As we meandered down the winding track I looked out across the mountain range. Llamas
lined the route as low hanging clouds billowed beneath us and Eagles circled overhead. With
every twist and turn of the path, the landscape changed slightly. Treeless plains were soon
replaced by a carpet of large-leafed tropical ferns as we descended into the mine. Located in
the lush foothills of the Andes, the Cotopata is a small cooperative with about 30 miners.
With no direct road to it, the miners follow the narrow track leading down from the top of the
hills, passing over streams and waterfalls, with their equipment on their backs, to the base
where the Gold processing occurs.
El Tio, the spirit who inhabits the mine, does not like women to enter as they are said to bring
bad luck to the miners. So I stay clear, chewing coca leaves to keep hunger at bay they
endure long, dangerous shifts. The reward, the tiny Gold flecks we see on the cleaning table
after, shining bright, they represent the route to a better life.
Urth Solution, an organisation that supported Gold mine during their piloting to become
certified, first introduced me to the Cotopata mine. Working for many years to reach the standards required for certification, it was finally given its Fairtrade status in 2011.
This process has meant that the miners no longer use cyanide, arsenic and now recycle the
mercury instead of throwing it into the river where it would poison everything in its path. It
also demands certain standards for the health and safety of the miners and a premium is paid
over the cost of the Gold, which will go into community-based projects such as health and
Inspired by the spellbinding sounds of nature and the fascinating beauty of the landscape
which surrounded the mine, and the deep traditions of pre-columbian gold designs I continue
to work with Javier in La Paz and now with Yani, a gold mine over 5000m high in the
Andes which in 2017 certified by ARM (Alliance of Responsible Mining) as a Fair-mined gold
mine. Our classic collection of Fairmined Bolivian gold from the Yani cooperative where each gold
pebble is hand made and utterly unique, smooth and warm to the touch these little amulets are
from a precious part of the world where they are trying to mitigate the problems associated
with mining by providing a secure safe income and minimal impact on the environment.
Hung on rainbow shades of alpaca these gold nuggets are little treasure, each one unique and
Film and Photography by Arturo Simondetti, Theo Simondetti and Emily Ainsworth