Jenn writes on 2014-06-07:

Hello from Sucre, Bolivia, the constitutional capital of Bolivia.  With any respect, we just arrived at this relatively low altitude (2,800 meters) and haven’t been this low since Aguas Calientes, Peru.  The weather here is nice and summery 🙂  I now have head cold – my first since Guatemala 🙁

Dry riverbed scenery.

We arrived here from Potosí, one of the highest cities in the world at 4095 meters above sea level! Yep, it’s pretty high. Thankfully we have spent a number of weeks at altitude so we aren’t being effected too badly by the sky-highness of it all. Admittedly, walking up hills is a little challenging, but otherwise, we are doing alright.

Overlooking Titicaca.

After a few days in Copacabana by the shores of Lake Titicaca, and a really great pizza dinner, we headed out in the direction of La Paz. Instead of staying in La Paz we decided to head to an overland hotel in Mallasa, about 15 minutes outside of the city. The Oberland Hotel was praised by the guys at Life Remotely as being overlander friendly and offering good facilities, so it sounded like a winner to us.

Hotel Oberland

Front view.

On our way to Mallasa, we decided to take a spin through the city of La Paz (so we could say that we had been there), but a couple of confusing roads, one way streets that weren’t so on our GPSes, and and crowded marketplaces with suicidal pedestrians, and we were on the by-pass skirting around the city and heading straight for Mallasa and the comfort of the hotel. Or rather the comfort of our camp site.

The Oberland Hotel (and Mallasa) was located in a very scenic part of Bolivia with landscape that resembled the moon or Mars (there is in fact a popular tourist destination there called Valle de la Luna – Valley of the Moon). The bizarre rock formations surrounding the town are a result of mountain erosion creating natural spires of clay. It made for a very beautiful rest stop.


Once we found the hotel, we joined the other overlanders who were already there, and set up camp. Our little tent was trumped by the giant overlanding vehicle campers, our neighbours. As promised, the bathrooms were glorious compared to what we were used to in Copacabana – toilet seats, toilet paper, and lights! We were also promised hot water in the showers but that was somewhat of a thin promise – good when it was good, but turning cold very suddenly. Since it was somewhat of a resort, there was also a spa area with a sauna, jacuzzi, and indoor swimming pool. All included with the price of residence. Hooray! Some time in the steam and hot water was just what the doctor was ordering for us and we were looking forward to soaking and sweating our tired muscles.

There really is a sauna.

As per the staff’s request we needed to give a few hours notice prior to using the spa facilities, as they had to warm the stuff up. Although a little funny, it was somewhat understandable as the hotel wasn’t very busy (off-season? poor economy?) and it is costly to maintain heat/electricity/gas when the facilities are not being used. After our required ‘warm up’ time, we donned our bathing suits and got ready for our sauna and jacuzzi. The jacuzzi wasn’t very warm so we went to check on the sauna. While warm, it certainly wasn’t hot by normal sauna standards. Regardless, we sat down on the wooden seats and waited to get our sweat on. It happened, but was less than satisfying. And the jacuzzi? Forget about it.

And swimming pool.

The nights in Mallasa were a bit chilly but our tent was quite cozy once we were snuggled up inside of our sleeping bags. On our third night there we finally decided to have a fire – the fireplace (like an Argentine asado) was more for cooking but we thought would be quite adequate for keeping warm. The firewood was delivered to our campsite and Adam built a great fire – his highest campfire to date – despite a lack of kindling and less oxygen at that altitude.

Nice fire in the cold evening.

It was a relaxing four days in Mallasa of not doing too much, aside from a ride into La Paz, which Adam described as combination of the Toronto’s DVP and Park Road, and Fraggle Rock. A very accurate description. Aside from a scenic tour through some pretty bad traffic (it’s total gridlock, mon!), Adam also needed to buy a new (cheap) sleeping pad since his Big Agnes sleeping pad (our second) was failing. He ended up purchasing one of those waffle-style sleeping pads which he will use in conjunction with his deflating Big Agnes for future camping ventures. Our stay was mostly preoccupied with resting, finding cheap places to eat (chicken!), and hanging out with an ever-rotating group of overland travellers.

Endless parades in Bolivia, this time Oruro.

From Mallasa, we continued south to Oruro. Although not really on our radar as a place with many attractions, Oruro turned out to be quite a nice place. Some people have described it as being not ‘very happy’, but we found it to be quite the contrary. The only thing that turned us off was trying to find a place to stay downtown with parking. The ride there took approximately four hours and finding a hotel took another three. What a pain in the ass. We checked out a few areas and decided that we wanted to stay close by the market.

Securing parking several level of door deep.

We circled and circled and circled, branching out to the area around the bus station, then coming back to the market area where we finally settled on a place nearby, that sort of looked like a dive, called Residencial Vergara. It was sort of a dive but the owners were very happy to have us staying in their establishment. They were all smiles and welcomed us and our bikes in with open arms. The parking was very secure (through two sets of locked doors, in a courtyard), and the hot water in their shower worked very well. It was enough to overlook the fact that the room had quite a lot of water damage and had a bit of a funky smell. It was dated and we think its hay day was some time in the 1960s, but it was cute and charming. They also had a very friendly sheepdog and two very cute (and very vocal!) kittens.

Seating area outside of our room. Showing its age.

On our way to find dinner, we came across a parade. They sure do love their parades down here! We believe that it was another school parade as many children from all ages were represented. We aren’t too sure who the parade was for, since there weren’t many people watching it, and far more people participating in it.

Markets, markets, markets.

The market turned out to be quite the scene, bustling and busy with throngs of people out and about. We were surprised to see it so busy at night! Anything that anyone could ever possible want was available at the market that seemed to sprawl on forever. Jeans, socks, underwear, toiletries, souvenirs, hardware items, storage bins, flowers, beauty products were all present and ready to be purchased.  Adam even found a Dakar Rally toque for $2.

Adam adds:  An aside – the lead up to World Cup in Brazil should be full tilt.  In Bolivia, however, you wouldn’t know it was on.  There is, however, a constant barrage of Dakar Rally imagery.  It wouldn’t be a lie to say that one in every five or ten vehicles displays Dakar imagery.  Coming from North America where most people don’t know what the Dakar Rally is, it is almost surreal to see its popularity here.  That said, both Potosí and Oruro hosted Dakar routes in 2014 so it isn’t really surprising that these communities are excited by its presence.

Fetal llamas, and other “natural remedies”.

There was even a ‘witches market’ featuring incense, fetal llamas, dried birds, skeletons of many types of small animals, herbs, and various amulets. It was pretty interesting and we stopped to ask a woman at her booth some of the meanings of the various items that she had for sale. She wasn’t too friendly or forthcoming with her answers and when we asked her if we could take a picture of her booth she named her fee of 10 Bolivianos. Apparently even in Oruro they have caught wind of the Cusco-ian ways. Sigh. We ended up giving her five, and taking a few shots before moving on to friendlier territory.

On the way to Potosí.

Challapata: a direct, but sandy route to Uyuni.

The next day it was a seven hour ride to Potosí. The landscape between Oruro and Potosí was ever-changing. Golden fields, sparkling lakes, and snow-dusted mountains lead the way. We also saw many herds of llama grazing on the altiplano. Our road changed from flat and straight to curving and undulating as we ascended another 200-300 meters to our current height. It also got very windy and quite cold. Heated gear was on the books for the day’s ride, and we were both very happy to have the option to plug ourselves in (heated jackets).

Getting gas in Bolivia is a chore.

When we arrived in Potosí we were treated to yet another city built into the steep mountainsides. Our GPSes decided that the best way to get us where we were going was to go straight up the steepest hills. After Adam tried one out and claimed that it was the steepest hill that he had ever ridden up, we decided to look for a more chill route to the top.

It was surprisingly easy to find a hotel with parking, and soon we were out to explore fabulous Potosí. Its roads were designed somewhat like a maze and we could never figure out in which direction we were pointing. It’s all good though, since around each corner was something cool to see – colonial architecture, pedestrian malls, old stone churches, markets. It was a wonder for the senses.

Night scenery.

One of the main reasons for being in Potosí is to visit the silver mine, Cerro Rico. Although technically the mine has been mostly depleted of its silver, they still mine zinc and other minerals. We booked our tour and then headed off to the Casa de la Moneda, the mint. Although no longer in use, the mint in Potosi was once the most important producer of silver coins in the world.

As we waited for our guided tour to begin we were invited to browse the upper levels of the building that housed a photography exhibit, a collection of textiles, and a gallery of mannequins dressed in traditional dress from various cultures. The building itself was beautiful, in excellent condition, and lovingly restored. Our guide took us through the process of how silver coins were produced, from the very first days of production until the mint closed. The machines were in excellent condition and all remained operational, although not used any longer. The tour was educational and informative and well worth the price of admission.

Adam continues:

During my previous trip I had missed Potosí as I had headed straight from Challapata to Uyuni which involved a fairly challenging ride of mostly gravel and sandy piste.  Besides the fact that I didn’t think Jenn would appreciate this ride, I had regretted not visiting Potosí, which is a more common route to salt flats Uyuni.

Roughly knowing where we might find accommodations in Potosí, we started following our GPSs only to find that the suggested route was blocked by corrugated metal barriers, presumably for some sort of reconstruction, or road work.  Our first attempt at a diversion involved me riding up a rather steep grade.  Now, Jenn does not particularly like riding up steep roads, partially at the thought of having to stop and start again, but also because of a (legitimate) fear of intersections where she feels that she won’t have enough control to crest the grade, and stop in time and risk being plowed down.

More construction.

For me, I am generally feel confident enough in these scenarios, and feel that I can crest safely.  In this cases, this hill was steep.  It was probably a 40 degree grade and quite long and being at about 4000 metres above sea level, and with our air box covers removed, my fully loaded bike was being tested.  I suspect that I would have had a little problem getting started again if I had to stop.  Nearing the crest, it actually got a little steeper – I don’t think I would be lying if I said 45 degrees – and my front wheel took some air as I strategically, if not slightly frantically, attempted to determine if I was clear of traffic.  I was clear of traffic, but had another small stretch of further grade to go up before I “summitted”, so I turned around and went back to Jenn with the welcome news that we would find another route.  Potosí was a big enough place.  Surely, not everyone was forced to take this route.

We ended up just “winging it” and found a route with a gradual grade into the main part of town where the plazas and hotels were to be found.  Without too much fanfare, we found a hotel (Hotel San Antonio) which had ample parking and it was suggested that we put our bikes inside the main doors of their building.  We had a good walk around, eventually grabbed some food and headed back to our room for calls back home, and so forth.  The next morning we were off to book our tour of the Cerra Rico mine tour.

Jenn and (passable) Joe.

We woke bright and early, ate the included breakfast (two rolls and passable coffee), and headed towards the main plaza to find a tour operator.  We stumbled across several and just decided to go talk to one.  While I have been interested in checking out a mine in Potosí for quite some time – call it four years – at the same time, I just wanted a taste and spending hours below ground wasn’t important to me.  Jenn, on the other hand was a little apprehensive due to safety concerns and claustrophobia.  As we starting posing questions to the lady, she dropped her price from bs/80 to bs/70 without any prompting.  Having discussed the details, seeing that she only had one other guest booked for the afternoon, her tour seemed like a good bet so we signed up for 2 p.m.

Such a dramatic sign.

Why the interest in the mines of Potosí?  While Potosí is a shadow of its former self, it was once a very important city with huge importance to the Spanish colonial empire.  At around 4000m above sea level, Potosí is one of the highest bonafide cities in the world.  At almost a 1/4 million people, if you use a metric of, say, 100,000 people to define what a “large city” is (versus a town) Potosí was only recently surpassed by El Alto, a suburb of La Paz, Bolivia, as being the world highest city.

Over ten percent of the population of Potosí work directly in the mines of Cerro Rico – we are told that there are 13,000 active miners most, if not all, who mine independently as part of mining collectives, as opposed to state or corporate ventures.  Once upon a time, Cerro Rico was the richest mountain in the world providing the Spanish monarchy with vast amounts of wealth, including Potosí being the most active and most important coin minting location in the world.  Indeed, long before the US dollar was the “standard”, world commerce was based the the “Real”, or the silver currency of the Spanish empire.  While minting facilities also existed in other colonies such as Mexico and Peru, Potosí was the most important and the only constantly operated site.

Making coins the old, old, old way.

In fact, it is even theorized that the peso or dollar sign relates to the the mint of Potosí.  Coins from different mints would have abbreviate names to denote where they were produced.  For example, M for Mexico and P for Peru.  Coins minted in Potosí would have a overlay of the letters of PTSI.  If you remove the P and T, what remains is $.  While other theories exist for the originals $ both with a single and double stroke, the PTSI theory is certainly interesting.

Look closely for PTSI symbol at 8 o’clock – just before “R” in REPUBLICA.

I make it sound like I have some background knowledge on currency and coins.  No.  It is a combination of some basic internet research plus an excellent visit to the Casa de Moneda, the second iteration of two great mints in Potosí.  While I knew Potosí was an important place – the most wealthy city in the Americas, or perhaps even in the world – I hadn’t been privy to its relationship to finance in the colonial period.  Basically, once upon a time, and years before the dominance of the US dollar, the Spanish Real ran the show.  While the Spanish minted coins in various locations, the most important location was that of which is the Casa de Moneda in Potosí.  This is now a now a museum.

Some examples.

We showed up at the Casa de Moneda and decided to buy our tickets not really knowing what to expect – perhaps a quick walk through before lunch and our mine tour.  As it turns out, a tour is only possible with a guide, and it was well worth it.  Our tour started out in a sort of estate room housing some very interesting paintings painted by indigenous painters but in what seems to be the contemporary European style.  These were largely documentations of the important people of the time, as well as a means of drawing indigenous people into Christianity.  One very interesting observation was that the painters where not very familiar with horses since they are not indigenous to the Americas and originally came with the Spanish – llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, only back then.  Portraits of horses had humanoid faces which is said to be attributed to the fact that said painters were not very familiar with the faces of horses.

Such sorrow not normally seen in the face of a horse.

The remainder of the tour dealt more specifically with smelting and production of coins.  Jenn and I were both admittedly a little overwhelmed by it all.  We are not history buffs but to be in a place with this much history is quite incredible.  The process of creating coins from basic hand cutting and hand stamping with die and hammer, and later by mechanical means including presses designed by none other than the great Leonardo De Vinci, was extremely interesting and we felt like we were really tasting a bit of history.

Early mechanization. These are the only remaining examples from the Spanish colonial era. These have been preserved in Potosí’s, cool, dry climate – the rest have rotten way in time.

And below, the power source.

As time went on, simpler means were replaced by mechanized means, firstly via mules (and possibly African slaves), and then steam technology acquired from Philadelphia, USA, and eventually electric power.  By 1825 with Bolivia’s independence from Spain, Bolivia was no longer producing currency for Spain.  By the mid 20th century, Potosí was no longer an important minter and in the present day and age, the Bolivianos in my pocket are made in countries such as Chile, and ironically, Canada, with paper banknotes being produced in Switzerland, I believe.


Complex lock box.

Precisions scales.

Early coin press designed by Leonardo Da Vinci.

Electrical era.

Don’t get your fingers caught!

Following our tour we scarfed down some lunch, and eventually made it over to our tour office to find quite a number of people waiting for our mine tour.  We boarded the bus and arrived at what looked to be someone’s residence where we debarked, passed through their walled “garden” and went into a back room where we could see various articles of clothing fit for miners.

We were instructed to sit down, at which point we were assigned rubber boots, pants and jackets to cover our clean clothing, and miners’ hard hats including LED lights with battery packs on a belt around our waists.  We were also given basic backpacks which were intended to carry our “gifts” for the miners.  It is my understanding that the multiple tour operators offer tours into the mines do not have to pay any sort of entry fee since the mountain is basically public property, but the miners appreciate small gifts for posing for photographs, etc.

At the market.


We boarded the bus again, and headed up the mountain road passing flocks of llamas which we believed at the time to be off to market.  Arriving near the entrance of the mine, we disembarked again.  As mentioned, when we signed up, our group was only three.  By the time we were at the mouth of the mine, there were about ten of us, including two others plus a guide from another group, which was not obvious to us.

Without much further instruction, Jose (our guide) was off into the mine followed by various people including two small children.  Jenn and I were amongst the last to enter the mine.  During this period, one girl from another group (which was confusing to us), decided that she had enough after only a minute or so.  Admittedly, the roof of the tunnel was low and I was definitely ducking.  Shortly after this, Jenn started to feel uncomfortable and panicky and she agreed that she would exit and I would continue on.

I don’t blame her.  It is a tight squeeze, amongst other things that might be on her mind including the presence of asbestos, collapses, etc.  These mines are in no way, shape, or form, tourist oriented – you are simply touring an active, working mine with men hauling ore out manually on rail and using explosives.  During our small delay our group got way ahead of me.  They were “trucking” to start with, and the delay with Jenn, as well as me being last to start with meant I was left behind.  I gave a little thought as to whether I could catch up – I went in a little further and, seeing one fork in the road, which ended up being a dead end, I decide that I had no idea what I might be getting myself into and headed back to fresh air.

I found Jenn outside, as well as the girl from the other group who was also uncomfortable with the mine.  At this point I was feeling pretty pissed.  Jenn was feeling bad in that her decision to bow out most likely caused the delay which got me left behind, but at the same time, there seemed to be little order here.  Having spoken with the other girl, who was from Ecuador and well spoken in English, she agreed that with our group being so big, there should have been a second guide following up the tour.  In any rate, for all our guide knew, I could have fallen down a hole or been laying somewhere with an injury for the duration of the tour as there didn’t seem to be any checks or balances.

We eventually got talking with this Ecuadorian girl (we didn’t catch her name) and discussing Ecuador, our various travels in South America, and so forth and before long, we were being accosted by a very, very drunk miner.  At first, he had waved us down asking if we wanted to be guided in the mine. I initially agreed as I was sure he could find our group, until he almost face planted himself into a parked car.  He was’t drunk, but DRUNK.  We spent about the next half an hour trying to get him to disappear despite his relentless questions about where we were from, why we weren’t going into the mine, and so on and so forth.

Señor Borracho.

By this point, I was just happy that he wasn’t getting overly aggressive with the females, and that he eventually went away.  His replacement didn’t stick around too long, either.  The Ecuadorian girl told us that when she was decided to bale on the tour, she almost stuck it out as she knew – as a lone female – she would have to “stick it out” outside the mine on a Friday afternoon for at least an hour.  Which would be worse?

By this time, I had mostly settled down in terms of being disappointed assuming that I could argue my case and come back in the morning.  As the sun set, and with things really cooling off, our group emerged.  Shortly after this, Jose was questioning us as to “what happened”?  I basically said”  “What happened?  The group left without me, and despite me calling down the tunnel, I was left behind.”.  He immediately asked me if I wanted to go in the mine.  I inquired about the morning, and he said that it was not possible because it was a “special day”.  I looked at Jenn.  She looked at me.  I handed her most of the cash in my wallet and the hotel key and we agreed to meet back at the room.

At this point I was already cold, my oversized rubber boots were damp and not helping what seems to be tendinitis of my Achilles tendon, and I was getting fairly hungry.  It was now or never, though.  Almost dusk, we headed into the mine.  Jose, with a mouth full of coca leaves and being perhaps a foot shorter than me, flew through the mine passage.  I kept up as best I could, ankle deep in water for a time.  Given that Potosí is about 4000 meters above sea level, the Cerro Rico can only be higher than this, and even though we have been at altitude for weeks at this point, the air in the mine was even thinner than what I was used to and I was working hard to keep up.  The dust mask we purchased at the miners’ market wasn’t helping the matter either and I was starting to feel a little panicky, as in “I have had enough”, but once I wasn’t constantly ducking 4 foot passage ways I was feeling a little better.

Still out of breath, we ran into a pair of miners who were pushing bags of ore out of the tunnel in a mini-rail system by hand.  They were tired.  They weren’t faking it.  No sooner than collecting my thoughts, Jose, blurted out: “Help them!  Help them.  Push it”. Still mostly out of breath, I jumped beside one of the guys and started to push the cart – you know the ones you see in old western movies – and boy was it heavy.  The cart was being pushed up hill and must have weighed hundreds of kilograms.  I don’t think that I assisted for more than a couple of meters with my boots sliding in the mud.  All that I can say that these guys are super tough, and live a hard life.  As part of the agreement, I gave them the two litre bottle of Coke and took a few photos.

We continued on.  We found a fork in the road and Jose was surprised to find no miners at this location which was definitely some sort of junction point due to existence of various objects, as well as various pages of girly mags being posted to the walls.  We continued down a corridor, and then down a hole in the ground on a strangely angled wooden ladder.  A little later, with a shake of hands, I met “Ruben”, who was hoisting bags of ore up from a another hole in the mine’s floor with a hand winch, which were fed to him by his father some 15 or 20 feet below.  Again, Jose told me told “help him”, so I jumped on the other side of the winch and attempted to assist.

Making the mine a little more like home?

I felt pretty stupid because I knew that if I gave it full effort with both hands, my good camera which was tethered around my neck would have been smacking into the equipment and likely be damaged.  I assisted with another load, at which time I was instructed to provide a gift.  I inquired whether alcohol or cigarettes were preferred and eventual left both.  Jose said something to the effect of the cigarettes not being “good” – so why did you even suggest them when we were at the market – a bit more guidance please.  Evidently, I don’t know what time Ruben and Papa started work, but being  around 6pm, they would be working to midnight.

Señor Ruben.

We left the area and headed up the ladder again.  During the duration of the tour, we repeatedly had to stand at the edges of the tracks against the walls.  If an unladen cart wouldn’t have severely damaged ones toes, a fully laden one certainly would have.  Again, this is a tour of a mine – not a mine set up for tours.

El Tio.

We passed various other workers and eventually ended up at the “shrine” of El Tio.  Ah, El Tio.  I have heard of him from other reports, and seen his photos.  Dedicated readers:  you do know how this tale started – I was rather angry that I had basically missed my tour.  Now, I found myself relaxing with Jose and Tio, alone.  This probably would not be the same experience if I was amongst a large tour group.  Jose, who seemed to mostly be on the move during this tour, having worked five years in the mine, and then having to be late for his dinner to run me through my solo tour, I get it.  But at this point, Jose seemed to relax.  He (almost) snuggled up against El Tio and started his offerings.

El Tio is basically a devil effigy.  He is sort of goat-like with eyes of marbles, and is basically the “lord of the underworld” – being the mine.  Miners offer him gifts of coca leaves, alcohol and cigarettes in “exchange” for offering protection, and working with “Pachamama”, basically “Mother Earth”, to bring up more wealth from the ground for the miners.

Our time with El Tio was interesting.  Jose provided him with some coca leaves, and then some alcohol, having poured a little on the ground, and then gulping the remaining cap full for himself.  And then one for me, with a little for El Tio.  Jose had asked me if I had a lighter.  I am pretty sure that it was to put a cigarette in the mouth of El Tio and actually light it. Soot around Tio’s mouth and on his nose indicates that this was common practice.  Jose asked me if I wanted a photo with El Tio, so I snuggled up against him and posed for the shot.  I must admit, that the El Tio aspect of the tour was most interesting, if not grounding.  While I am not a religious man, there was something a little different about this experience.  It is hard to explain.

Jenn and I have visited many beautiful churches during our travels with all sorts of effigies.  That said, all of these have been distant, some how protected from prying hands and mostly pristine.  El Tio was something else in that he was a little dirty, covered in various vices (and party streamers), and had been directly man handled and revered.  These mines are dirty, caustic and dangerous.  Miners die young (40) due to damage lungs from silica and asbestos.  For the most part, when I visit churches the effigies seem to me to be ornate pieces of art (not a bad thing, in their own right), but I could almost feel the connection the miners have with El Tio, and El Tio almost really felt like a third presence in this little cavern.  He was a little scary looking but I wasn’t scared of him.  What is scary is the mines.

Eventually, Jose and I exited the mine.  We were in a little further in than it felt going in, but probably nothing in comparison with the hundreds of tunnels through the mountain, and I was just a mere visitor.  We reached fresh air and darkness overlooked the bright lights of Potosí.  We then started our way down Cerro Rico on foot with the aim of catching a bus down.

I was admittedly annoyed at Jose earlier on, but he redeemed himself.  By this time his wife was repeatedly calling him on his phone (“You are late for dinner!”), and he probably could have had just sent me back to the tour office for a refund instead of taking me on a private tour.  In the time it took to exit the mine and catch a bus down to the office, we probably talked for about 45 minutes about numerous topics anywhere from life in our respective countries, to family, travel, life in the mine, and so on and so forth.  I think that Jose looked at me a little differently when I explained to him that we were travelling by motorcycles and often did not take the tourist route.

Being an ex-miner and moving into the world of running tours in the mine, I suspect that his exposure to “gringos” is mostly backpacker types and he indicated that he appreciated that we were open to mostly “full exposure” – and not always staying in touristic place and eating touristic things.  I even discussed with him my feelings around the mine tour in that there is a “contradiction” here.  Relatively wealthy “tourists” paying a little money to for a quick observation of what the miners do.  I mean, do the miners really want to be tripping over “us” when they are trying to get a day (and half) of work in?  Yet, how else can you actually get a glimpse of what is going on in there?  A little bit of an understanding?  I posed the question as to whether miners object to the tours and Jose’s answer was that there are a few who just don’t want tourists around, but most of them don’t mind the situation if they get a little something out of it – hence the gifts.

My end thoughts of the tour is, that I am glad that it was as “rough” as it was.  I wince  when I say this, as I could barely breath, let alone push the cart, or assist with the winch – my life is anything but rough, certainly not physically, compared to the life of these miners.  Their life is rough.

That said, the point that I am making is that I appreciated that the tour wasn’t “whitewashed”, special barriers and ropes were not put in place and, realistically, there was minor risk involved.  Jenn couldn’t manage the tunnels.  I assumed that I could – I ride motorcycles, sleep in snow caves, and scuba dive with sharks – and felt like I couldn’t for a bit.  I know that I have pushed Jenn (with best intentions) during many aspects of our trip – for example, where she assumes that she doesn’t have enough riding skills, but I see more in her.  That said, basically when I had my whinge of panic, I said to myself something to the effect of “you don’t get to push Jenn, and then turn around and back out of this without giving it full effort”.

One further thing to note, while miners to not generally work on Saturdays, and definitely not on Sundays, this doesn’t pertain to the reason as to why I couldn’t get another tour on Saturday.  This Saturday was a special sacrificial day when llamas are sacrificed to Tio.  If you read the Wikipedia article on the matter, you will read that a llama is sacrificed.  Jose explained to me that twelve llamas would be sacrificed at the mouth of the specific mine we entered.

There are hundreds of mines and many more Tios.  As mentioned earlier, we saw numerous llamas on the way to Cerro Rico which we believed to either being sold, or off to slaughter.  We were partially correct.  Jose explained to me on the way down that these dozens and dozens of llamas where all to be slaughter the next day – Saturday – to El Tio.  Their meat would be consumed but their bones would be sacrificially buried at the foot of the mines.  While we did not attend, I accept it as a privilege and honour that we were invited to attend this ceremony on the Saturday.

View from the mine.

And finally dinner for just over $1 each.

Gallery links can be found here: