Hard life of the miners in Lota
When I visited Concepcion town in Chile for 2 days, together with a Czech guy and his French girlfriend staying in the same house than me, we took a bus to visit Lota, a small village an hour away from Concepcion. It was probably the best idea ever! I never heard of Lota before I came to Concepcion but I was so glad my friends knew it was nice to visit. And most of all, I found it very interesting!
We got off the local bus in Lota (located an hour or so by bus from Concepcion) and started walking down to Chiflon del Diablo another 1,000 metres from the main road. Already after a couple of minutes of walking, I started to like the place. The view on the right side was very nice and it was a big change to see all the poor people and small destroyed houses all around, especially after visiting the huge German houses in Puerto Varas before.
At the entrance to Chiflon del Diablo, we decided to pay 5,000 pesos to get the entrance to the mines, Pueblito Minero, Museum and the Park. Otherwise just the entrance to the mines is 4,000 and to the park 1,600 pesos, so we got a good deal of less than 9 Euro for all 4 entrances.
First, we visited Pueblito Minero just on the right side of the mine where our guide, an old miner, explained us a bit about the documentary movie Subterra that took place here. We could see old charcoal carriages, clothes that the miners used to wear, food and some utensils. We learnt how Lota used to live just from the charcoal mines and when they were closed, the big majority of the people lost their jobs so the town stayed very poor. Some of them are trying to survive by fishing, the others selling things at the market or they leave to the other towns more North to keep working in the mines as it is the only thing they know to do. And the poorness of Lota is very present around. It gives it a special mysterious touch!
Then, we got our helmets with torches on them and a 2 kilogram battery on the waist.
We left the bags in the locker and with our new guide, Pedro, we started our tour through the mine of Chiflon del Diablo. We took a lift downstairs which was used only by the bosses before, all the miners had to walk there. The lift was very small and just hanging around, a bit scary but definitely an experience!
Inside the mine it was very humid and difficult to breathe. Even more difficult for me with the sinusitis, not a good idea to visit the mines with it! We saw the old magnetic telephones used in the mines, a miner statue with his original hat, clothes and gloves, what the miners had to use to clean up their butt after using the toilet (disgusting – using part of the wood made into a wooden ball, not comfortable at all!
Thank God for our smooth toilet paper nowadays!) We got a chance to see the toilet – just in the middle of the hall of the mine, not even surrounded with walls or doors or anything, so everyone could see you and hear you. And they had to kick into the toilet first to get rid of the rats so they didn’t bite their genitals.
Pedro also explained us more about the hard life of the miners and their families. Even the women and the children had to work in the mines. Children from 8 years started already, they were always at the door and sadly used together with the birds in the cages to find out when there was a gas explosion. As all the charcoal and other mineral and stones in the mine were once living animals and plants, they all produce some gas and when the miners hit it too much, there was an explosion. And there was no smell added to the gas like we have now at homes so we are aware of the gas leaking. So birds and children were used for that, so when they died, it meant the gas was leaking somewhere so they miners left. What a horrible story!
We also had to walk almost on our knees through the hall just 80 cm tall which was the place where every couple of metres there was a miner working. He had just 1,5 metre for himself for 12 hours of work (or if he didn’t manage to do what he should have, he had to stay working for 16 hours per day.)
And all work was done on the knees or in a half-seated position. It must have hurt so much! My back hurt me just after 5 minutes there, it was so uncomfortable! And the thing used to drip the charcoal so heavy! Working in this environment caused a lot of problems to the miners. Not only back and knees problems, but many breathing ones, too. All the humidity and dust caused many lungs problems and after years of working in the mines many miners died of breathing problems between 30 and 40 years only. Their lungs looked like stones at that age. And they hardly ever had something else to eat than bread, so their bodies had no vitamins and minerals to keep being strong. After all these stories I felt so sorry for this shitty job and no salary of the miners. And on the other hand I was more thankful for all I’ve had and my amazing job of traveling around the world.
To get out of the mine was not an easy task at all. It was slippery as there is always some water in the mine, and very steep. I imagined how the miners had to carry the charcoal up here and walk this road so many times over and over again. Not fun!
Chiflon del Diablo mines were one of the most interesting places I have visited in my life, it thought me so much! Things that are there but you never really realize until you see them with your eyes open.
But Lota is not just sad old miner town and hard life of the miners but it has also a lot of beautiful things to see. There is the Museum at the entrance to the Park Isidora Cousiño where you find out more about the owner of the mines – Cousiño family, the ever-green park with some great views, lighthouse and a tomb of one of the members of Cousiño family. Then you have to walk down to the so called Pirque buildings – the old parts of another mine, a bit scary and really mysterious! And then of course the vivid market and the center of Lota where you will be the only tourists. For lunch, go to Cocineria La Joya del Carbon – good prices and yummy food!