An advantage of being a consultant to the mining industry is travel to new places. This past week no blog postings because I was travelling in Mexico to a remote mine. Here is a brief travelogue.
I have been “in” Mexico on both coasts via cruise ships. That romantic adventure when you board a ship in an America port and sail overnight to awake in a foreign place. At each new stop you disembark and wonder around lovely towns and tourist shops where you buy silver and beaded goods that now hang the walls as reminders of other places. Then return to the safety and comfort of the ship to stuff yourself with yet more perfect food.
This trip was my first to Mexico City and the interior. It starts with a Sunday flight via Canadian airlines from Vancouver to Mexico City where you are greeted at the airport with the stern warning that if you loose the piece of paper you fill in to get through immigration, it will cost you lots to get a new piece of paper to leave the country. I took a silent vow never to visit a country where there are restrictions on leaving. I was later told of a fellow who lost his precious piece of paper and missed his flight as he negotiated the offices of the slow to get a new piece. Cost him about $80 plus new flights.
I will probably relent on this vow as the trip, once past the stern immigration officials, was too interesting not to repeat.
A security official from the mining company met me outside the immigration hall and guided me to the Hilton at the airport. “Nothing can go wrong in a Hilton,” I thought.
Wrong. Their machine would not process my credit card and somebody else had to pay the astronomical deposit. The next morning the machine worked. I fell asleep about midnight in just another hotel room. About one o’clock the door opened, the lights went on, and an angry young man shouted “shit.” Seems he had also been given the same room as me. We chatted perfunctorily about the intelligence of hotel receptionists and he left to seek another room I struggled to get back to sleep. Seem in Mexico Hiltons are not as well run as elsewhere.
After a breakfast of strong-tasting food, we clambered into the vehicle to go to the mine. First we were given a stern lecture by the security company that supplies and drives the vehicle. We were informed we would travel via a side route as the main route was beset by fighting between rival gangs and thus not safe. We were given a dirty-blue plastic card with numbers to call if anything went wrong. We were told how to use the safety equipment in the vehicle and we were told how to phone in via the phone the driver held in the event that he no longer held it.
Then two hours crawling along “highways” through and out of the city. Most of the time spent stationary. This give ample chance to see the crumbling dwellings of the poor and rich. A few magnificent high-rises. But mostly two and three-story buildings of every shape and color jammed together in an interminable array of narrow streets.
Finally you leave the city and progress through hilly country of green. A few villas on the hills, many shanties in the depressions, but still a feel of money enough to buy the innumerable cars that continue to clog the road. The longer you drive, the drier the country side, the more rugged the topography, and the greater the poverty. The longer you drive, the more winding the road and the worse the condition of the road. Where the road passes through small, impoverished villages, there are many speed bumps that necessitate that the vehicle come to an almost complete halt to get over the big bump. This gives you plenty of time to examine the concrete columns never turned into buildings, the open-fronted stores selling nothing in particular, and the sad women sitting inert lost in sorrow.
Occasionally the driver stops and hands a few coins to sweaty fellows besides the road who hold a shovel and appeared to have filled in the potholes with sand dug from the bank besides the road. Once we stopped for federal police. They peered into the windows and examined us minutely. The driver chatted to them and we, as previously instructed, remained silent and still.
The hills are immense. The vegetation dry and seemingly dead. Although you are told by others who have been here in the rainy seasons that all goes green when it rains. The views as you wind up and down the narrow road are spectacular. Like nothing I have seen hitherto. Vast mountains rising immediately from the road; deep valleys dropping from the road; nothing save rock cuts and dry vegetation. The only sound is the vehicle bouncing over potholes.
The final twenty-five miles to the mine site is on unpaved roads winding ever more precariously along precipitous cliffs. How those many large trucks ferrying equipment to the mine make it, remains a mystery, even though I saw many of them crawling and maneuvering around bends that would challenge my small Honda. I must admire the drivers of the huge trucks we passed and for which we moved to the side of the road as they came down the hill we were ascending.
About fifteen minutes from the mine the back right wheel went flat. Grateful for a chance to stretch our limbs we got out. Many calls to the security center, and the driver changed the wheel. Meanwhile those who speak Spanish chatted with a fellow who had just left the mine. He offered us beer, which was declined. I shared a cigarette with him, although I have no idea what he was saying as he chatted amiably to me all the while.
Finally to the mine’s security reception center where we singed in, were give hard hats (green for visitors) and orange vests. In return we had to surrender a piece of personal identification. I gave them my Canadian Airlines Privileged Traveler’s card. They were impressed. I got it back when three days later we left the mine.
And so for three days were on the mine within the secure area. We were well housed in clean, comfortable rooms. Although the air-conditioning of mine worked overtime to cool the room to twenty-five while outside it was forty. We were fed well. Beans and rice are the staple. But the steak was good, and the pork even better.
And after supper, we languished in the cooling air and drank. Everybody seems to have an inexhaustible supply of strong drink and stronger opinions on almost every topic. I enjoyed the talk and the cool air.
And during the days we worked hard at making mining better. But that is another story.