It’s not just Polish saying for the place that is distant and forgotten by God.
In Bolivia, in the mines of Potosi, it the most reflects the reality.
In my short journey around this beautiful country I visited the mines ‘ Rosario ‘. It is one of many mines in this region that is rich in zinc and silver.
Dressing up in ‘miners’ outfit I felt the mix of curiosity and fear.
Firstly, because I do not like closed spaces and especially not deep inside of a mountain. To my fear contributed also a warning in the guide 5written in bold letters and emphasized) that ‘ you enter at your own risk ‘. This was secondly. But thirdly curiosity won – and as you know ‘curiosity is the first step to hell’ as proclaims another Polish saying – so trying not to think too much and at my own request I headed to hell for a while.
To hell , because the conditions in the mine are very heavy. Corridors are narrow, forcing one to bend the head and back and sometimes crawling, not mentioning awful smell of gas mixtures. Temperature changes every moment from hot – steamy into the cold .
Miners who work here start aged 15 – 16 – years old and usually live longer than being 50. Being in such conditions and hard work (often carrying the resources on his back due to lack of infrastructure) quickly take their toll. And another huge enemy is lung disease.
Rosario has about 16,000 miners and ‘ available ‘ is about 20,000 corridors . Theoretically it is ‘ cooperativ ‘, but only in theory. After five years of ‘training’ (read – working for others) as a helper young miner may ask for its own corridor, where from that moment on he is working for himself. If it turns out that the corridor is rich in resources he can find a helper.
The second analogy to the hell came when I saw the Lord of the Underworld, called here ‘Tio’.
No miner will not start work without paying a visit to ‘Uncle’ ( from Spanish ‘ tio ‘ means ‘ uncle ‘ ) , creature of truly horned apparition and robust penis. Penis is important and ‘solid’, because if the Pachamama (mother earth) is a woman , then someone has to be father to silver and zinc. In this case it is Tio .
Tio for ‘good morning’ gets some coca leaves, cigarettes and a bit of vodka (humble 98 percent of spiritus). A little bit, because the rest goes for miners, especially on Fridays. Vodka is also topped on his penis to ensure good harvests. Sometimes the more zealous miner leave dried fetus of a baby lama. For special requests. Going to the church on Sundays is one thing, but Tio is a Tio and also get what belongs to him.
Interestingly Tio (the name comes from ‘ Dios ‘ or’ god ‘, which is the local people could not pronounce properly and instead said ‘ Tius ‘ and thus had a short way to ‘ Tio ) invented by Spanish colonizers in an effort to control the underground workers without having to enter the mine.
The uncles sit in different corridors and scare visitors like me. And even though I was forced to tell him ‘ good morning ‘ I even more willing said ‘ goodbye ‘ gratefully welcoming the daylight again.