(Part of a series of articles by Fi trawling the archives for photos taken on the tiny compact camera way back when).
Time was passing by quickly and it can be difficult to appreciate travelling when you see something amazing and different most days. Sucre had been recommended to us as a good place to stop, recharge & reflect on what we had experienced so far.
We settled into the wonderful Casa al Tronco and immediately felt more relaxed. Within days I had finally kicked the chesty cough that I’d had since Rio and we fell into a much longed-for period of routine for a while. I fell in love with Sica-Sica the resident pooch who we took for walks and we also managed to attract a few more canine friends throughout the city.
The house was filled with unusual finds and varied pieces of art. A dried armadillo, cacti and flowers in the courtyard, screen prints and masks. Pretty things to look at everywhere and the shape of the building caused beautiful shadows to fall in amongst it all.
I was already smitten with South America and Bolivia proved to be my favourite country but it’s difficult not to notice the extreme divide of wealth and culture. You would see traditionally dressed ladies in bright colours walking their uniformed children to school each morning. Other women wearing the same dress but dirtied and threadbare would be begging outside shops with their children. Young kids driving in convertible shiny new sports cars with the music blaring passing street corner political demonstrations.
One night we happened upon a courtyard where a band were playing, everyone was dancing and there was a real energy. As we left, gushing about how wonderful and traditional the city was we were met by a convoy of police trucks, motorbikes and armed policemen wearing ski mask style ensembles. You never know what you’re going to see, you don’t always understand what it’s all about, but it’s always interesting!
An early morning taxi to Potosi winding through high altitude roads = sick Fi. Blurghh! We reached the town just in time to join a tour of the silver mines. Clad in wellies, waterproofs and hard hats we walked through the town passing stalls selling torches, explosives, coca leaves, pure alcohol and cigarettes – all staple purchases for the miners. Further uphill we reached the tiny opening in the cliff face and followed the tracks used by the miners to hand push carts holding 1&1/2 tonnes deep from the hillside.
Each cooperative owns their own shaft and miners earn approx 100 BOB for an 8hr shift. Miners hands earn even less. To put things into perspective we ate a relatively mediocre curry in La Paz for 200 BOB , approximately £18. That’s an average miners wages for 3 days work where they risk mine collapses, falling down 15m shaft, silicosis and Carbon Monoxide poisoning due to the terrible ventilation.
We were guided through a baffling maze of tunnels, edging around deep holes leading to other shafts and climbing down 25/30m of rickety ladders deeper and deeper into the mine. It was dusty, dark and hot and difficult to believe that anyone could spend longer than a few hours there.
We met a miner happy to talk (many were too shy to) he earned 80 BOB a day but was already looking for other work as he had a wife and 2 kids and was unsurprisingly concerned about the health risks in a job where there are no safety laws, accidents occur regularly and the average life expectancy is 35-40years of age.
We left the mine by midday as they were due to dynamite new tunnels. Looking back at the hillside you would never have imagined that so many people were inside working themselves to death, hoping to find more of the silver that had once made the town so rich. It had been both a harrowing and enlightening experience and afterwards I didn’t really feel in the mood to do any of the normal sightseeing. The extremes of poverty were baffling to consider as we ate a three course meal for £1.30. We later headed back to Sucre by bus, making several stops in the middle of a vast expanse of nothing to pick people up from the side of the road.
It’s difficult to show in pictures but this should give you a flavour of the mines: