Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Journey to the Center of the Earth

This is the third post in my adventure series. 

Last weekend Mr. Deep and I visited a town called Cullinan located in Gauteng near the border of Mpumalanga province about one and a half hours from where we live. While we were there we took a fascinating tour inside the Cullinan Diamond Mine.  Prior to this adventure my knowledge of mining was limited to what I learned while watching Coal Miner's Daughter. I had never been near let alone inside a mine. The Cullinan mine is well known because the world's largest diamond was found there in 1905. Today, pieces cut from that diamond are found in Queen Elizabeth's crown and scepter. The Cullinan Diamond mine remains operational today.

We booked our tour with a company called Cullinan Tours. They offer numerous surface tours (you stay on the surface of the earth instead of going inside it) throughout the week but the only time the underground tour is held on the weekend is on Saturday morning at 8:00 a.m. Even though Mr. Deep and I don't sleep all that late these days, it was still an effort to get from where we were staying about 35 minutes away from Cullinan by 8:00 a.m. When we arrived, we were also confused about exactly where to go and had to call the tour company for clarification. Luckily, we were just around the corner from where we needed to be and we managed to arrive by 8:00. When we got there they were just opening up shop and we quickly realized there had been no need to rush. 

Mr. Deep standing next to a replica of the Cullinan Diamond Mine.
Once the doors opened we were told that they were unable to accept a credit card for payment. They had a credit card machine but the lady there didn't know how to use it and so Mr. Deep had to run to the ATM so that we could pay in cash (tour cost was R550 per person.) Once all the tour goers arrived and paid, we got suited up. It likely won't surprise you that the main reason that I wanted to visit the mine was because I wanted to wear the suit. Each of us were given a jumpsuit with a big belt, thick socks, rubber boots and a hard hat. There were lockers to store our clothes and personal belongings. Once everyone was dressed and our items were locked up, we were told that we could not bring cell phones into the mine (it makes sense as they have explosives down there) so everyone had to go back to his/her locker to put the phones away. Next, we were told that we couldn't bring bags into the mine, so everyone had to go back to his/her locker to put their bags away. 

We were introduced to George our tour guide. Mr. Deep and I estimate that George is at least 80 years old. He said he worked in the mine for 38 years and retired in 1993 - thanks to Mr. Deep for his help with the math on this one. George is what Mr. Deep accurately described as a hoot. In addition to having a great personality George was extremely knowledgeable about the history and workings of the mine. He was the best tour guide I've ever had at any museum or anywhere as his presentation and the information he shared with us was not canned at all. The guide and the tour were 100% genuine. As we visited the mine we observed what would have been happening on that day had we been there or not. 

George gave us a short tour of the Cullinan Diamond museum and educated us about kimberlite, which is a blueish rock where diamonds may be found.
Finally, after about an hour of paying, dressing, locking things up and listening to George, we got into a vehicle and headed down the street to the mine. We had a quick tour of the surface before it was time to finalize our preparations and go in. 

Cullinan Diamond Mine. 
Every few minutes huge dumpsters full of rock are brought to the surface via these shafts. I am not sure how much rock they bring up each day but they get 65 carats from each 100 tons of rock. 
I told you this tour was genuine! 

As haphazard as things began with our tour, once we reached the mine, everything was extremely organized with tremendous attention to detail and safety. We had to watch a mandatory safety video to learn how to use the Afrox pack, a self contained breathing apparatus to be used in case of emergency. There are SEVEN steps involved in getting the Afrox pack to function. While it seems self explanatory that if a mask drops down in front of you while on a plane your going to "place it over your nose and mouth a breathe normally," trying to remember the seven steps involved to get the Afrox pack to work while you are breathing poison gas seems like it could be challenging.  Following the video an Afrox pack, encased in a metal box, was attached to each of our belts. We were also fitted with our headlamps. 

The Afrox pack.
The seven steps.
The Afrox packs are the silver boxes and the lights are the blue bulbs and the blue packs. Regarding safety, notice how there is a sign with the name a person who is responsible for maintaining the items on this particular rack. These types of signs were visible throughout the mine. I think it makes great business sense to clearly display who is responsible for what given that working in a mine is extremely dangerous.

Mr. Deep getting his Afrox pack. 
The Afrox pack. Step one is to open the box. I do remember that. 
George helping me with my headlamp.   
Ready to go in! 
This is the cage that took us down into the mine. 
We were going to 763 level. That's 763 meters down (2500 feet.) They are currently mining at level 763 and level 839 is still under construction.
Safety warning in the cage. While important it was a little bit funny. 
To be continued....

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About Me

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Hello and thank you for taking an interest in my blog. This blog tells the story of some big life changes. First, my husband and I have just moved to Geneva, Switzerland for a few months following a few years of living in Johannesburg, South Africa. The two places could not be more different. I'm excited to share our adventures, challenges and insights with you! My thoughts and opinions are my own.