Strolling the aisles of Paracale Market or walking the busy avenues, I imagined a bustling, prosperous, oceanside community where life is simple and accommodating.
There are 43, people who live in and around Paracale. The traditional among them have used geography to great advantage.
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Harvesting the bounty of the ocean, the resources of the forests and the riches of the earth has been a way of life here since the Spanish settled the area in the 16th century. I arrived at town center after an exhausting hour trip by bus and car from the far northern reaches of Luzon, beyond Manila, and soon began to see the darker, more dangerous side of life here. The region is unique in the gold mining industry. The forces of nature conspired here to leave unbelievably rich deposits of gold.
When I asked about the quality of ore, one local told me all one really has to do is plant a spade in any nearby beach or stream to pull riches from the earth. Because this is a coastal region, much of the clay containing the gold ore is below the water table.
This means most mining activity must take place under water. In modern times, successful mining involves cheating the sea with low-tech techniques borrowed from local fishermen. They call the practice compressor mining. Compressor mining is considered illegal under Philippine law, but the law is largely ignored. Miners work underwater, breathing through a slender tube attached to a compressor on the surface — hence the name. Fishermen breathed through tubes such as these for generations, but even in relatively shallow waters, the practice is extremely dangerous.
Drownings, accidents and carbon monoxide poisoning from faulty compressors are common. I came to Paracale to see what compressor mining was all about and to see if children were involved. I was completely unprepared for what I found. Looking northeast from the main bridge that spans the Paracale River at the center of town, I could see the blue tarps that dot the horizon out toward Longos Point. These are the sunshades over the mining pits.