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The Land Down Under: The Silver Mines of Cerro Rico

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My Name is Chin Chin and I'll be your guide today
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"How low can you go?" I thought as I joined a group of travelers heading down two kilometers into the earth's interior on an exploration of las minas cooperativas (the cooperative mines). These are the silver mines inside the Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain), the hills overlooking the city of Potosi, Bolivia.

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You get to keep 80% of all the silver you scrape out of this dirt.
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What would you pack if you were heading into a mine, hoping to find the glitter of some silver?

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You could be doing this for 12 hours a day
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In order to prepare for our journey "down under," we bought supplies of coca leaves, cigarettes, alcohol, sticks of dynamite, fuses, and flammable (easily burned) material for the headlamps. Next, we had to make sure we had the right gear: chaquetas (jackets), botas (boots), cascos (hard hats), and lamparas (lamps). No way was I going into that unforgiving, scary hole in the earth without being fully prepared! Finally, we started on our way down, and inched our way through the pitch-black passageways, breathing stale air, feeling our boots sink into the mud, and trying not to bang our heads against rock outcroppings and timber beams. We used the light of our lamparas to guide the way. We all started singing the theme song to the "Indiana Jones" movies, "tan de da-ta, tan de da... "

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Don't forget to make an offering to El Tio, The Lord of silver
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In one of the tunnels, we came across two workers chipping away with hand tools, with whom we left a bag full of cocoa leaves. As Fernando, our guide, explained, "The miners use coca because it helps them not feel tired." As they work their 12 hour shifts they only chew cocoa leaves, because it's mala suerte (bad luck) to eat anything for lunch. (Geez, I know I would get hungry for a Snickers bar or something!) We continued to pass other miners working, shoveling wheelbarrows full of mineral-rich earth and carting them to the surface, carefully making channels in the rock, lifting heavy buckets of stones with their own arms, and sweating in the damp, stale air.

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I prefer to see silver here than 2 kilometers below the ground
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No food all day and breaking up rocks was definitely not for me, but I definitely gained a new respect for the miners of the Cerro Rico after my journey down under. Once I reached the surface I bought a silver ring to remind me of the life and times of las minas cooperativas (the cooperative mines).

Monica

Kavitha- Get Political, Go To Jail!

 
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