Our visit to the Cerro Rico Mines was an eye-opening experience
Before entering the mines we stopped at a quiet street in Potosi where we picked up our protective gear and got to explore the mining supplies shops and market stalls. Here we bought some gifts to take to the miners we would be visiting. We bought a mixture of things, food, drink fizzy pop and liquor (almost 100% proof alcohol), coca leaves and explosives. We were told that these were the things the miners would most appreciate.
After this brief we made our way up Cerro Rico mountain by bus until we reached one of a few thousand entrances to the mine, called Maria. This particular entrance opened in 1956.
Entering the mine is not a pleasant experience, the tunnels have low ceilings, there is very little light and no ventilation (the air is thick with dust).
Inside we met a few miners and we spoke to one called Americo. He has worked in the mine for over 35 years. Last month his son died in a mining accident.
Whilst underground you could feel the mountain shake as the distant booms of controlled explosions filled your ears, this was quite something to experience.
Outside of the mines the mining community is Catholic, however god is left at the door as the miners look to the devil to offer them protection underground.
In each and every mineshaft there is a statue of El Tio “The Devil”. Here the miners make offerings of alcohol, coca, cigarettes, llama blood and other ritualistic items in return for his goodwill, his guarantee of good health, fortune and safety in the mines.