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At >4000m altitude

Potosí

sunny 23 °C
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When I got to Potosí, I was hoping not to have too many problems with the altitude because I had heard of many people having bad headaches, feeling sick or having nosebleeds when they first got to this altitude. Luckily, except for the normal being out of breath when walking fast or uphill, I had no symptoms of altitude sickness whatsoever. Great, so I could fully enjoy my time in this city.

Like most people, I planned to go visit the mines in Potosí. When I went to the tour agency however, I found out there was a local ‘fiesta’ on that week in the small village of Macha. The ‘Fiesta de la Santa Cruz’ or ‘Tinku’. The tour guide convinced me to go there first and then to the mines the day after. This was a great choice since I had a really interesting day in Macha.

We set off at 5 in the morning on the 4 hours bus ride with a bus full with people (there were around 30 of us) to the village in the countryside. On the way we stopped to eat a traditional Bolivian breakfast, meaning soup. It was really good and warmed us up after the cold outside and on the bus.

Driving on, we already spotted some groups of indigenous people in their costumes walking towards the village of Macha, dancing, playing music and fighting along the way.

Arriving in Macha, we first had to buy a pass to be allowed to take photos of the festivities. We then spent the day watching the locals dance, play music, get very drunk, and - most importantly - fight. That is what the festival is mainly about: people from different villages or areas fight against each other, either one-on-one or between the whole groups. When not fighting, the villages try to beat each other by playing music better, having nicer costumes or dancing better. It is basically a fight between villages the whole day. Very aggressive, but very interesting as well.
Macha

Macha

Macha

Macha

Macha

Macha

Macha

Macha

When the fights become too aggressive, the police needs to step in and the only way they seem to think to stop the fights is by throwing tear gas into the crowd. After the first time this happening, some of us escaped to the top of a church tower and we observed what was happening below from a safe distance for a while. However, during the day, most people got their share of tear gas, which was not the most pleasant experience: runny eyes and nose, aching throat, stomach pain, feeling sick. Even while we were having lunch, tear gas was thrown outside and the fumes entered the restaurant. Most of us managed to escape to the restaurant’s back garden on time, so that I only got stinging eyes for example. However, the ones sat closer to the front door were not so lucky…

Later in the afternoon, when people started getting too drunk, the guides brought us into a chichería, a place where they serve chichi and other drinks. Chicha is the local traditional drink which is made by fermenting maize. It does not have a very high alcohol content (we were told about 2-3%), but it does not taste very nice either; at least for me it war far too acidic.

On the drive back, after we had stopped for dinner (having had the third soup of the day as a starter…), the guides came around with bottles of the famous 96% alcohol. Luckily, it was mixed with lemonade and so it was actually quite nice. Only 5 of us stayed awake during the whole bus ride though, so we got most of the drink ;-)

The next morning, I joined the same guides to visit the mines of Potosí. Most people in the group had been to Macha the day before, so we almost all knew each other. Funnily, one of the only 2 people who had not been on the tour the day before, I already knew from Santiago.

First, we went to get our protective clothes, rubber boots, helmets, headlamps… When we were all set to go, we went to the miners’ market, where we bought coca leaves, soft drinks and dynamite as presents for the miners. Then we visited the refinery where we could see how the silver is extracted.
96% acohol

96% alcohol

Cerro Rico

Cerro Rico

view of Potosí from the way to the mines

view of Potosí from the way to the mines

After all this, we finally drove up to the mines. I was a bit nervous of going into the mines. I had heard that you walk/crawl through very narrow and dark tunnels and that it is hard to breathe sometimes. This all turned out being true, we had to pass very narrow tunnels, and in some lower levels it was hard to breathe or sometimes it was so dusty that the dust hurt your throat.. However, none of this was much of a problem and I enjoyed the visit of the mine. We saw different parts of the mine, met miners at work, went to see the Tio, the god (or rather devil) of the mine and even heard a nearby dynamite explosion. It is interesting to see the mines, the miners and hear something about their lives as well. I was happy to get out though and not have to enter the dark dusty mine every day like the miners do. Another great experience!
At the entrance of the mine - in my great outfit ;-)

At the entrance of the mine - in my great outfit ;-)

In the dark tunnels of the mine

In the dark tunnels of the mine

Tio

Tio

Our mines tour group

Our mines tour group

Posted by sarahm_lux 21:19 Archived in Bolivia Tagged bolivia mine sucre macha tinku Comments (0)

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