Last week, I visited my friend Tasha’s site near the southern coast of Peru (Rio Grande – between Ica and Nazca) and accompanied her and her host family to a gold mine. Her host father is the co-owner of the operation, which he has been running for the past 20 years.

The whole effort sounds, honestly, quintessentially libertarian American. A few dudes go out into the desert (literally), looking for signs of gold. They find one, start digging, and 20 years later, they’re still digging in the same area. They do all the expansion themselves, with dynamite, they built roads from the town to the mine, and they’re only recently following any kinds of government procedures (which, in their case, is probably best, since all of the procedures involve safety – sucking toxic air out of the mine after blasting, wearing hard hats, safer handling of the mercury, etc.).

Being up at the mine for a few hours exposed me to some of the manliest men I’ve ever met. Self-employed gold miners, drinking rum, chewing coca leaves, and swinging pick axes – I think my beard grew a couple inches just being around them.

I also learned that, while mining, you don’t just knock huge chunks of gold out of the wall. You have to find the “veins” of minerals, which are a yellow-red, compared to grey color, and hack at those with your tools. You then gather those chunks into bags, which you bring down to a processing plant, combine with mercury in a way I still don’t really understand, and filter out the little pieces of gold. I could try and keep failing to explain the process, or you could just watch this video of me in the mine and the processing plant:

Jack and Tasha in the Gold Mine