Mining – among South America’s, and the world’s worst jobs. Miners usually die of silicosis after ten to twenty years of working in the mines. Others, in accidents. However, in the highest city in the world, Potosi, there are few other job alternatives, as the mines are the economy of the city.
Arriving to the mines. Putting on my helmet, boots and rainwear. Walking into the mountain that eats men.
Here far inside the mountain, more than 4000 meters above sea level, around 28,000 miners work daily in shockingly bad conditions. However, this job is well paid to be in Bolivia, due to the risk it involves. This attracts many teenage boys and men to embrace the risky lives of the Potosi miners. Some say that they do it because it is necessary for feed their families. Others, because they have dream of richness.
Nevertheless, as already stated this is not a safe job. Few miners live above the age of 40, usually dying of silicosis. Yearly, around 35 miners die of accidents. Mostly from gas explosions or falling rocks. In addition there is always the risk that the whole shaft collapses trapping miners underground. It is believed that within the next 50 years, the entire mountain will cave in, due to the extent of mining that has taken place over the past five centuries. Working as a miners, therefore gets more dangerous every year. Some mothers even saying that is better to kill the children that to send them to the mines.
That being said, there is someone there to protect them. The God of the miners – El Tio – The Devil. If they just give enough offerings. Being generous, offering cigarettes, alcohol, coca leaves, the miners strongly believe they will be kept safe from accidents and given quality minerals. It is also claimed that some miners even offer their first born baby boy to El Tio, to receive in return protection inside the mines.
The miners saying they try not to think about death, but rather work. In addition, it helps chewing coca leaves, for manage to work longer shifts and without food.
Feeling a little bit scared and claustrophobic inside the cold, dark, and dusty mines. After around one hour, we walked out the same small tunnel we came in, with electrical wires just a few centimeters above our heads. Relieved to be leaving this deadly mountain safe and in good condition. Knowing that that many before and after me, were and will not be as lucky. As this mountain eats men.