El Tio, Cerro Rico Mines, Potosi, Bolivia

Thursday, July 05, 2012, 04:00 AM (GMT)

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Potosi is a brutal and unforgiving place for miners. Millions have died in the mines of Cerro Rico (Rich mountain) since silver was discovered there in the 16th century. Above ground miners are Catholic but in the mines they prey to "El Tio", the devil who controls the mines. Whatever faith you have, it is of no use down there. There are hundreds of statues like this one in the mines where miners ask Tio for his blessing and in exchange provide him with coca leaves and alcohol. Despite been one of the world's most dangerous mines, I decided to check it out with ex child miner Pedro of Big Deal Mining Tours. I soon found myself purchasing dynamite from the miners market, drinking 96% vol alcohol, chewing coca leaves, jumping out the way of passing wagons and later staring at this scary thing. The co-operative mines are still in use today and I found myself drinking again soon after with fellow Bolivian miners during my 2 hours in this hell like place. I took some drinks and coca leaves for the miners down there and in general it was a real eye opening experience that I'm glad I did but never want to repeat. Fortunately I saw no children in the sections of the mines I visited but then again I'm probably too big to fit down where they work.

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