Cerro Rico: A mountain coins a city.
As teenagers we read Eduardo Galeano's book "The open veins of Latin America" and since then I have been pondering about the destiny of this peculiar city in the mountains. Already the Incas gathered silver here in a gentle ecological way. The efficient Spanish conquerers, thorough Europeans, made it better: Thousands, many thousands of Indios were dragged into the holes of the, Cerro Rico (quetch. sumaq urqu) in order to perforate it like a sponge. Working conditions were devastating, the life time expectancy of a minero after starting his work amounted to just six months. After that he usually remained within the mountain, since the transportation of the many corpses proved to be too laborious in the long run. More than a million workers were devoured by the mountain (Eduardo Galeano estimates even 8 million).
The scraped out silver made Potosí for a short time the worlds richest city. For the upper class colonialists it must have been an unbelievable Dolce Vita: Russian caviar, Moulin Rouge girls from Paris, Swiss cheese, Greek wine: An inaccessible Bolivian village in the dry, infertile mountains close to the desert becomes the center of the world and with 200,000 inhabitants bigger than London or Paris at that time. 70,000 tons of silver continued to flow within 400 years to Spain and from there in form of "dolares" (Talern) into the bags of the Fugger family in Augsburg, which a few years earlier had benevolently financed the ascent of the emperor Charles the fifth.
And then suddenly stop, curfew hour. Mountain empty, the party is over, the Spanish go home and only a few coca-chewing indigenas are left behind, scraping around in the dark holes, attempting with or without success to stay alive.
Nowadays it looks little better. Tourists walk around and with improved mining methods tin, some rare minerals and silver again can be gained. But it is still all hard manual labour under very bad conditions, not a modern industrial area. And still deep within the mountain, just as it used to be for hundreds of years, the Tio, a kind of devilish goblin watches over the fate of the miners.
Ascent over the south side of the mountain, opposite to the town.
Summit at 4760 m. A few antennas stick out on top connected to an impenetrable cable-jumble. Even a little house is built here. The antenna attendant lives here, greets friendly, a little absentminded, perhaps shaped by his lonely life...
Directly below the hut in the slope I build myself a launch. Delicate terrain, only a couple of steps to go, everything in the rubble. Since I want to minimize risk I spend a whole hour with placing the paraglider for its start. Each line is layed down individually and the sail is fastened along its edges with stone weights because of the strong wind. The start works out rather perfect. The wind in air is even stronger than expected and after a few rounds later I am gliding 100 m above the mountain.
Look back. An enormous termite hill with thousands of unordered veines and underneath it goes eight floors deeper down into the earth...
closer look ...
Almost an hour after the landing ... place still crowded
From the diary:
"The landing causes the largest welcome party of all my journey. Pushing and pulling on the soccer place, hundreds on the surrounding walls. The gringo that dropped down from the sky. Unfortunately they walk completely careless over the paraglider. Hundreds of little hands that have to touch the sail and the gringo that belongs to it, hundreds of questions, and beaming faces...."
"I am right away invited into a house to the All Souls Day celebrations. This is quite a big celebration here. All members of the family that died in the course of this year are bid farewell on this special day. In the house where I am invited to it is the grandmother."
"At the entrance into the inner court hangs a black ribbon above the door, indication for all passers by that you may visit and mourn here. A shrine, consisting of the picture of the deceased, decorated by innumerable flowers is placed in the center of the room. The main thing however is an unbelievable quantity of Chicha (maize beer), Cañazo (cane liquor), and other inspiring beverages. Naturally only for men. Besides that there are piles of Tanta Wawas = bread children, little human like figures made of dough.
"The principal occupation of the men is Rayuela, a kind boule game with coins. From six meters distance they throw coins on a goal. The losers have to kneel down and drink a glass of Cañazo at each meter. without using their hands. Since this is played all day long, it is not too surprising that nobody walks straight anymore in the streets, except for the women of course. I make a couple of throws as well, turn out to be quite a miserable shot, but the alcohol punishment doesn't apply to gringos, I am already tipsy by the welcome drinks..."
Entrance into the magic mountain...
They are waiting for you inside...
Like all tourists he shows me the statues of the red and white Tio, a figure similar to our devil, with horns and gleaming eyes, the supay. That is worshipped by all mineros . But the affectionate name "Tio" (uncle) actually comes from a transmogrification of "Dios" = god, and in fact his character is not really satanical. But this creature of the underworld, that gets everyday a load of sacrifices (mostly alcohol and coca leaves) and which is one of the many lovers of the beautiful Pachamama, the big mother of the indian earth, such a creature may not be called by the name of the Christian God. It is again a bizarre mixture of all different kinds of religions that is preserved and maintained here. In any case nothing that would really please Jean Paul, if he'd know about it.
The beautiful Pachamama by the way found its reincarnation in the virgin Maria, which is why, apart from spanish traditions, the Lady Day, the Maria worship is so full of magnificent splendour here in the sierra.