The Forgotten Land of Gold and Diamonds - Michael Wachtler, Innichen (Italy).
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The Forgotten Land of Gold and Diamonds - Photo

Hopes and Dreams - PhotoWhere do we find the last wild areas on earth? Where can man still find undiscovered treasures? In the jungles of the Amazon, in the triangle that connects Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana on the high, barren plateaus of the mesas, where 'centimeter-sized diamonds and big gold crystals have been unearthed.

The area is so inhospitable that mining companies were unable to establish operations. This is the kingdom of the garimpeiros, the name given to the huge number of illegal gold prospectors in South America. Their bad reputation trails them at every step.

They are responsible for the destruction of the nature by using mercury, clearing the forests and cons¬tantly attacking the local Indians. Be it as it may, they produced between 10 and 15 tons of gold per year in addition-to thousands of high quality diamonds. They gave us the name Zapata Gold for the almost pure gold crystals exhibiting wonderful guises.

Included in the array of gold crystals, are those resembling human skulls as well crystals mirroring primeval foliage and enriched palladium mixed gold crystals bearing a likeness to the Egyptian hieroglyphics.

We were warned that even in the present day one could lose his life in search for riches.

Hopes and Dreams.

I was surprised about how many Germans tried their luck here in this remote part of the world. Hardly anyone had left a normal life behind. Many had escaped a prison sentence, for most of them, however, life in Europe had become too stressful and busy.

Hopes and Dreams - Photo

In one of the few "bigger" villages with a handful of houses, we discovered Hans Heiduck with his partner Susanne. He built the 'Villa Tran¬quila' near a romantic waterfall. He reports with pride that members of the Rockefeller clan had once visited him there. Heiduck was assisted by two other German dropouts, Alfred and Klaus. They hoped for the big find, expecting to rake in kilos of gold and 10-carat diamonds per week, just like everyone else was dreaming. If only they could hit the big bonanza. Nevertheless, life passed by slowly and they were happy. Despite my very soon realizing, that riches never accumulate where gold is found, I have never seen people with more dreams and hopes.

They told the story of the truck that sank into the mud in Las Agallas. As they tried to dig it out, the lucky ones found a total of 72 carats diamonds. Rumours started spreading quickly. Soon after, 3,000 similar hopefuls tried their luck at this site.

Hopes and Dreams - Photo

They told from a Pemonean Indian who found a lot of gold on one of the many tepius called Chirikayen. He went to the first available tavern to get drunk to celebrate his luck and paid with a huge gold nugget. The next day teachers at the local school were missing, as were the shop assis¬tants and even the soldiers. Everyone in his own fashion was searching for gold. At the last, the military took ownership, and enforced its right with threats of torture.

Expeditions - “La Gran Sabana”

"Diamonds are trickier than gold" Alejandro Stern explained. It's a lot more complicated to determine its price. The seller praises the quality to the skies, turns a brownish yellow stone into a clear white one, overlooks the tiny crack with its suspicious rainbow. To be a jungle buyer is hard work. In Los Caribes Alejandro Stern was shown a diamond weighing almost 10 carats.

Jungle-Buyer - Photo

He examined it carefully. For the miner, this was the find of a lifetime, the source of his future prosperity, the perfect stone; to Alejandro, however, it was brownish yellow.

They argued with Arnoldo remaining in the background. Life had hardened them. "One can be pregnant or not pregnant" replied the Jungle Buyer indignantly, "but never half pregnant". He gave his verdict. The 10 carat diamond was dirty yellow; the bottom of the price range!

We visited one garimpeiro after another. Sometimes we drove on bumpy roads that I often was surprised how our driver Kendall managed to make headway. Time and again he would jump out of the vehicle to examine the depth of the river bed, to check on the strength of sticks that made up a bridge, or hacked branches to be tossed in the mud to get his 4-wheel Toyota out. Then again boats rearing up in rapids like wild broncos shook out bones.

After a journey lasting for days, we eventually returned to the village of Santa Elena on the Brazilian border, where we stumbled across another German known as Frank Stober.

Jungle-Buyer - Photo

He was surprised how deep we ven¬HIred into the dark of the jungle. We admired him for having served a prison sentence in the communi¬stic Eastern Germany for a failed escape from the former republic, and having built a life as a gold dig¬ger together with other rebels. He has already written a book "Erotic Adventures of a Gold Digger" pu-blished by an important German publishing house. His second book about the biggest diamonds finds in the forgotten world will be published soon if there is still interest for the last adventurers. I comforted him, that everyone who enters this world, experiences first hand the fascination of gemstones. However, this person must be mineralogist as well as clairvoyant.

But where else can an individual man change his life from one day to the next with the find of a huge bonanza?

We moved further along the water-ways; no roads in sight. Alejandro Stern explained the meaning of the magical Pizarra to me. The diggers were allin searchof white rounded quartz pebbles, "lentils" of kaolin mixed with sandstone, where gold and diamonds of the highest quality was found. I was surprised that these were alluvial deposits, which were not damaged despite millions of years of natural movement.

The gold diggers flashed the most perfect gold crystal, which I had never seen in my entire life. Some of the diggers had to dig the floors of their huts to get to their cache.

Where else could their finds be safe? I watched girls in these small camps, but I was unable to grasp if they were cooks, wives, work horses, or women selling their bodies.

"I much more prefer diamond over gold!" the Jungle Buyer quickly brought me back to earth. "Every individual stone offers a surprise".

One could learn from Alejandro, how difficult he found it to evaluate diamonds. Prices for individual colored diamonds are anywhere near 120 Euros to a million Euros per carat. The black diamonds are the cheapest, followed by the yellow, the transparent, green, blue, and the most expensive the red Trompo Rojo which is hardly ever found.

The gold and diamond diggers call the magic conglomerate of rounded quartz pebbles, sandstones, laterite, and an elevated fraction of radioactive accesory minerals containing uranium and thorium "pizzara".

There are, however, numerous unanswered questions about the richest and most fertile of these layers. It seems doubtful that the exact era of their formation can ever be established, or if one has to accept that many small events spread over millions of years, contributed to the fomration of this worldwide unique deposit. It seems to be understood, that the origin of these deposits dates bacck to the Precambrian, when pyroxene-rich rocks were formed about 3.6 billion years ago. In the following 100 million years, magmatic as well as metamorphic processes rearranged the rocks of the so-called Guyana craton. A diverse geologic landscape was formed, named Roraima Group after the most prominent table mountain.

The entire processes support Alfred Wegner´s well-known theory of continental drift. Geologist were able to find parts of the missing puzzle on Africa´s west coast.

Contrary to most of the large diamond deposits, which are hosted in kimberlite, the host rock of the diamons from the Amazon region remains still unidentified. While the largest diamond deposit of Venezuela, the Guaniamo deposit up north, which was discovered in 1969, is hosted in characteristic eclogite-kimberlite rocks, similar to the well - known Australian deposit Argyle, different events must have been responsible for the formation of diamonds of the Romaira.

Most of these fluvial deposits contain diamonds up to 0.2 caracts in size. Only 5% of the diamonds reach 0.5 caracts, and it takes an average of 1,000 carats to yield one 5-carat stone. The largest diamond ever unearthed in Amazon region was 154 carats. The long ways of transportation causes the destruction of in the Gran Sabana region have gem quality. This seems a lot, considering that only a quarter or less of the diamonds found in Guaniamo can be cut.

Gold Searchers Live in the Jungle.

Jungle-Buyer - PhotoThe first gold digger we met was an immigrant from Switzerland, Bruno Reichlin, who lives close to a small settlement bearing a typical name: El Dorado.

"Bandits put five bullets into my stomach. It's a miracle I survived ... " he relayed as if it was a daily event.

We continued further south in the direction of Santa Elena de Uai- ren where we met the next miner who worked quietly and alone, prospecting for gold in a river.

Say nothing about when you will arrive and never when you intend to leave; and never drink with the gold diggers especially after you have purchased from them".

Once he had to get away with shots ham¬mering at his back, he mentioned without emotion.

The search for gold used to mean wading in riverbeds to sift gold from the rushing water. Today, gold is mined from the earth, since most of the surface gold - known as alluvial gold - has been found. Gold mining today is largely a matter of technology. First, geologists use geology maps to look for favorable areas to explore. Ore deposits are not easy to find and many of the ones exposed on the surface have already been found. Geologists use the physical and chemical characteristics of the rocks they are looking for to zero in on prospective areas. Once favorable geology is established, remote sensing, airborne and ground geophysics and geochemistry are used to outline targets for drill testing.

The nearby village, is known as Parkupi. We transferred our stuff to a 200 hp motorized wooden boat to go along a remote river even further into the jungle.

At some of the river bends, I noticed very simple iron and steel works removing material from the riverbed by means of a dredge. With these constructions, they panned gold. Not one of these machines resembled another. In a do it yourself world, every inventor wanted his innovation to outdo the rest.

Gold Searchers Live in the Jungle