It may not look like much. It certainly wasn’t granted its World Heritage status because of its beauty; but it left me breathless.

A couple of days ago I went on a short trip with my class to a mining town up in the mountains. At first, the idea of being alone on such a long journey with my thirty charges while visiting a mine was a bit daunting. But I’m glad I went.

The lush green landscape of the valleys quickly gave way as the bus started ascending the mountains until it disappeared completely around 2,100 meters above sea level. After traveling through a very difficult road, full of sharp turns and steep falls, the first peek we got of the uninhabited city was of the huge, curving retaining walls, built to stop avalanches from reaching the buildings (a lesson learnt the hard way).

Nestled high up in the mountains, this city was once the home of about 15,000 people. At the beginning, they made their way from the valleys up there in wagons that took up to twelve days to reach the chosen place to open up a copper mine. The mine was built about a hundred years ago and the town was established alongside, in a place too steep to use four-wheeled transport but connected though a myriad of stairs.

Strict hierarchies and even stricter rules were set in place (no alcohol, no pets), and yet, according to our guide (a former miner and son & grandson of miners himself) the bustling society that was born around the successful mine was a happy one. All the buildings are still painted the bright, cheerful colors of their origins and, though only the center of the city remains intact, the place still retains an almost skiing-center/Swiss-chalet-like feel.

Now, my class and I look back to our trip and marvel at the persistence of men and how their ingenuity not only took them up a mountain looking for copper, but lead them to such a feat as founding a town, surviving, and thriving in such harsh conditions.

It is a place of deep silence and clean air, of stark memories imbued in the very mountains that surround it; everything that remains speak of hard work and hard-earned satisfaction. It is a place of endurance.


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