Into The Silver Mines Of Potosi

My first impression of Bolivia was that of lies and deception. When I first crossed over into the country, from Argentina, I wanted to get on a bus to Potosi as soon as possible.

As I walked up to the bus station, I was approached by a couple of locals who offered to sell me a bus that would be leaving at 5pm. It wasn’t even 1pm at the time, so I asked if there was an earlier option. They told me that 5pm was the earliest, and proceeded to lead me away to buy a ticket from their office.

Then from off to the side I heard another man yell to me that he could offer me a 3pm bus. Again, I asked if there was anything earlier and he told me that 3pm was the earliest option. 3pm sounded better than 5pm, so I walked with him into the terminal and as I arrived at the ticket office, the lady across the hallway said she had a 1pm bus, which I ended up buying.

This experience really got me thinking. These people lie to potential customers in order to make a quick buck, and they think nothing of it. All day, every day they are continually breaking their word and living out of integrity. I felt bad for them because they have no idea that each and every time they break their word, they are adding to a negative habit of living without integrity, which will inevitably take their life on a downward spiral to failure.

I, on the other hand, know how big of a deal this is. One of the books I read years ago that was life changing for me, is called the Slight Edge, by Jeff Olsen. I highly recommend reading it. The book teaches that success is a result of simple, seemingly insignificant, positive actions, repeated over time. Whereas failure is caused by simple, seemingly insignificant, errors in judgment, repeated over time.

Most people are looking for the big breakthrough or the quantum leap to success, but it’s the little actions compounded over time, that make the difference. The little things we do each and every day, that don’t look like they matter, do matter. Without integrating this Slight Edge philosophy into our lives, it doesn’t matter how much we learn because we will never take the necessary action steps to achieve the results we want.

All of the actions that are required for us to have everything we ever want in life are simple and easy to do. While everyone can do them, most won’t. This is because although these things are easy to do, they are also easy not to do. This is because if we don’t do them, we won’t die, go bankrupt or destroy our relationships, today. However, these errors in judgment, repeated over time, will eventually, without a doubt, create these negative results.

If you ate a big mac and immediate fell to the ground with a heart attack, you probably would never eat another big mac again. The problem is that you eat the big mac today and you don’t notice any immediate life changing difference, so you don’t think it’s a big deal. Now that you have taken this action once, it will be easier for you to take the same action again. This error in judgment, repeated over time will lead to poor health and probably an early grave. It’s the same thing with finances, relationships and every other area of life.

Investing 10% of each pay cheque is easy to do and will eventually lead to financial freedom, so why doesn’t everyone do it? So is going to the gym 3 times a week and eating healthy. I think most of us can find the time to read 10 pages of a good self-improvement book each day to, over time, learn everything we need to know to find success. Is it so hard to tell our friends and family how much they mean to us and to follow through on the promises we make to our customers in business?

Most people never get the slight edge working for them because when they start making these positive choices, they don’t see any results right away. The secret is to trust in the process and the power of compounding results.

Typically, during the time that we are putting in all the hard work, nobody else even notices. By the time we start getting positive feedback and praise, and people start to comment on how “lucky” we are, most of the hard work has already long since been done. I experienced this when I implemented this philosophy into my life around 5 years ago, so I know it to be true.

Anyways, back to the story. Potosi was to be a quick stop over, to break up my bus journey between Salta and the Salt Flats. The most common thing to do in Potosi is a tour of the silver mines, which is what I did during my half day in the city. They had us put on a miner’s outfit and equipment before we took off to the mines.

RIMG1907On the way up to the mines, we stopped at a store and the guide told us to buy gifts for the miners. He told us what to buy, which included juice, alcohol, dynamite, coca leaves and cigarettes. Apparently, this allows the tours to continue. The miners are fine with companies operating tours, as long as the tourists are giving them gifts.

I had mixed feelings about this concept. I think it’s good that we are providing the workers with things that they would not be able to afford otherwise. However, it’s hard for me to tell myself that the gifts we gave were all positive, as half of our gifts were cigarettes and alcohol.

RIMG1916 RIMG1917

RIMG1918Our guide was an ex-miner, who was able to leave his past profession and become a tour guide, so I guess the mining tourism did help change his life. He gave us a tour of the tunnels for a few hours. However, I signed up for the Spanish tour for practice, so I didn’t fully understand everything.

This wasn’t like a museum tour at all, where everything is set up on display for tourists. The miners were actually working as we passed by. We would give them some gifts, maybe chat for a minute or two and then they would be back to work. At one point they gave me a shovel and put me to work. I was tired after a few minutes of shovelling rocks, but I didn’t want to stop because I knew that these people did this all day, every day of their life.

RIMG1922We did get a chance to sit and hang out with a few of them. I was surprised by how young some of them were. They must have been no older than 17 or 18 years old already working in the mines. I could tell that none of them saw any bright new future upon the horizon. They saw themselves working in these mines for the rest of their life.

The Bolivian mines are not known to be the safest work environment. Our guide said that the average life expectancy of a miner in Potosi is only 44 years old! He said there had not been any casualties in these mines for the past few years, but I heard differently from other sources in Potosi. The tunnels we were in, seemed to follow safety regulations, however, this was one of the tunnels that they take tourists through on a daily basis. Who knows what the 100’s of other tunnels in the Potosi mines are like?

RIMG1931Overall, this was a very eye opening experiences for me. It’s one of those things that I can hear about back home in Canada, but it doesn’t fully become real until I see it with my own eyes.

For one thing, it made me very grateful for my life and being born into a country of unlimited opportunity. It also gave me a better perspective on the reality of how things really are in some places around the world. I always say that anyone can achieve anything they put their mind to and that everyone should take full responsibility for their life and create the life they want to live.

However, this helped me see that some people in this world do start at a big disadvantage and how the idea of aspiring to achieve more than just earning enough to survive is a foreign thought to these people. As I travel the world and observe the way that some people are forced to live, I continue to believe more and more, that I have a responsibility to make a positive difference in this world and to help those less fortunate than myself.

Road Tripping In Northern Argentina: Salta And It's Surroundings
A Day On The Salt Flats: Salar De Uyuni

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