You are hereJourney to Nambija 1982. Part 2

Journey to Nambija 1982. Part 2

Wed 24 August 1982
We arrive at El Tambo, a halfway house which could have been straight out of a bad western film. Probably the prostitutes had warned them of our impending approach as, despite being accompanied by M and J, our arrival was not greeted with any friendliness. – Learn from Juan that there is great rivalry between the miners and their many groups and cooperatives and this leads often leads to violence.- We hoped to rent a mule to carry our packs but despite the half dozen tied to a rail outside the house, none were available to us.

Marco insists on speeding up our progress. We cannot arrive in the dark, he says.- Two more shatteringly exhausting hours and with the approach of dusk we top the last hill – Beneath us in a deep valley is a plastic city. Hundreds of shacks with roofs covered with blue, black or white plastic sheets perched along the far cliff face. – We were hit by the noise of drilling, banging of metal against rock, people shouting and two claps of thunder, which we realized was dynamite. It looked as how I imagine Hades would be.
Suddenly. I repeat suddenly, all noise stopped. We had been seen. It started up again but the noise was of people whistling. It was like a football crowd’s anger at a referee’s bad decision but grew in crescendo. I don’t think I have ever been so scared as when all 4.5 thousand people (estimated population of Nambija) took up the sound. Fortunately a group of Marco’s men came to our rescue and escorted us into the valley. Crossing a river, four men, stopped their panning to glare threateningly in our direction. We walked through a maze of shacks, the occupants clearly displaying there hospitality to us, until we reached the house belong to Marco’s brother, Fernando’s house on the opposite side. They assured us that we were safe in the enclave which was occupied by members their cooperative but we were not to venture out.  A meeting was to be arranged that night betweenM and J the miner’s committee to try and ease the tension.The situation was critical, not just for us but for M and J who had brought us there unwanted.

Fernando’s house, or wooden shack was a two storied affair, the rear was somehow embedded into the side of the cliff and in front, two 2,5 metre wooden stilts supported the weight of a wooden floor. The floor itself had been separated with plastic sheets, as Marco, the three of us others, Fernando, Marianeta,his wife and two children were to share the five by four meter floor space. Cooking was done by Marianeta,  on an open fire beneath the building. Despite our frightening welcome, we were made to feel immediately at home.

We were left under the protection of one hard looking but friendly villain, while M and J, accompanied by Fernando and with Marco’s loud speaker went off to meet the committee. They needed  to persuade them  that we were not working for an international mining company but to there to photograph the miners and highlight their hard way of life. Our enquiries regarding possible police protection were laughed at. Apparently the four men we had seen panning at the river were the police.

Thursday 25 August
Exhausted - Slept for a solid 10 hours, oblivious to the hard floor or the shouts of “Ladrones, ladrones”, thieves, and gun shots which, during the night, had woken everyone else. – Good news for breakfast - The trio had returned after midnight and had won the committee over, except the MPD (communist) contingent, who in the end had been shouted down. – Fernando, M and J will have to escort us everywhere. They were well pleased but hung-over.- Apparently  It had taken a lot beer to charm the opposition.

Nambija centre, with its primitive shops, stalls, bars and brothels (around 200 prostitutes work here) has been constructed on a less steep part of the valley but everything is on an incline. – Word appears to have gotten around. – Many people are friendly but there are others who are resentful and turn threateningly away  as John attempts to take photos. – There are 3 stalls where gold is being bought. (930 -50 Sucres per Gramm) The buyer and his bodyguard sit behind a plank table on which is a Bunsen burner and a metal bowl and a set of scales are the only objects. Gold nuggets being offered are heated to a high temperature to test their purity and to burn off any residue, then weighed and the buyer gives his price.- Men, women and children queue to sell the most minute of nuggets. At one stall they were giving tins of tuna, sardines and even single cigarettes in exchange for a speck of gold. The buyers made no objection to being photographed.
The mining is done on the opposite side of the valley, which denude of vegetation is riddled with holes, where the  gaucheros, miners, hew into the cliff face. The chip, chip of metal against rock is continuous and for a moment I imagined it being put to the music of Verdi’s, Aide. - Muffled thuds as dynamite is used to blast away the rocks within their caves. - Little or no warning is given of the imminent explosion. It is only afterwards, as a cloud of dust billows out of a mine that you realize the danger.

Seemingly regardless of the height, men and even young children carrying sacks of rock move like ants up and down the harrowingly narrow tracks worn out of the cliff face. – We visit  a few of these caverns to take photos. - John and Cameron are unperturbed but I am petrified, and cling to the cliff wall as the sack carriers squeeze past us. - For every 15 sacks (US flour sacks) they deliver to the grinding mill, they are allowed 1 sack for themselves. After work, their one sack is taken back to their shack. Then begins the work which will continue well into the night. Utilizing a crowbar and a round metal tube,  the rock is will be pounded into dust. From this dust, using mercury (My God!) to separate the gold from the dirt, they hope to find sufficient gold to keep them in food, booze and cigarettes.

Friday 26. August
A horrible and emabarrasing occurance. – Obeying an urgent call of nature, I am directed to a cesspit, a short distance from Fernando’s house. This is a large hole with the remains of a solitary tree to hang onto while attempting to relieve oneself. With trousers still around my ankles, I attempt to stand up. – Branch breaks and I fall backwards into the pit full of shit – Immediate terror with instant visions of cholera, typhoid  and other unknown diseases flash through my head. – Worse to come.- There has been no rain for days and water is at a premium. – I have only a shallow, stagnant puddle of water to clean myself. – Did not report my experience and incredibly no one complained of any smell.-

We climb to 1802 meters, through primary jungle to reach a cross, which the miners had erected above the town.- Disappointed with the ruins we were promised – Little to see. Probably the original Inca mines.-  Day spent site seeing, talking and inevitably, drinking.


Saturday 27.August
Wake up to rain, lots of it – Say our farewells to everyone – considering what little these people have to offer, hospitality has been overwhelming – Some whistling as we move out of the valley. Many good wishers – The four policemen, panning in the river wave goodbye to us.- manage to hire a mule for the rucksacks at El Tambo without problems, this time – Weather atrocious. The trail is now a fast flowing river, making the descent difficult.  
Calsito waiting at San Carlos for us, with a bottle of JW. Decide to push on to Cumberatzo – Farewells to Marco and Juan, who are returning next day to Nambija – We will meet again in Quito in 15 days. The lone policeman at the Puente de Ramirez looks relieved to see us go. Offered a lift to Zamora by two prospectors we had met in Nambija. – Landslides in the Cordillero. No buses to Loja. – Overnight in hotel – Have first showers in 5 days. Cold water. Slept between clean sheets, Heaven.

Get a lift to Loja but road is still blocked. Cameron’s leg playing up again. – John and I cross a landslide and on the other side get a lift to Loja, leaving Cameron to follow when road is clear. Arrive at TAME airline office. No flights to Guyaquil until next week.- Book into the hotel Imperial and wait for Cameron.- The three of us celebrate our trip in the Argentinian restaurant, where we are treated like long lost customers. – 3 steaks, 2 bottles of wine 1700 Sucres. – Arrange taxi to Guayaquil for 4.30am  Sunday- 5 hour journey for 7000 Sucres (US$ 65).

Sunday 28.August
Bad road conditions. 7 hours to Guayaquil.- Tip driver extra Sucres – Catch last flight to Quito by skin of our teeth.


    R u the Ellie Edwards from Ga?

    Phil from Inkapirka

    a friend and I tried to get into Nambija 2 years ago but were stopped by the police - NO Gringos allowed. Ellie - Fly at a Smile-Price