As we meandered down the winding track I looked out across the mountain range. Llamas lined the route as low hanging clouds billowed beneath us and Eagles circled overhead. With every twist and turn of the path, the landscape changed slightly. Treeless plains were soon replaced by a carpet of large-leafed tropical ferns as we descended into the mine. Located in the lush foothills of the Andes, the Cotopata is a small cooperative with about 30 miners. With no direct road to it, the miners follow the narrow track leading down from the top of the hills, passing over streams and waterfalls, with their equipment on their backs, to the base where the Gold processing occurs.
El Tio, the spirit who inhabits the mine, does not like women to enter as they are said to bring bad luck to the miners. So I stay clear! Chewing coca leaves to keep hunger at bay they endure long, dangerous shifts. The reward, the tiny Gold flecks we see on the cleaning table after, shining bright, they represent the route to a better life.
Urth Solution, an organisation that supported Gold mine during their piloting to become certified, first introduced me to the Cotopata mine.
Working for many years to reach the standards required for certification, it was finally given its Fairtrade status in 2011.
This process has meant that the miners no longer use cyanide, arsenic and now recycle the mercury instead of throwing it into the river where it would poison everything in its path. It also demands certain standards for the health and safety of the miners and a premium is paid over the cost of the Gold, which will go in to community-based projects such as health and education initiatives.
Inspired by the spellbinding sounds of nature and the fascinating beauty of the landscape which surrounded the mine, I began creating a collection of pure Gold flowers, tendrils and vines with a local goldsmith.
We have been working with Cotopata ever since and hope to continue to do so far into the future.
Watch my inspiring trip to Bolivia below.
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