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Full Circle

Day 217: Boyaca Valley

Michael Palin - Full CircleTo keep the locals sweet, public access is allowed to a stream which runs out of the mine, at the bottom of the mountain. Anything they find here they can keep. A crowd of two or three hundred people is drawn down into the heat of the valley in the hope of finding crumbs from the rich man's table. They are called guaceros - scavengers. They scrabble around in the trickle of inky black effluent, some shovelling gravel onto sieves and examining it, others, less methodically, throwing the shale onto the side of the stream, while some dig desperately into the slurry as if trying to rescue a loved one. Occasionally sodden figures covered in black slime, emerge from the ooze like primaeval life.

Further down, away from the mouth of the stream, where the pickings are less good but conditions less manic, I see a woman and her son working through the silt. She moves heavy stones out of the stream and squats to peer at what might be beneath them. Her son, who can't be more than five or six stares around. Behind them a dog laps at the black water.

From the bank above, where the guaceros have built makeshift shops and cafés, the scene around the gushing water-hole has an unnerving resemblance to images of disaster - a plane crash or a landslide. The unreality is compounded when I look a little further up the hill, where the steep slope that the mine-workings have not yet touched is covered with green grass, trees and flowers.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 217
  • Country/sea: Colombia
  • Place: Cosquez
  • Book page no: 280

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