertions. definitely earned teh beers we had later, shared with a group of 3 Canadian bikers we met in town, riding from British Colombia to the south somewhere, on KLR 650s for those that are interested. Potosí actually turned out to be a very pretty city in the centre, with blaconies, narrow streets and the obligatory well-used plaza.
Today, we left Potosí with a view to going to Cochabamba, but only made it to Oruro, due to fatigue (I think the altitude has that effect), the threat of rain and a slightly changed game plan. Suffice to say, on the way to Oruro, we found a suitable cactus, prepared our dynamite, and very carefully (with no risk to our own safety whatsoever, O beloved parents) blew the living whatnots out of it! Highly entertaining, and its probably lucky we only had one bit of dynamite to use, or the next target might well have been a slow moving goat/llama. We are now in Oruro, and likely to head towards, but not into, La Paz tomorrow, with a Christmas goal of getting to Copacobana on the shores of Lake Titikaka for a few (more) days R&R.
So that's all, thanks for tuning in, and for those that pay attention to the details, rest assured I did utter the immortal words "Do you think you used enough dynamite there, Butch?", but regrettably forgot to use the line "You're only supposed to blow the bleeding doors off!". So half marks only for me, I guess.

1 comment:

Ronán said...

Hey Steve and Rich,
found your blog and had a read, great to hear ye managed to get the bike sorted.
We made Santiago for Christmas and we´re both well fat after a week of lomo a lo pobre with the bicycles parked up.
Ronan & Paul