We spent the day in the mining town of Potasi. A proper experience in Potosi involves a tour of the mines which are in use all the time. First of all, it is custom to go to the miners market and buy presents for the miners. So we bought all the essentials – Coca leaves, cigarettes, and dynamite! I have a million things to say about Coca leaves now but I'll save it for later. Basically it is tradition for these miners not to eat all day and only suck on coca leaves which supposedly replaces the need for food, rest and a bunch of other things. It is eventually disastrous to their health (even if not refined into Cocaine) but the average lifespan of a miner here is 35 years anyway so they don't care.
We got all suited up in our mining garb including bright yellow clothes and helmet with light. The miners used every primitive method in the book – pickaxes, shovels, wheelbarrows etc… They mine tin, silver, and zinc ore to name a few. We crawled through tunnels for a few hours talking with miners (they really only wanted the coca leaves though to add to their cheek wad). We had a good talk with our guide after noticing a huge Satan statue in one corridor of the mine. 95% of the miners live an interesting life. When above ground they are Catholic (nominally) and when they are down underground (devil's domain) they worship Satan and offer him coca and alcohol in exchange for good finds in the mine (they occasionally participate in llama or child sacrifice too). There are many examples of syncratism around these countries, stemming from colonial times. Probably the highlight of our visit was exploding some dynamite. We piled rocks on top of this and ran far enough away to see the explosion. It was way bigger than we expected and I got hit in the chest with a huge rock fragment projectile!
Well after we went to the mine we head off to the hot spring we heard were near by. We caught a bus about 10 km outside of Potosi and asked the driver to drop us off at the Hot Springs. He then proceeded to drop us off at the side of the road and pointed up this mountain and told us to hike the rest of the way. Excited that we would get to work for this reward of a hot bath we headed up to the top. When we reached the top we saw this big pool of water that had all sorts of floaties in it and it was lukewarm at best. After agreeing that it wouldn't be worth the enjoyment we continued on. We found some smaller pools but they were not deep at all but no floaties just bubbles coming up from the mud. We were about to dig ourselves each a hole and get in when a guy told us that the real Hot Springs were up the hill more. Wow! I am glad we met him because it would have been sad to miss out. At the top was a small lake with the most amazing scenery around it. It was really warm so we bargained down the prices to get in and then grabbed the complimentary tire tubes and jumped in.
After 45 minutes of the amazing experience we were off to catch a bus back to Potosi. We were in a rush because we knew there were only one or two more buses that would leave to Potosi that night and we had a bus to catch in Potosi that would take us to Uyuni. After waiting for about 1hr hour on the road trying to catch a bus and then it being full we thought all hope of us making it to catch our bus was lost. The big guy came through though, just in time too. We caught a bus packed it right full and made it into Potosi. Our bus left at 7.30 pm and we got to the city at that time. We made a mad dash running as fast as we could in this oxygen poor altitude.
Somewhere along the way we lost Kevin and I lost my underwear that I was trying to dry from the Hot Springs. I took of in the lead and found the place our bags were stored and our tickets were purchased and grabbed our bags and head to the bus that was very anxious to leave. Steve followed and then we realized that Kevin was gone so I took off back tracking to find Kevin. In the process I took a short cut through a grass area and was tripped by a strategically place barb wire fence that for some reason they put around there grass areas. After checking the wounds on my leg, making sure they weren't that bad I continued in pursuit of Kevin with my sandals in hand. I found him and we raced back to the bus just in time because the bus was going to leave without us but Steve was pleading with them to wait. We got to the bus and Kevin just dropped to the floor in the bus and the locals started laughing. We sat down and caught our breath and then Steve pulled out supper which he some how managed to buy on the way.