We left the hacienda after breakfast and returned to Potosi once more. There was a convent tour organized as well as a trip to the silver mine. It was a sunny, bright morning as we walked into the convent. The guide was busy taking two French girls on the tour. As soon as I saw the courtyard and the collection of cacti, I was more interested in photographing the cactus than going on the tour. Eventually, we followed the guide and the girls and Paola explained everything to me in English. Here are a few details about the convent:
The Saint Theresa convent was built in 1685 and is still home to a small community of Carmelite nuns who have restored the building and converted part of it into a museum. The Carmelite Convent of St. Theresa is where the second daughters of the wealthy Potosi elite were sent, aged 15, to live in ascetic conditions. There were only occasional family visits but never face to face. Once in, never out! The nuns never saw the outside nor any other people besides the other nuns. Most of the day was spent in silence with only one hour of being allowed to talk. It seemed pretty harsh to me. The nuns spent their time praying and making jams and jellies and things to eat to sell to the people. The nuns were even buried within the building. Only 21 nuns were there at any one time. No one could be admitted unless another nun died. The families had to donate large sums and expensive artifacts in order for their child to be admitted.
There are several fine art pieces, including works by Melchor Perez de Holguin, Bolivia’s most famous painter. There is one room with many painted wooden Christs. Each room is well preserved – locked and then unlocked by the guide. The building itself is impressive as many of the works of art were paid for by the dowries given for the privilege of entering the convent. Although, the idea of touring a convent was not that appealing, it did provide an interesting glimpse into the cloistered world that only changed character in the 1960s with the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
We finished the convent tour and made our way through the city to the silver mine. The area we passed through was generally where the workers lived. The streets were narrow and choked with traffic, the roads were dusty and this part of town had lots of small shops, kiosks and street venders. The longer we drove, the higher we went. We finally came to the mining area and at one point had to get out of the car to get closer to the mine.
Just a bit of history about the mine -today, after nearly 500 years of constant mining for the silver, tin and zinc that funded the Spanish empire and shaped Bolivia’s economic fortunes, Cerro Rico’s bones are weakened, and its iconic peak is caving in. Now the race is on to reinforce the mountaintop and save this national monument through a government-funded $2.4 million fill-in project. The urgency is doubled because Cerro Rico is not just a testament to Bolivia’s history — it is also a maze of working mines that employ 15,000 miners, generating revenue that supports.
Named a UNESCO world heritage site in 1987, along with the city of Potosi, the mountain’s unmistakable form appears on Bolivia’s currency and the national shield. It represents a history of tremendous wealth but also of the suffering of indigenous people and enslaved Africans who died mining it, earning Cerro Rico the title “the Mountain That Eats Men.”
The rain clouds were rolling in as we left the mining area. We had a short trip to the market but it was rather empty as not much going on in the afternoon. One Indigenous lady held up her broom like she was going to hit me when she saw my camera. I wasn’t even going to take her photo. There was one area that Paola said was a local salad bar so I took a few photos.
We walked from there to the park where there were lots of venders selling clothes. All of a sudden there was a huge bolt of lightening. Wish I had taken a photo. Never saw such a huge bolt and so close. A few more lightening bolts and it started to rain. Of course, I didn’t have my umbrella but I was more worried about my camera than myself. We waited in a nearby store until the driver found us. We jumped into the van and returned to the hacienda. It stopped raining just as we left Potosi.