, CZECH REPUBLIC, Aug 7 – It is a safari with a twist: two private Czech mining companies have joined forces to take tourists on trips to see long-necked excavators and coal beds, instead of giraffes and lush wilderness.
“We are standing at the edge of a mine that was opened in 1901,” guide and former miner Josef Gerthner told a group as they snapped pictures of monster excavators in the distance on a hot summer day.
Wearing protective helmets, the 18 adventurers toured the sprawling surface brown-coal mines in an off-road truck during the 4.5-hour “coal safari” in the northern city of Most.
Offered by the Vrsanska Uhelna and Severni Energeticka companies, the bumpy safari ride has drawn 16,500 people representing every continent except Antarctica since it was launched in 2009.
Its three routes are typically sold out at least two months in advance. The admission fee of 150 koruna (Sh600) goes toward the upkeep of a local mining museum.
“It’s fantastic to be able to come up so close,” Prague computer programmer Premysl Maly said while standing under an excavator that is 160 metres long and 52 metres high and weighs 4,300 tonnes.
Instead of collecting photographs of lions or buffalo, tourists can fill plastic bags with souvenir lumps of coal under the guide’s watchful eye.
The companies want to “allow the public to take a closer look at coal-mining technology but also at landscape renewal after mining”, according to the safari website.
The tour covers former mines turned into lakes and an overview of former spoil banks – artificial hills formed by waste removed from the mines – that have come to serve as building plots.
Most of the coal goes to state-run power producer CEZ, Europe’s second largest power exporter after France’s electricity giant EDF. The Czech firm still relies on coal for about half of its output and continues to build new coal-fired units.
The flames are fed by the Czech Republic’s four brown-coal mining companies, which extracted 40.6 million tonnes of coal in 2013. That number is down about seven percent from 2012, according to data from the Energostat association monitoring the Czech energy sector.
Vrsanska Uhelna and Severoceska Energeticka contributed a total of 10.2 million tonnes.