Potosi, Bolivia

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Potosi, Bolivia

Checking Out What Pachamama’s Got Under Her Skirt

Still shaking our heads and chuckling from June 2012

When we originally began planning our travels through South America, a stop in Potosi had never crossed our minds.  We immediately thought of the usual highlights more travelers become excited about; Machu Picchu, the salt flats in Bolivia, Cartagena in Colombia, and the list continues.  Luckily, we decided to visit the small town well-known for mining after enough research and recommendations from other backpackers we met along the way.  As simple as the town proved to be, most of our like-minded peers chose this destination for one reason, the mining tours offered by plenty of guesthouses and tour agencies in town.Ready for the mine in Potosi, Bolivia

I must admit, the idea of navigating tunnels adequately prepared for the average Bolivian man (MUCH smaller in stature than I) created a slight feeling of anxiety.  Never in my life had I been claustrophobic, but I began wondering if I had found the first opportunity capable of delivering the sensation.  A mix of excitement and eagerness nearly prevented me from sleeping in the top bunk of our bed amongst eight strangers in our simple hostel room.  As I woke that morning, I could hardly eat the complimentary breakfast provided, a feeling I rarely experienced.

As we arrived at our starting point, a small building on the outskirts of town perfectly suited to equip us with all our essentials, we entered a large room where our guides for the day began distributing loosely fit clothing to prevent us from ruining our personal attire.  Accompanying our outfits capable of inspiring gasps of appalling disapproval from any major fashion icon, were helmets nearly stripped of paint complete with headlamps and battery backs attached to our waist.  The profanity writing on the sides of the helmets inspired laughter from each tourist, repeating the brightly painted words with entertained giggles.  Various participants would display messages such as “Good Fucker” or “Wanker” for the remainder of the tour.  Adding to the element of surprise was the opportunity of purchasing live dynamite to use at the end of the tour along with the locally brewed alcohol dangerously similar in flavor to pure rubbing alcohol.Miner guide Potosi, Bolivia

As if to ensure our overall excitement, one of the guides emerged from a back room in his underwear as the rest of us looked on and covered our mouths open with shock.  I admit my gaze dropped to his nether-region, noticing the fabric of his underwear clutched to a beer can instead of his member.  I couldn’t blame him!  After all, the rest of us were dressed in warm attire in response to the frigid temperature.  Any man in his right mind wouldn’t dare allow a group of people to witness the shortcomings of the cold air inspiring a full turtled penis seeking shelter from the elements.  I nodded my head with a grinning approval, believing I would display a similar illusion.  Of course a joke at our expense accompanied this small skit, explaining that Bolivian men may have been smaller than western men in body size, but only the size of their hidden belongings truly mattered!

Still chuckling after the previous events, we arrived at the entrance to the mine we were about to enter, tying bandanas around our mouths to prevent choking as we ventured further into the mine.  A mixture of cyanide, arsenic, and incredibly lack of oxygen began taking its toll on our breathing, descending further into the earth.  Within minutes we were crouching and crawling through various openings, entering into a small space large enough for us to rest comfortably before continuing our journey.  Our guides took the opportunity to describe the life of the average miner, hauling 50 Kg (about 110 pounds) on their backs while traversing the tight tunnels.  Should their work begin at the ripe age of 12, they would be considered fortunate to live beyond 38 years old, though the average life expectancy of the miners ranged from 48-50.

His words resonated deeply within each of us, our personal experiences rendering us fully capable of understanding the difficulties each worker faced on a regular basis.  He offered up a small list of direction, allowing us the unique opportunity of crawling through openings capable of instilling fear into even the bravest of adventurers.  My stomach clenched with a knot of reluctance as he left to meet us at the other end of our short quest.  I struggled to maintain my composure, sensing the jagged rock on my shoulders as I crawled along the earth on my stomach, my elbows pulling into the rock and surging me forward until our destination.Blowing up dynamite Potosi, Bolivia

As we emerged into a cavernous opening, we re-united with our guides, following him intently back towards the opening of the mine.  We stopped before reaching the light of the entrance, approached with the opportunity of lighting off the dynamite we had purchased before the tour.  Our group agreed with smirks of nervous excitement as one of the guides disappeared into the darkness of the tunnel, the rest of us cowering behind blasted walls while covering our ears and clenching our eyelids, anticipating the blast.

A massive burst of vibrating energy was felt by all, dust and poisonous sediment pushing past us as the explosion seemed to flow through our bodies.  I clenched with a grimacing face, afraid to open my eyes before enough time had passed to allow the debris to settle.  As our guide tapped our shoulders, we continued towards the only entrance and exit to the cave.  Not only had I nearly succumb to near claustrophobia and wet myself while experiencing the blast of live dynamite coursing through my body, I was never so glad to see daylight in my life…


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