30 Hours in Potosi: Dynamite, Cocaine and 96% Alcohol

If that doesn't get your attention, you can stop reading right now, oh, and sorry mom. I spent one night in Potosi, Bolivia and what an adventure that was! Let me clarify, in Bolivia coca leaves are legal, and they are a miracle drug for altitude sickness, upset stomach, headaches etc. That being said, if you walk around asking, “Donde puedo comprar coca leaves” (Where can I buy coca (leaves)) they think you are trying to buy cocaine due to the fact I was saying leaves in English. Anyways, I didn't buy cocaine but, I’ve been chewing coca leaves like it’s going out of style so, theres that. Makes you feel like you have a stomach of steel, and that's necessary when you're eating in Bolivia! Alright, lets get to the point, the only thing there is to do in Potosi, is go on a mine tour, so heres what happened.

Wake up at 8am and it’s dumping rain, typical. Grab some breakfast, jump on 12 passenger bus and off to the tour. First, they outfit you with some mining clothes, a jumpsuit, hard hat, and a belt with a battery pack for your head lamp. They take you through a mineral processing plant. Looking like a gnome, they bring you out to the miners market to buy gifts for the miners (this is where it gets fun!). So, what do you buy for miners? Well, coca leaves (it’s their daily diet), soda, 96% potable alcohol, gloves, and of course, DYNAMITE! Yes, I bought a stick of dynamite for 20 bolivianos (3$), and some alcohol, coca leaves, soda, etc. Cerro Rico “Rich Hill” is where the mine is located and they think there is about 7 years of minerals left in the mine before it is depleted, not bad considering it was opened over 500 years ago. They mostly mine for silver, tin, lead, zinc, copper etc even though there are 30+ minerals in the mine. We arrived at the entrance to the mine not long after the market, and let me tell you, at 4200 meters it feels like you are breathing through a straw, a cocktail straw at that. Great.

Lights on, heads down, eyes up. Mines are not made for people of my height. The group gathered at the entrance and the guide and former miner yells, GO, and off we go at a feverish pace bent over like a small tree in a hurricane. A. I can’t breath, B. its pitch black, C. it’s cold, sounds like fun right? The guide yells “To the left!” and you hug the wall in order to not be crushed by a 2,000 pounds of steel and stone hurling towards you on the tracks. At some point we ducked into a tunnel where there were guys loading a cart and they were kind enough to let us push the cart, mind you, 4200 meters above sea level. After that glorious 2 minute heart pounding endeavor, we ventured on to share some 96% alcohol with Pacha Mama (Mother Earth) and the God of the mines. Carried on to feel the explosions of dynamite and gladly worked our way out of the mines all the while avoiding 2 tons of steel and stone passing by intermittently. 

Bueno Gusto...good taste... not

Breach the end of the tunnel, take in a breath of air (not complete dust) and man, am I grateful to be in the position I am in. It’s amazing to be able to see and share these experiences with you guys. I hope that through my words and photos you guys are able to get a taste of what it is like here in South America and other places that I will venture to. I appreciate each and every one of you for reading, sharing, commenting and making this dream come true!

Cheers to another adventure.

Stay Wild

-Joe