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A Rich Past and a Present Struggle

Potosí, BoliviaAfter an unexpected day of freezing temperatures with snow and rain I woke up today with a clear blue sky and warmish temperatures. Such is the weather when your 4000 meters up in one of the highest cities in the world. Potosí itself is a pleasant city, however, with a look around one can [...]

Potosí, Bolivia

After an unexpected day of freezing temperatures with snow and rain I woke up today with a clear blue sky and warmish temperatures. Such is the weather when your 4000 meters up in one of the highest cities in the world. Potosí itself is a pleasant city, however, with a look around one can see that the city is past its prime with a present struggle to maintain its former glory. The cities struggle to maintain itself reminds me of the American rust-belt cities today. Once upon a time Potosí was one of the largest and richest cities in the world. The city’s wealth was derived from the large silver deposits in the mountain, Cerro Rico, that hovers over the city. So large were the deposits the mountain bankrolled the Spanish economy for 200 years between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. Once the worlds mint Bolivia now relies on Canada, France and Chile to mint it’s money.


The ‘rich hill’ today is mostly depleted but miners are still in there hammering, chiseling and blasting away. It has also become the cities main tourist attraction. Tourist agencies are eager to take willing travelers several hundred feet into the mountain to crawl and sweat through narrow passageways while breathing in noxious gasses and asbestos. After you sign a waiver releasing the agency from any liability of injury or death of course.

The waivers are there for good reason since a majority of miners die within ten to fifteen years of entering the mines. The miners say the devil lives in the mountain and have erected small devil statues throughout and offer prayers and gifts to him to spare their lives. The average starting salary for almost certain death from mining is 80 Bolivianos a day (about $11.50). And here lies the reason why I couldn’t bring myself to go on the tour. It just doesn’t feel right supporting tourist agencies that are profiting off of some of the worst mining practices in the world today. To top it off the idea that tourists are supposed to bring miners gifts of coca leaves (to suppress hunger while working), cigarettes or alcohol doesn’t help the situation. Granted, you can bring them juice, dynamite or shoes as well.

From Potosi 2001-05
Cerro Rico overlooking Potosí.

Not interested in the tour I did have an interest in the Money Museum (supposedly one of South Americas best museums) and the miners market. The museum was…meh, just another museum. The miners market? I wish I knew. Halfway to the market my flip flop broke so I turned back. My main reason for going was really just to see and believe that anyone could walk up and purchase as many sticks of dynamite and detonators as they chose. I guess I’ll just believe it without seeing it.

A few photos of Potosi



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Filed under: Bolivia, Cubicle Ditcher

About the Author:

Sam Langley left a comfortable and profitable job with an insurance company in the USA to travel the world. He has been going for years, and has not stopped yet. Keep up with his travels on his blog at Cubicle Ditcher. has written 147 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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