Gold from the Venezuelan Jungle
by Michael Wachtler
Deep in the Amazon-jungle, in a “Lost World”, would be found one the best gold-crystals in the world. By the way to the big collections every specimen will be more and more embedded in often nearly unbelievable tales and stories. But even that makes the secret of the gold and diamonds of the Venezuelan Gran Sabana.
The Venezuelan Gran Sabana is one of the last wild areas on earth. In
this land of the towering table-mountains, called from the native
Amerindians “Tepuis” the Sherlock-Holmes inventor Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
settled his “Lost World” with the last living dinosaurs. He couldn’t
found a better place.
Alejandro Stern, or “El Trompo Rojo” expected us on the Caracas Airport.
We had a long way in front of us till Santa Elena de Uairén the gold
miner-city close on the Brazilian boarder. Near a little town with the
melodic name „El Dorado“, Bruno Reichlin, a Swiss guy, told us
immediately who dangerous is this area. He lives with five shots in the
stomach receiving them by gold mining. On the way everybody narrate us
its personal story. And no one was in our sense normal. I hear from jail
breakers and alcohol violations, from murderer and thieves, and
everybody hoped to begin here in the Gran Sabana a new life. They could
forget here easily as in no other part of the world the last one,
because it was not satisfied enough and has become a heavy burden. Here
they could look for a nice girl and began their new life. Other people
escaped from the so-called civilized countries to join their philosophy
of the free way of live. Everybody here fabled about his dreams. They
narrate me from the “trompo rojo”, the red diamond, from whom one carat
would be worth more than one million dollars.
Now I understand the signification of Alejandro Stern’s byname. He has
just planned all for us in the smallest details and want to show us the
legendary Zapata-mine, where in his opinion the best gold-crystals of
the world would be found. We admired them in his collection: Sometimes
till five-centimeter big wonderful shining crystals, other looked like
an alligator teeth or dragons.
The spectacular wire-gold from the Infierno-Mine
“Do you know the story of the “Infierno-mine”? Alejandro illustrated us
the place in the end of the world on a map. “I bought a 328 g gold-wire
at 3.000 from a garimpeiro. I sold them at 50.000 Dollar in United
States. At 700.000 it found a place in a big collection. I sold kilos
and kilos of wire-gold.” Everybody of us regret the unjust
currency-increase. But this are the stories, from that all dreams
originate. With a rattle helicopter we flew to the Infierno-Mine. The
gold rush has just moved to another place. Only a few garimpeiros worked
now there, and get scared when we arrive, because they thought the
Venezuelan army comes another time to destroy all their equipment. It
happened several times in the last years. Therefore they hadn’t anymore
heavy machines and dredges. The only remains where the hope to find also
in this manner a wire gold. Like a lucky punch!
“There is now another big place where all people moved,” told us
Alejandro. “Hoja de Lata“, „Aluminum-can“. But it’s too dangerous to go
there. I insisted to visit this new place, but Alejandro found a lot of
excuses. He promised to bring us in the jungle, to the magic gold fields
of Los Caribes and Icabarù, and he swore to bring us deeper in the wild
than someone else.
The old Cessna with a whisky-drinking pilot landed us on a bumpy field,
called Parcupi. After that a gutsy boat-driver with an over-dimensioned
150 PS Yamaha-motor rushed us deep inside the jungle. Everywhere near
the river we saw the dredges. Black Guyanese, Brazilians with their
beautiful ladies, but also European hippies and American dropouts where
trying to dig out with primitive instruments the treasures of this
rivers. Rarely on earth gold and diamonds could be found together,
especially in places where big companies weren’t able to work it
industrially. Here still exist the reign of an overarching nature, where
mankind was only tolerated on the same level as animals. We saw the
“garimpeiros” working in malarious dark tarns; we saw them separate the
gold with mercury. They inhaled the toxic smoke without thinking on
their future life.
The Zapata gold
Alejandro Stern made his business. Here he was the undisputable “Jungle
buyer”. Everywhere we had to overcome malicious rapids. Aicha Marù was
called from the Pemones, the indigenous people a very impressive and
difficult to over passing cataract. The boat-driver were here the kings,
everybody had to expect them. In every mining camp people brought us
gold and diamonds and they hoped to receive some money, what they need
for beer and other small pleasures. Sometimes they were perfectly
crystallized, others only to be used as melting gold.
We lived with the people, slept in their hammocks. They told me the
story of Barabas, who found with other two people in 1942 a 154-carat
diamond near the Surukun River. It was the second biggest of the
continent. They sold it at the immense amount of 60.000 Dollar to a
dealer in New York. With the received money the get drank all the day,
and amused them with girls; finally Barnabas escaped with the rest of
the money. In one year the money was dissolved also for him in nothing.
After days we reached totally dirty and weary Los Caribes. Alejandro
Stern’s pockets were stuffed with gold and diamonds. Arnoldo, his
security guy was nervous and gambled with his revolver. A gold-miner
induced us to enter his rudimentary hut. Than he begun to dig the
ground, because he couldn’t remember where he had hidden his gold. In
these villages that were established in a short time, to leave them,
when the gold-pockets are exhausted, there is no bank to bring in safety
the treasures. After a while he opened triumphantly a leather-pouch. It
contained marvelous gold-crystals. They glow in the dark. Several of
them were perfect octahedrons, other surprised with their skeletal
forms. The Pemone explained me that some looks like figures from their
legends and myths. We had to visit also Hans Heiduck with his Susanne
near the romantic cascades of his “Villa Tranquilla”. The place was so
lovely that just some of the Rockefeller dynasty come here to visit
Hans. Immediately he asked us, if we had brought him a big crate of
beer. Some German dropouts, as Alfred’s with his toothless ever laughing
face were here. They were happy about this stress less world, dived in
the malarious tarn for gold and diamonds, drunk all the day beer and let
the time behind.
About the origin of the gold-crystals
I asked Alejandro Stern about the formation-conditions of these
fantastic crystals. “Look at this silica rich quartz-conglomerate with a
high percentage of kaolin.” They were the strata’s, were our car had the
While Kendall the best driver of Santa Elena tried to bring us to
Icabaru on the worst path I had ever seen, he explained me some
theories. Often we had to leave our car to make the Toyota roadworthy.
“We call them “Pizarra”, what means “clay-layer”. From here came the
best gold-crystals but there exist more theories why even these
conglomerates are so rich and every resolve them only in parts. Just the
opinions diverged, if they have an alluvial, also material deposited
from other places or if the gold was crystallized in the “Pizarra”.
Rarely occurring geological phenomena could generate
crystallization-processes in the sediments. Arguments for that theory
are the skeletal, famished-looking habitus, consequence from a milieu
where enough ground substance lacked to finish a whole crystal.
Gold-crystals couldn’t come from far away deposits, and then in that
case they would be destroyed or rounded in any way by the transport.
Also a volcanic origin is to eliminate because the Gran Sabana with its
table-mountains is a classic example of well and interesting formed
We could recertify that, when months later we climbed the most majestic
Tepuis like the Kukenan and the Roraima. Everywhere we found thousands
and thousands rock crystals. From crystal-clefs grow out the archaic and
endemic plants of the Tepuis, in the lakes glittered crystals. The dark
and black like volcanic appearing mountains changed by closer attention
and on freshly broken rocks to grey-reddish sandstones. Also on the
Tepuis the rock crystals could only be formed by hot hydrous solutions
after the sedimentation. A new world, to discover in many parts opened
us. Even though danger was everywhere. The 24-hour ant, (Paraponera)
with its painful sting could surprise us everywhere. The locals called
it “Hormiga Veinticuatro” from the 24 hours pain that follow a stinging.
We sorrow a lot of miserable garimpeiros who suffered from
Leishmaniasis, an infectious disease generated from parasites. The
Jungle Buyer narrate me the story of the Pemone-Indian, who of one of
the many Tepuis, the Chirikayen, discovered a lot of gold. He entered
the first saloon, to guzzle the recovering and paid with a nugget. The
next day there was not any more one teacher at school; no shop man and
also the soldiers didn’t come to work. Everybody rushed to the
Chirikayen. At the end the police found the most convincing arguments
with their guns to came in the possession of gold.
Also about the genesis of these kaolin-quartz rich rocks there are a lot
of open questions. Clarified is now, that the origin is to date back to
Precambrian time, when 3,6 billion years ago pyroxen-rich rocks were
formed. Magmatic events, but also metamorphic transformations induced in
the following several hundred millions years to the building of a
variegated geological landscape, that has its extensions till the west
coast of Africa. Interesting is also, that mostly of the found diamonds
don’t reach a size more than 0,2 carat, only 5 % reach 0,5 carat and on
1.000 carat only one has a size with 5 carat or more. But impressive
more than half of the diamonds from the Gran Sabana reach the
In the hell of Hoja da Lata
We had to wait for a long time, but than with a lot of precautions
Alejandro Stern gave us the okay to go to San Martìn de Turumbang. Till
1895 Venezuela and Guyana have acrimonious disputes about the boarder.
Every country had on its maps its own frontier-line. It lasted only a
few hours and we were just arrested and accompanied and escorted to the
police station. The fine after a long-lasting brainwash was “One bottle
of whisky”, shouted by a gold-teethed Guyanese army-officer.
Than we tried to enter “Hoja da Lata”. “Welcome”, was written on the
entrance. Dozen and dozens of “garimpeiros worked here. Many worked in
the mines hundreds meters deep in the earth, other crashed the quartz to
fine sand; the last scorched the toxic mercury in the air. At the end a
small layer of pure gold remained on the Aluminum-platter. In 2008
started the big “bulla”. That word means gold rush. Caring family man
leaves their kids, ambitious businessman their company, unemployed and
vagabonds forget al to follow the big hype.
We hesitated to sit on the rotten piece of wood on a lacerated rope. The
chief of the mineiros told us, that we have to go down more than 200
meters. In a dark scared hole not larger than half a meter. Than the
miner short out the two electric cables and we rattled in the deep.
Below began another world. We had to crawl down a never-ending gallery
surrounded by a hell’s heat. Everywhere we saw manky figures. One
reached me a piece of quartz. It was heavy. In the light of my lamp I
saw yellow veins. I gave him the treasure. This was the gold-life in the
Venezuelan Jungle. Gold-crystals, diamonds, wire-gold, Palladium-rich
gold. Gold in endless occurrences.
The first white gold-seeker arrived in this isolated Amazonian-region
around 1720, but they found few. But in 1890 started the first
diamond-rush. Soon these regions established them as one of the biggest
gold- and diamond-producers in the world. Equal dirty like the other
underground people we were pulled out. Finally the blue sky! John Brown
a Guayanese came to us. He invited us in his home. Longwinded he
fingered from a leather-bag an unsightly stone. “How many carats?” asked
Alejandro Stern. “21 carat.”
“How much?” “90.000 Dollar. A perfect diamond!” Next to 72.000 Dollar
they reached the shake-hand. The next must spend just 200.000. At the
end a rich admirer of a bitchy starlet in New York just millions.
„In the Jungle you have to take fast decisions!“ explained me Alejandro
the law of the wild. There is no time to think. A bullet could shot you
down, a jaguar cross your way, an anaconda crush you. The Amazonian is
Michael Wachtler, 2009/10Schatzsuche im Dschungel von Venezuela: Im
vergessenen Land des Goldes und der Diamanten, Lapis - Munich
For several times the author Michael Wachtler was in the Amazonian
Jungle and cognized that there are still unexplored landscapes on earth.
He remains impressed about the beautiful gold-crystals of the Venezuelan
Michael Wachtler - Highlights