This experience got me on a spiritual level.
It all started when traveling through Bolivia. After talking to a guy who was very excited about visiting a silver mine in the country I got curious. At that time I was traveling with a friend and we figured that we could make a detour to Potosi – to visit and learn about mines and minerals.
Eventually, we arrived in the town of Potosi on January 27.. it was night already. Since there is not much to see other than the mines we only planned for one night. Anyway, we were pretty tired when we finally found accommodation. We definitely needed to sleep in.. so we thought about taking an afternoon tour to the mines (usually, there are tours in the mornings as well as in the afternoons). However, there was something happening the next day that we weren’t aware of.
No mine tours today in Potosi!
When we finally got up in the morning we went to the reception and asked about tours to the mines that afternoon. It was when they told us that it would not be possible that afternoon because the people in the mines are celebrating a special day. We – my friend and I as well as a girl that we met who was in the same situation as we were – were disappointed.. Obviously.. it was basically the only reason we came to this town.. and we already had our bus tickets to leave town the same day.
El dia del tio
We didn’t accept the „no“ yet – so we looked up some companies which offer the mine tours in Potosi.. to pass by their offices in person. However, when we passed the offices most of them were already closed. But then, we found one which wasn’t. Although, the guy literally was about to close his office when we walked in. „I’m closing“, he said. Because we insisted he eventually invited us into the office. He as well.. he explained that there are no tours going to the mines that afternoon. Apparently it was „el dia del tio“ – a special day for the workers to celebrate and worship the devil who lives in the mountain. However, the more he talked to us to more excited he got to go himself. He was a former mine worker but hadn’t been in the mines for several years. Against the odds, we actually ended up getting ready right away to go to the mines – all very spontaneous. We were excited.
Get some dynamite – or balloons
We then set up everything, finally closed the office, and followed the guy to a public bus in order to get closer to the mine. Firstly though, we had to go get the clothes, helmets, flashlights, etc. Moreover, when you go in the mountain you are kind of expected to bring a gift to the workers. Generally, you’ll get them dynamite or something else they could use for their work. However, since we expected them to „party“ in the mines our guide told us to bring some alcohol (not like regular but some cheap chemical alcohol), soft drinks, and balloons to decorate the mines.
When we finally arrived at the mine we got excited and our guide who was very tough from the outside got very emotional. Seeing old friends and co-workers as well as hearing different stories made him crack.
Mine in Potosi – here we come
Some workers where getting ready to go back in the mines.. some were already inside. We prepared ourselves to get in there, too. As mentioned, we were three tourists.. 2 guys, 1 girl. Our guide repeated some rules to follow. The girl for example should always be in the middle of the guys. Don’t whistle! As well as some other things.. Heads down.. and ready to enter the mines.
Already after a few dozen meters the mine gets you. It is dark.. it is hot.. sticky air.. I was feeling a quite uncomfortable at first but got used to it step by step. The guy was rushing through the small tunnels. The floor was slippery. Sometimes just enough space to crawl through a hole. I got exhausted quite rapidly due to the guides pace and the sticky air. But you don’t wanna lose him out of sight, so you stick to his heels.
Get ready for the party
We came across different workers until we eventually reached the work place and the group we were aiming for. They had already started decorating the mine with little flags, balloons, etc. After helping to finish decorating the mine we sat down on rocks.. kind of in a circle. It was quiet at first. Not much talking. The guys were just sitting there. Not saying much. Remembering some old stories. Making a joke about this and that. It was nice though joining them and seeing them enjoying each others company. More and more we started talking to each other. They had some interesting stories to share and insights into their lives. We had very interesting conversations with some of the mine workers.. Talking about opportunities of work in town..their children.. etc. One guy told us: „We are not happy working in here. But we are proud to be mine workers!“
God and devil
They also explained to us more in detail what that day was about – „el dia del tio“. It is a very important day to them. All the mine workers i have met were very religious.
Outside the mountain they follow their god, they trust in him. He protects them. But as soon as they go inside the mountain it is not for god anymore to protect them. It is devil. In the mines their lives and success are in devil’s hands. They need to respect him.. worship him. And this day is exactly to do so. By decorating the mine.. By being together.. by praying.. by drinking.
Getting dizzy in the dark
We had started drinking alcohol. No glasses. We used apples instead which were hollowed out. Two apples. Each hand, one drink. We took turns in serving and drinking. It was always the same procedure. One guy had the bottle of alcohol and he served each guy once. The guy whose turn it was to drink had to say a few words. A few words to his colleagues. A few words about the future. Wishing them success. It was very impressive. Beautiful. Amazing. Spiritual. Just unforgettable. The alcohol was pretty strong. And I kind of started absorbing the spirituality lying in the air. It sounds weird.. but the longer I stayed in there (maybe there is also some kind of correlation between this and the alcohol consumed 😉 ) the more I felt connected to the mountain.
Initially, we planned on staying max. 2 hours in the mines since we wanted enough time to get ready for the night bus which we were gonna take. However, taking pictures, talking, drinking.. time flew by and after more than 4 hours we left the mines. Kind of dizzy. But everybody in very good mood. Not only because of the alcohol. All very positive about the future.
It was surreal. This experience got me on a spiritual level.
Some interesting and important things to know before going into the mines:
- Mine workers work in separate groups. They respect other group’s territory.
- Be in good physical condition if you want to go into the mines.
- Claustrophobia is not really an option if you want to go into the mines.
- Pay close attention to the guide and follow his advice.
- Respect the different culture in the mine (for example: under no circumstances you should whistle)
- If you need to pee you let go in a dark corner – you’ll find a lot of them.
- Mine workers don’t do the work to get rich. They don’t earn much. They don’t earn more than other professions. Mostly, it’s their only option.