Bolivia, the underground mines of Potosì
We are in Bolivia, in Potosì, the country that, together with Paraguay, represents the poorest in the second world, South America. Here, in spite of this, there is an inexplicable energy: on the streets, among the people and even underground. You would never imagine being able to live whole days without seeing the light of the sun, breathing toxic dust, making only one meal a day, going from 40 degrees to zero in a few minutes and slipping into narrow tunnels hundreds of meters below the ground with a whole mountain with holes in it a gruyère on the head?
In Potosì, for generations, mining work has been the main use and has been handed down from father to son as if it were an art.
A miner is a true entrepreneur of himself, he pays an annual concession to a cooperative for the use of the mine and all he finds is his except for another 15% that he leaves each month to the latter.
The miners are divided into 2 categories: those who find the vein of minerals, make a fortune and consequently in addition to buying a house and a car, they are able to improve their working standards (trivially, they can get oxygen tubes into their excavation area or use modern tools for mineral extraction) and those who do not make a fortune and continue to live in poverty and work with methods that date back to the 1600s. The 2 categories share the same fate: to live no more than 50 55 years.
We went down into the Cerro Rico active mine accompanied by former miners (ex only because they were hit by serious accidents that although they spared their lives, they no longer allowed them to continue their work) to touch art, difficulties and devotion of those who come down to work underground.
Just like a miner does every morning, we stopped to buy a stick of dynamite for 20 bolivianos (about $ 3) and stock up on coca leaves (the miners chew up to 300 a day, about 25 times more are used to make Bolivians, not to feel hunger, thirst, sleep, fatigue).
We have witnessed their preparation: before going underground, they spend a few tens of minutes in total silence, thinking only of what they will have to do once in the mine, a sort of mental and spiritual retreat.
Already a few meters from the entrance we were attacked by dust that made breathing almost impossible, we walked on all fours going down tunnels from which we could hardly pass, all with the temperature increasing and the oxygen decreasing. Some of us have had to go back and those who have remained have done some psychological work on themselves … yet they are the heroes who live it every day.
The mine is a sacred place, the miner worships 2 deities: the Pachamama (mother earth) and El Tio (the lord of the subsoil, companion of Pachamama).
Both deities must be honored. Since the mine is a place devoid of all life, the Pachamama is celebrated once a year with a real feast that takes place underground. On this occasion the mine is embellished with flower petals and colorful festoons with the sole aim of making it beautiful, alive and fertile so that it can return gifts.