You don’t often begin a day anticipating holding a real stick of dynamite or drinking 96% vol. alcohol but every now and again those days do come along. Whether they come along with a bang or not I suppose separates the lucky ones from the not so lucky pieces that would inevitably be scattered all over the place. Fortunately I’m able to write this blog with all fingers, toes, limbs, bits and bobs. To be honest, it’s my lungs that were probably always in more danger of returning from the mines in tatters. There is something about the strong smell of sulphur that doesn’t sit well when you are a couple of hundred meters below the Earth’s surface. But let’s rewind a little…
Waking up first thing I was never at any point particularly excited about visiting a mine. Thinking about my family I can’t recall ever hearing of anyone ever being a miner. I might be the first Graham to actually enter an active one. This filled me with some sense of anticipation, fuelled by a few of the other usual ticks I like to add to my personal boxes.
A new experience…Check!
An interesting story to tell…Check!
Something I may never get another chance to do…Check!
A hint of life threatening activities…Check!
Excited, no, but I was still looking forward to the experience. First thing’s first in the morning is a shower. Well, nah. Let’s skip that seeing as I’m about to get absolutely filthy anyway. Off to the mines!
Piling into the minibus there was certainly an interesting mix on this trip. American, Austrian, Japanese, French and Dutch. Our first stop was a local shop that sold a few ‘gifts’ that we were to give to the miners. Simple things like biscuits, juice, cigarettes and of course coca leaves. The natural plant that not only numbs half your face but apparently stifles your hunger and gives you energy. Good traits to gain if you are going to be down the mines from 3am until 8pm. A hearty breakfast and a good dinner are what sandwich these brutal sounding shifts. When some begin these careers as early as fourteen it’s no wonder the life expectancy isn’t all that great, and it’s the damaged lungs that will normally cut these hard-working lives short.
During this stop I was able to take hold of some dynamite. Just holding it was pretty cool. Resisting the urge to light the fuse was challenging. Probably for the best I guess. Next was some 96% strength alcohol. A wee pick me up no longer sounds appropriate, I actually handled it pretty well. Whilst one or two coughed and spluttered, I was able to maintain my composure. As the only Scotsman, I felt it my duty.
Next was a stop a little closer to the mines, this time to change into something more appropriate. If you have ever seen Ghostbusters Two, there is a scene where three of them are in an abandoned underground railway tunnel. Dressed head to toe in protective gear. That’s exactly how I looked. After much waiting about we were finally off, and it only took near enough a whole page to get there!
Even after we arrived we still had one more task to fulfill before we could enter. A miner had just exited pushing a wagon load of rock containing silver amongst other precious metals and minerals. With around sixteen bags each weighing at between thirty and forty kilograms, this thing must have weighed at least over half a tonne! Couldn’t have been that easy to push up a rail track that’s for sure.
Before we knew it we were helping this hard-working chap offload his wagon (no dirty innuendo intended) and it wasn’t long before all was well. Right, can we go in now???
As soon as I began stepping inside the temperature dropped slightly, the light quickly fading behind me. The soft splash of water echoing around as we trundled through the murky puddles that lay between the railroad tracks. It was almost like being in another Indiana Jones film, although every now and again the tunnel would quickly close in as we squeezed through the tight spaces and I found my head banging off every low-hanging rock I could find. Lucky I was wearing a hard hat. How Indy got by with just that famous hat of his I’ll just never know!
We marched on regardless. I was collecting more bumps to the head than there were tunnels inside this mountain, and apparently there were thousands of those. We went further and further, occasionally sidestepping the tracks when space allowed to let traffic pass. This could be a busy mine. The further down we travelled the warmer it became. It wasn’t too long before we encountered some miners who were actually mining. A father who had been working there since he was only fourteen, and his son. It turns out miners all enter voluntarily. By this I mean they buy their equipment, pay tax to the state for what they take out, and after those deductions everything they make from whatever they extract they keep. Some mine shafts have managers who employ miners to dig for them, this contributes to approximately 16,000 miners being employed here, just a few then…
On the way out of these deep dark chasms we were afforded the opportunity to meet someone else. ‘Dio’ or ‘The Devil’ to you and me, has many depictions down here. It does make sense when you think about it. For someone take so many riches from deep in the Earth, that offerings be returned to that who resides down there. After all, if Hell did exist, that’s where we’ve been taking all our oil, gold, silver and just about anything else worth digging for. “Cheers Dio!”
Upon leaving the mines, and blindly blinking into the sudden surge of sunlight that greeted us, finally filling my lungs back up with fresh air again, we began the journey home. It had been long, dark and sometimes stifling, but worth every step. I hope Dio didn’t mind me taking a sparkly bit of rock as a keepsake. It’s not as if he needs the silver anyway right?
Thanks for reading! If you like why not leave a comment below. Have you ever been in a mine before? Or dabbled with the odd stick of dynamite? (Who hasn’t right?) Get in touch!