Write Like This

You want to write like a real journalist? Write like this. That's what I'm thinking. I loved reading this. It's like watching a writer swing from sentence to sentence, hanging by his word choices.

We made our way downslope, to an abandoned mine. The tunnel entrance was twenty feet wide, maybe ten feet high. Ilasaca produced two hard hats and a miner’s lamp from a backpack, and we headed in. “I used to work in here,” he said. “There’s enough oxygen, from old shafts that go to the surface.” He gestured toward the depths of the mountain. As the tunnel narrowed, the air got musty and the darkness, within fifty yards of the entrance, was absolute. Ilasaca was careful to light my way. He showed me mineralized veins in the walls, glittering between rough slabs of black Ordovician slate. When the quijo angled upward, he said, so would the tunnel, and it did. This had all been dug with hand tools and dynamite, he said. “Maybe two metres a day.” Back then, the lamps had been carbide, he said, burning acetylene gas. These nice bright electric headlamps we had, with battery packs that attached to your belt, were relatively new. He stopped to listen to my breathing, which was getting ragged. The tunnel ceiling had been dropping, obliging me to crouch. My thighs were burning from the effort. I was O.K., I said, just altitude weary. More coca, Ilasaca said. I had bought coca leaves that morning, from an old woman on the street in La Rinconada. Everybody here chewed them, I was told, to stave off exhaustion and hunger. I stuffed a wad in my cheek. The leaves were stiff and bitter. Ilasaca also took a wad. The quartz vein in the tunnel wall turned downward, the tunnel followed it, and at a certain depth we found our progress halted by an icy-looking pond. Ilasaca studied the vein, tapping it with his fingertips. I wondered what he saw in its fissures and glints.

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