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From La Paz we travelled to Potosi, formerly Latin America's richest city when veins of silver were discovered 300 years ago up to 2 metres thick. Now Potosi is Bolivia's poorest city as the silver has all but run out and the remaining 12,000 miners dig for zinc, copper and other less precious metals. The history of the mines is horrific, with predictably poor conditions that have resulted in the deaths of over 8,000,000 miners since they were opened, not to mention those that died of lung disease and other complications afterwards. Life expectancy remains at around 10 years after entering the mines - not a long life when many miners start in their early teens. With friends Sharon and Lance I headed down the mines - but not before we bought and exploded some dynamite and TNT.

Potosi mining town man mine working extreme conditions hard life Bolvia

In Potosi itself is the former mint. Generations of machinery used to produce silver coins for the Spanish crown are in excellent condition giving some interesting insight into the production methods. The image below shows the original mule-driven wooden wheels used to mint the original machine-made coins. Other areas of the complex had stead-driven and electric coin production as the mint modernised over the centuries.