Travel Reference
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I brought out my camera, but the place was under siege. Photographers were everywhere,
pointing cameras and setting up tripods. I looked through my lens; photographers were
like polka dots. They were in every possible scene. It was a student class from Mexico
City, and they'd rightly chosen Real del Monte as a picturesque mountain town.
Real del Monte has a history of mining; the first mining strike in the Americas took place
here. It's a beautiful mountain setting, and much wealth was spent on architecture. I noted
a touch of English presence. English mining engineers put English roofs on Spanish build-
ings for ventilation and protection from the rain. Most roofs were corrugated sheet metal,
and someone decided that they should be painted red. Red roofs, steep, winding streets,
a church tower influenced by London's Big Ben, plazas, arcades, portals, all combined to
stimulate the artist and photographer.
I tried to take a few pictures of the town without the student photographers and their tri-
pods, when I saw an open-sided tour bus, looking like a San Francisco cable car. It offered
a forty-minute tour, with guide and commentary, for 25 pesos ($2.25).
It gave a great view of the city from the English cemetery and a brief history. The guide
claimed that Real del Monte was the city with the highest elevation in Mexico. He said we
were 2800 meters high, over 8000 feet. But his best information was that the last working
mine, the La Mina Rica, closed on January 14, 2005, and now offered a tour. We could
descend in a miners' cage 1300 feet, deeper than the Empire State Building is tall, and see
the inside of a mine. I followed directions and got to the La Mina Rica. There was already
a good-sized group waiting. I signed up, and they honored my Berkeley student ID (I take
Senior Classes).
I got into blue overalls, put on a yellow safety helmet with a miner's light attached to the
front and a cord leading to a battery pack held on a leather belt around the overalls. I was
ready. We took turns getting into the miners' elevator, a double-decked arrangement. Our
guide pulled the flex-gate closed, rang a bell-signaling system, and one cable dropped us
1300 feet straight down. We zipped past rock walls broken in places by tunnels. We felt
the cool air and the pressure change. It was smooth and swift and stopped perfectly at the
bottom platform.
We gathered together and were told not to raise our hands because there were live electric
cables overhead, and not too far overhead either, I noticed. The guide said, “We will be
walking through an access tunnel, then we'll get on a miners' trolley and drive over a mile
deep to the face of the mine.” We would see the vein that the miners followed for years,
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