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Down Under in the Larimar Mines

A larimar mine is not like any mine you have ever seen, whether in West Virginia or Wales. While the larimar that comes from the mine is beautiful, the mine is not. It is, as they say, earthy, even odiferous.

Try to ignore the heaps of litter, especially around the cooking shacks, and the disarmingly loud noise from the diesel generators that keep the lights on and help bring in fresh air. Despite these drawbacks, the mine can be fascinating. There are some 25 holes in a given mine, many owned by small investors. Everyone knows whose hole is whose, despite the seeming disorganization. The individual miners are welcoming to visitors and will sometimes let them go down their shafts. The miners, who work 12 hours a day, range in age from 45 down to teenagers; all are Dominican or Haitian. The work itself can be hazardous, as two teenage miners discovered in 2007, when their oxygen supply failed and they died.

Each hole is perhaps the size of a typical table in a restaurant and about 20 to 30 feet deep, at which point the shaft narrows until it becomes horizontal, forcing you to crawl. Miners chip away at the larimar deposits, which are brought up in a bucket by a rope and pulley system. The miners ascend and descend foot by foot on wooden pegs. Armed security guards at the top ensure that no one takes a rock that doesn't belong to him.

The next time you see a display of larimar in a jewelry case, you may wonder why the prices aren't higher.

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