Today we went to Wielczka salt mine near Krakow in Poland. At times life offers us an opportunity of an unforgettable experience, for me this was one them.
We chose the miners' tour to get a change to closer see the mine's structure, better understand the dangers miners had to face and to experience the atmosphere of the mine and see how the miners used to cut the salt and transport it to the surface. The standard tour had a lot less to offer and we chose to take the full advantage of this opportunity. The mining tour only started about five months ago in August 2012.
We started by meeting our guide who explained to us in English what to expect. He helped us with the registration and getting our helmets, overalls and equipment. We were given a locker for all our belonging as for safety reasons we were not allowed to carry anything but the torch and safety equipment we were given. We had to wear the overall provided and had to keep the helmet on at all times.
Well, without any experience we were about to go over 100 meters under the ground in a seventeenth century mine, a trip which would be unwise to embark upon in any way other than doing exactly following the instructions of our experience.
- Imagine being in a place so dark that you cannot even see your nose, or anything else for that matter
- Now add to that the total silence, you cannot even hear the sound of your own heart beating
- Your breathing is so quiet that you feel like every now and then assuring yourself that all is ok by blowing out
- Now on top of that add the thought that deep under the ground your mobile phone has no signal
- Then add to that the feeling of being on an unknown territory
- Imagine being 100 meters below the surface surrounded by a network of similar looking tunnels
- Add to that the knowing that only one of them tunnels takes you to up the surface
- And the knowing that only the guide knows where to go and which tunnel takes you back up
- Finally add the feeling of trusting your guide whom you met only for a few minutes to safely bring you back up to the surface
Of course there was emergency telephones on the walls and we each had torches, gas masks for unlikely events of gas emission, a transmitter pinpointing our exact location in case of any unforeseeable circumstances and many more to minimise probability of anything going wrong, but the possibility existed.
All in all the experience was adventurous, not scary at all.
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We went trough several chambers, travelling over 100 meters under the ground through the mines which were built in the 17th century and the later part which was built in 18th century. At some point we were given hammer, axe and protecting eye goggles and gloves and started cutting salt as the miners used to do all those years ago. We even pushed the wagons, which the miners were using to transport the excavated salt to the surface. On the left you can see some photographs taken 100 meters under the ground.
At the end of the journey there was a nominal ceremony and we were awarded a certificate as a miner. This of course was just something for us to remember our visit by, working in a mine was a way of life, nothing that can be taught or leaned in a couple of hours.
You can learn more about the salt mines by visiting their official web site at www.wieliczka-saltmine.com
As a father I am not able to express a recommendation regarding visiting the mines as my opinion will be biased by thoughts of wanting to protect my little daughter against any possible danger, however negligible the probability may be.
I can only say that at no point I felt the trip was not safe, nor I found any reason for not wanting to take you there with me. When you are 18 you will be allowed to take part in this tour, you can then make your own decision.