Digging for the precious stones

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Heading away from the rocks of Isalo we continue on the journey to the south. A little down the road from the rocks we stop at a little cliff – this cliff is somewhat famous as it is the motive for the 1000 Ariary bill. So naturally we just have to stop and take a photo before continuing to a little town.

We get to the town of Ilakaka which is a bit rough looking. It is the center of the sapphire mining of southern Madagascar. We drive up to Colorline which is a company with a shop selling sapphires. The prices are a bit high so we save our money for today. So we only watch the how they make the rough stone into the finished shining rocks.

After having looked at the work in the shop for a while we sign up for a guided tour for the mine. We go in our own car to the mine with a guide. We pay 12.000 Ariary each – which is about 3 euro. We drive to the mine passing a town which probably looks a bit like Klondike would have looked if it had been in a hot climate instead of the polar location it had. The houses doesn’t look like they are fit for human habitation but people still live there and get by as best they can – I suppose most of the men work in the different mines hoping to strike it rich and the women stay at home tending to the house or have random jobs at the different markets of the town.

We drive pass the last of the houses and get to the mine own by Colorline. When we walk to the mine we have to be very careful there are many deep holes in the ground. When they try to search for the sapphires a couple of diggers make an exploratory dig where three men spend weeks digging a deep hole to see if there is any signs of sapphires at the bottom. If they don’t find any they just abandon the dig and leave it open so people just walking around without paying attention risk falling down. We kept our eyes open and stayed above ground.

We walk around the area. There is a little hill which is actually just dirt from an open pit. Down in the pit a bit over a dozen men work. They just have a shovel each and they dig up the dirt from 10 meters down. It looks like very hard work – and the pay is awful. Apparently the standard pay for the workers in the mine is 10.000 a day – which is only 2½€. The reason they still want to do this hard work is probably the hope of striking it big since the workers do get a small share of the sapphires they find. So if they get lucky they might get more than the standard pay.

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It is probably among the most primitive jobs I have ever seen and there really isn’t much to see when you have watch them shoveling the dirt for a little while so we head back to the city. Actually we head back at ten – and it seems like the digging stop for a long lunch break at ten to avoid the heat of the day so if you don’t make it to the town before ten you won’t see the working at the mine.

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