Potosi – A Rich Mountain and Day of the Dead

Potosí is a city and the capital of the department of Potosí in Bolivia. It is one of the highest cities in the world by elevation at a nominal 4,090 metres (13,420 ft).  For centuries, it was the location of the Spanish colonial mint.

Potosi, the mountain town, is why the Spanish invaded Bolivia. The Spanish were looking for riches, and one night while sleeping on the ground at high altitude, they built fires to keep themselves warm. In the morning, they put out the fires and noticed a liquid at the base of the fire (silver). This mine has been mined for silver for nearly 450 years, and our guide tells us that a bridge could be built from Bolivia to Spain with the silver taken by the Spanish. We went into the mine, with a Quencha woman, who explained the miners have a strong belief in the old god, Mother Earth Pachamama, who protects them. Pachamama is given tributes daily from all who enter her domain, this includes us. So we walk into the mine, and saw the veins of silver still running thru the rock, the small ore carts that bring the ore to the staging area where it is graded and the horrible conditions that the miners work in. Of course we had to pay the tribute to Pachamama, but did not manage to chew any coco leaves.

The mine was very quiet that day. It was an extended holiday in Bolivia, celebrating the Day of the Dead. Halloween, All Saints and All Souls. (October 31, Nov 1 and Nov 2, respectively) All Souls has an ancient tradition among indigenous people here, where they spend the day in the cemetery visiting with those who have pre-deceased them. It involves flowers, and food, and of course, music. We went to one of the town cemeteries, where approximately a thousand people people were milling around. In their family crypt, visiting with relatives — some families had food, others sponsored bands to play music. It was not festive, but rather like a giant family reunion, and including previous generations. For those families with a recent passing, (since last years day of the dead) they would place a small alter in their home and light candles and pay tribute their recent loss. We saw a couple of these, but felt awkward taking photos.