A field trip to remember

A field trip to remember

Very early Monday morning, and between other project work, I have time for some more extended blogging.

Saturday saw me visiting an area with small coal mines near Lenguazaque, North of Bogotá.  An excursion along with some colleagues contracted by IKV Pax Christi, as well as employees of the Contraloría General de la República.

After a bus ride of a couple of hours into the green countryside, leaving the hectic Bogotá traffic behind us, we detoured briefly through a small, attractive town, with a colonial look.  Driving on very narrow streets, with a few 3-point turns, the bus then reached country dirt roads, passing between little farms, featuring lots of cows and some milk-related industries.  Mining of coal and construction materials (gravel, etc.) was evident from the mountains surrounding these valleys.

We reached Lenguazaque before lunch were welcomed by a friendly police inspector, and took a walk to the river, so that Dr. Robert Moran could demonstrate the use of water quality measuring equipment in the field.

Robert Moran and Jan Wybe Oosterkamp

This was followed by an excellent lunch in a little local restaurant and some coffee in another establishment around the corner.  By now we were all very keen to actually see a mine, and so we piled into our bus and ventured up the mountain on an increasingly deteriorating dirt road.  After a couple of exciting moments, we decided to get out and walk the rest of the way, allowing the bus with a lightened load to make its way up.  

Escaping from the bus

Walking uphill at altitudes of between 2,500 and 3,000m, and after a nice lunch, caused some heavy breathing, but we eventually got our breathing and walking into the right pace and enjoyed the magnificent views of the countryside.  Still dominated by farms and cows, but now on steep slopes.

By the time we had reached a fork in the road it had started to rain.  Hard.  Since I was leading the walking group with another foreign colleague, we didn’t know which branch to choose and had to shelter under the eaves of a farmhouse until our other colleagues arrived.  I am proud to say that the two of us who were there first, both live at approximately sea level, and we had left our high altitude friends far behind!

Sheltering near Lenguazaque

Fortunately, a smaller bus had in the meantime been arranged to pick us up from our cozy but semi-shelter and to take our wet group to the mine.  We were all in high spirits, even though the rubber boots that we had bought the day before, were still in the first bus, now back in Lengazaque…

Wet countryside seen from the bus

The smaller bus was more successful at negotiating the steep and twisting roads and allowed us a view over the countryside and over one semi-abandoned little coal mine through misted windows, all accompanied by a running commentary from our policeman-turned-tour guide.  We then arrived at the destination, a small mine that was reportedly better at environmental, health and safety issues than most, but where work was suspended.  This was not due to any legislation or governance, but caused by a dispute between 5 brothers, an inheritance issue, apparently.

Hoist, winder and loading box

Though health and safety measures were well below what would be required in many ports of the world, there had obviously been efforts made to work with some responsibility.  There were silt traps in evidence, proper washroom facilities, and there was a system to collect and dispose of waste rock removed from underground.  However, other than a single sign to caution workers that their families relied on their safe working habits, there were not too many other safety measures in place.  The system clearly is based on workers’ own responsibility…

All of this was observed in pouring rain and in a thunderstorm.  When I pointed out that a group of people sitting in a shed next to an old winder engine, with a steel cable running up to a pulley high above us in the sky, could lead to a lot of excitement if that pulley were to be struck by lightning, there was a rapid exit towards lower (though not any drier) regions.

Winder house

Back in Lenguazaque we were treated to aguardiente-laced coffee, different types of local bread and honey tea in a café, all while enjoying the good company of slowly-drying friends and colleagues.

Coffee, aguardiente and companionship

Not a typical day in the field, but a very enjoyable one!