Boom. The force of an exploding dynamite inside a dark and claustrophobic old gold mine isn’t really what you wanted to experience during a tour. But there it was, its strong shockwave still reverberating through our whole being as we removed our hands from our ear and checked our limbs if they were still complete.
|A SCULPTURE DEDICATED TO THE MINERS OF BALATOC|
Our day started mundanely enough. From our suite at the Azalea Residences Baguio, we went down to the restaurant for the requisite buffet breakfast—Baguio longganisa, check—before boarding a van to the nearby town of Itogon, still in the province of Benguet.
|OLD NAME PLATES AT THE BALATOC MUSEUM|
We knew we’d be visiting an operational gold mine, but we really weren’t sure what to expect. The scenic ride across Loakan Road, past Camp John Hay, took just about thirty minutes and we were soon alighting and heading to a wooden shack where Balatoc Mines held their tour orientation.
|HOW THEY COMMUNICATE, DECADES AGO|
The space itself also doubles as a museum of sorts, showcasing old mining tools, vintage apparatuses they use to operate the mine, rock ores taken from the quarry, and yes, a gold bar.
|A MINER RESTING AT VEGAS MINE|
|CIGARETTE BREAK INSIDE THE MINES|
The province of Benguet has always been associated with gold mining. In fact, Benguet Corporation is the oldest mining company in the Philippines. They do own Balatoc Mines, but it was only in 1997 when they started to open it for guided tours.
|OUR VERY OWN CHAPA|
|PROTECTIVE GEAR FOR THE GUIDED TOUR|
Before going in to the mines, we were asked to don protective hard hats and rubber boots. We were also given chapas, a sort of tin coin with number stamped on it. The figures represent our visitor number, but back in the day, these are used to track miners going in and out of the tunnel. They put their chapas in a box when they get into the mines, and claim it back when they emerge. If there are chapas left on the box, it means someone was left inside.
|INTO THE VEGAS MINE|
And so we walked to our destination, Vegas Mine. This mine is now unused even if there are still gold ores present within its walls. There’s just not enough of them, our guide told us, as we gingerly entered the mine’s mouth and darkness swallowed us.
|HARD ROCK WALLS AND CEILING|
The ground was uneven, made of clay and crushed rocks, and the walls alternate from concrete, to pure carved bedrock, to ones netted and supported with timber. Along the middle of the pathway is a rail, made both for persons going into the mines and ores going out of it.
|FURTHER IN, SOME PARTS OF THE TUNNEL ARE SUPPORTED BY HEAVY WOODEN BEAMS|
Us, we walked. It was hot and very humid. Our only consolation was that the tunnel was lit. It’s quite different for a working mine though, where only the miner’s headlamps were the source of illumination. Now that would really give anyone a bad case of claustrophobia.
|DRILLING IN, PREPARING TO DYNAMITE THE MINE|
|TRYING IT OUT FOR OURSELVES|
Farther down, we encountered a miner using an insanely long drill into the hard rock walls. Apparently, he’s putting up spaces where he would slid dynamites in. Alrighty, quite a comforting thing. He showed us where the dynamites lay, but before sliding it in, he allowed us to experience the drill. And drill we did.
|YES, THAT’S A REAL DYNAMITE|
|FIRE IN THE HOLE!!!|
After that rattling experience, it was time to bomb the mine. During real mining operations, they let out an average of twenty dynamites per explosion. But since we weren’t really that hardcore, he’ll just light one for us. We really would’ve been grateful if he didn’t light anything at all.
But we’re seasoned travelers, yeah? And it’s all for the experience. Fire in the hole!!!
Balatoc Mines Tour
Address: Balatoc Mines, Itogon, Benguet
Contact Number: (074) 447-2617 | (0921) 299-0169
Facebook: Click Here
Entrance Fee: PHP250.00
Open Hours: 8:00AM to 3:00PM Everyday
GPS Coordinates Map: 16.360532, 120.659972
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