Leaving La Paz tonight and heading to Potosi. Am hugely looking forward to seeing the mines, but I have just been talking to a couple who were there and they said that they are full of dust and vapours.
I am just over a nasty chest infection and I REALLY dont want to get sick again. Can anyone confirm this info, and if so do the tour companies provide protective masks?
Any help appreciated!
As you already know, I can't confirm that information, as I have never been there. I do suggest, if you decide to visit the mines, visit the local pharmacy or even hardware store (if one exists where you are) and pick up the "surgical" masks they sell. They usually come 3/pack and won't take up much space. (You never know when the remaining 2 may come in handy...) They sell them in the paint and/or wood-working section of the hardware store, and (usually) near the allergy meds aisle of the pharmacy. If you don't see them - ask!
If you get there, find they don't provide protective equipment, you are ready to go anyway. Right now, the last thing you need to do is to compromise your lungs. La Paz should be large enough to have a shop that carries the masks. Try the pharmacy first. (Besides, if you draw little designs or faces on the mask - it will be next season's fashion statement for backpackers! )
[ Edit: Someday, I'll learn to type! ]
How's the trip going, you must have been away for a while now?
I visited the Potosi mines a few years ago and must say that it was one of the most profoundly moving experiences of my life. In many ways it is like going back in time to a medieval vision of hell on earth - the primitive, basic working conditions, the heat, dust and yes fumes. Witnessing people (including young children) working in these conditions was truly humbling.
From what I remember they don't give out masks (I think I had to make do with my scarf wrapped around my face). Definitely try and get hold of one if you can.
As you descend deeper into the tunnels this is where the atmosphere gets more polluted. You also have to negotiate some pretty rickety wooden ladders as you go.
The miners themselves seem genuinely pleased to meet you. I think they are glad to be able to tell their story. Of course the gifts of Coca leaves, Alcohol and dynamite also helps!
All the best
I was there 5 months ago evelyn, and can also confirm that
1. The fumes are strong. Most miners dont last more than 10 years in the mine due to respitory problems, if death doesnt catch them first.
2. Masks are not provided. At least not by the company I went with, or any other co. there that day.
That said, it is worth the effort to see the lengths which others have to go to to put food on the table. I left there with a new found respect for the silver ring on my finger. Enjoy Bolivia !!