A Closer Look at Cerro Rico: Bolivia’s Mountain That Eats Men

Cerro Rico rises above the city of Potosi.

This was absolutely, without a doubt, the most dangerous place we’ve ever been. And probably the most dangerous thing we’ve ever done. In fact, we didn’t have time to mention it in the episode but we came closer to dying while walking through Bolivia’s Cerro Rico mountain than we’ve probably ever come before. It was a close call that we’ll have to tell you about sometime. The thought of how close we came to dying still wakes us up at night sometimes.

But that’ll help go to show you how incredibly dangerous the mines on Cerro Rico are, and how incredibly brave, proud and dedicated the folks who work the mines are.

Indeed, Cerro Rico, which rises up above the city of Potosi, is known locally and now around the world as “the mountain that eats men.” And for good reason. Depending on what you read and who you talk to, the number of people who have been killed inside the mountain over the centuries ranges anywhere from a couple hundred thousand to eight million. In either case, suffice it to say that Cerro Rico’s reputation is well deserved. And it’s fascinating to meet the men and women who continue to work the mines, and watch them work for hours on end in a place where there are literally no safety controls of any kind. Want to mine your own silver on Cerro Rico? Go for it. Buy your own dynamite, walk right up there and get busy. Just don’t expect you’ll be lucky enough to walk back out.

The folks who work both inside and outside the mines are well aware of the danger – it’s a safe bet that every person there has lost a friend or family member to the mines, or certainly knows someone who has. Still, the folks in Potosi are extremely proud of what they do, especially considering that most of the miners in Potosi have been likely working the mines since they were kids, just as countless generations of folks here have done, since mining began on Cerro Rico back in the 1500s.

There’s a lot to know and learn about Cerro Rico and its history, more than we can adequately sum up here. So! We’ve come up with a couple of links to follow, so that you can read and learn more about the mines and really appreciate the full scope of what Cerro Rico is, and how it all works. And we’ve thrown in a couple of photos down below as well. So we hope you’ll take a sec to check them out! Here are some good places to start:

Wikipedia: Cerro Rico

Cerro Rico: the Mountain that Eats Men (from NPR)

Cerro Rico: the Toll on the Miners (from the Washington Post)

Cerro Rico: Could the Whole Mountain Collapse? (from The Guardian)

City of Potosi: a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Cheers guys. Thanks as always for watching and reading!

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