December 18, 2011 - 10:00 PM
Majority of the group that was on the Salar de Uyuni trip has stayed and traveled on together. We are tourists from all over the world. I am the youngest and we all are getting along great. It's amazing how fast a small group can transform from strangers to family. Our first stop was Potosí. Potosí is one of the highest cities in the whole world. I experienced some altitude sickness in Uyuni which helped prepared me for the elevation there. I haven't heard the best things about Potosí. Many people say that it's "dirty with not much to see". Surprisingly, it was actually one of my favorite cities I have seen in South America. It feels very authentic to me and I never saw any other tourists. I am drawn to things that are different from what I am used to and Potosi was not like any other city I have ever travelled to. Potosí is known for their mines. Years ago they were once one of the richest cities in the world, but unfortunately it seems they have been extremely exploited and keep the mines open because they have no other option. We went on a very authentic mine tour which was by far the most intense thing I have witness in my whole life. You always hear about the horrible working conditions of mines and sweat shops, but it's a whole different thing to see the poor circumstances and exploitation right in front of your eyes. The mines were scary, hot, smelly, and very hard to breathe in due to lack of oxygen. Our tour started with ten people and ended with only four because so many people quit after the first 20 mins. As badly as I wanted to not continue, I would have felt too shameful knowing that people have to do this every day for 18 hours while I only had to suffer through 2 hours. You could tell that the tour itself wasn't very safe because there were moments of panic where we had to run and they were screaming because a 2 ton trolley was headed our direction and couldn't stop. The mines were very tight and it was apparent that there wasn't room for us in there and we would be helpless if there was an emergency. Even though the time spent below was nerve racking and slightly miserable it was also humbling and we were all left feeling very thankful for the jobs we have back home. There was a 14 year boy working in the mine and I asked him how he started working down there. He shared that his father died in the mine so he had no other option but to take his place. Apparently only 10 years ago the average life expectancy for a miner there was only 2 years. If you took all the bones of worker who have died in the mines you could stretch them from Potosi to Spain.
I feel that the saddest part of the situation is that the workers are literally giving up their lives to make a small income, yet those minerals are transported overseas and the companies make billions. The discussion of these types of situations of different types of exploitation in low income countries often come up in my International Studies courses. It's always debate of whether these working conditions should be abolished because they are unethical; however, the other argument refutes that if you take these mines or sweatshops away then they won't have any way to get money flowing into their country. So, simply shutting down these factories or mines may only end up causing more damage to an already extremely poor country. However, I don't think that this type of argument justifies the exploitation that is occurring. I am not sure how to fully resolve this problem, but it is something I want to explore more. Going to these mines personally confirmed that I want to have a career helping find a solution this type of issue.