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Since 15 years ago when Frank and I were in Sweden and met a Colombian couple, he has been bugging me to go on a Colombian adventure. I'm really not
sure why and probably wouldn't tell ya even if I knew.
Initally Frank and his brother were going on this trip but Frank's brother
couldn't go at the last minute. I wasn't going because I had just had a 7mm kidney stone removed
a week earlier and wasn't really prepared to venture off to another country - but Frank talked Beth into letting me go - so I gave it a second thought. Frank assured me that we would
only go to the major cities - Cartagena, Medellin, and Bogota. We were looking for emeralds and knew that Bogota, the last stop on our journey, was about as close as we dared get to their source which is in the Muzo mining area about 100 miles north of Bogota in the Andes mountains. Cartagena and Medellin are supposedly much safer cities so we thought we would start there and check things out. So, with 2
days notice, Frank and I were off on a 17 day journey into the unknown. Well - not really unknown.
We knew it could be dangerous and was probably a little crazy. But what an
adventure! We convinced
ourselves we would not do like Mark and Frank usually do - go to crazy paces.
We would only go to
the big cities and wouldn't venture off into the jungle where there is much
danger - FARC guerrilla groups, cocaine drug cartels, and emerald cartels.
Well, as you will see, it didn't end up working out that way. It only took
a few days in country and Frank and I were right in the thick of our unusually
The journey begins with our first destination - Cartagena
Cartagena or Cartagena de Indias is a city on the northern coast of Colombia in the Caribbean Coast Region and capital of the Bolívar Department. The port city had a population of 892,545 as of the 2005 census. It is the fifth-largest city in Colombia and the second largest in the region, after Barranquilla. The Cartagena urban area is also the fifth-largest urban area in the country. Economic activities include maritime and petrochemicals industry, as well as tourism. The city was founded on June 1, 1533, and named after Cartagena, Spain. However, settlement in this region around Cartagena Bay by various indigenous people dates back to 4000 BC. During the colonial period Cartagena served a key role in administration and expansion of the Spanish empire. It was a center of political and economic activity due to the presence of royalty and wealthy viceroys. Cartagena is the city most associated with pirates in the Caribbean, and the world.
To review the history of Cartagena from 4000 BC to current times
click this link.
We happened to arrive during the Easter celebration. Cartagena is a
popular vacation destination for the Colombian people, especially during the
week leading up to Easter. Cartagena is packed with vacationers until the day after
Easter and then - poof - they are gone. Cartagena contains the ancient walled city
and the new city called Bocagrande. Bocagrande is the area in which we stayed
lined with high-rise apartments and hotels. Currently there are several
new high-rise buildings under construction. They vary from extremely nice
to pretty poor. The building contrast is actuall visible as some apartment
buildings were built in sections were half has no hot water and is old
and the other half has hot water and is much nicer and way more modern. In one apartment we
stayed in, even the elevators on
one side of the lobby were obviously very old and small and on the other side
they were large and modern. One thing we learned fairly quickly, always look to make sure there is an
elevator car when the elevator doors open. During our stay, a
man was looking at his cell phone and stepped into an empty elevator shaft when
the elevator door opened. The car was stuck on an upper floor. The
man fell to his death.
(Tuesday 4/15 Day 1)
We flew Copa airlines from
Los Angeles to Panama City, Panama. We flew on a Boeing 767 aircraft.
The configuration was cattle car and the seats were narrow and uncomfortable.
It was a 7 hour flight from LA to Panama City. We had a 3 hour layover in
Panama City then a 1:15 hour flight on a Embraer Air aircraft to Cartagena.
This was a very comfortable aircraft with nice wide seats.
We arrived in Cartagena the week before Easter. Our
first couple of days we were in a pretty nice apartment outside of the walled
city in Bocagrande. The Bocagrande (Big Mouth or New City) area contains the bulk of the city's
tourist facilities, such as hotels, shops, restaurants, nightclubs
and art galleries. It is located between
Cartagena Bay to the east and the Caribbean Sea to the west, to
include El Laguito (The Little Lake) and Castillogrande (Big
Castle), two renowned neighborhoods. Bocagrande has long beaches and
commercial activity found along Avenida San Martín (Saint Martin
The beaches of Bocagrande, lying along the northern
shore, are made of volcanic sand, which is slightly greyish in
color. This makes the water appear muddy, though it is not. There
are breakwaters about every 200 yards (180 m).
On the bay side of the peninsula of Bocagrande is a sea walk. In
the centre of the bay is a statue of the Virgin Mary. Contestants of
the Miss Colombia Pageant parade there during festival.
Originally constructed for foreign oil workers, Bocagrande
consists mostly of the land acquired through land reclamation.
When we arrived at the airport we sort of stumbled on to a taxi driver named
Miguel. Frank talked to 2 or 3 before settling on Miguel. He was an older guy with a nice smile
and aimed to please. Frank had some special checking he needed to do at
the airport ticket counter and Miguel was quick to alter his plans to
accommodate ours. "I'll pick you up right over there in 15 minutes", he
said. This made us feel comfortable and not rushed. Miguel was our
guy. So when Frank was done Miguel was right there and off to the
apartment we went. On the way to the apartment Frank arranged for Miguel to pick us up the next day so we
could go to the old walled city. We went to dinner at a little restaurant right next to
the apartment. We each had a slab of chicken with rice and a beer and
discovered that Cartagena is pretty expensive during the height of vacation
season. We also discovered that beans and tortillas are not on the menu in
Colombia. If you ask for beans or tortillas you just get a blank stare or
a resounding no.
The apartment Frank had arranged was on the 3rd
floor and had a kitchen, one big bedroom, and one small bed bedroom - 2
bathrooms - tile and marble everywhere - satellite TV with one American station
(CNN) - good Wi-Fi - hot water - air conditioning - and an elevator. $45 a
night. Nice place. What a deal!
(Wednesday 4/16 Day 2)
When Miguel picked us up the next day there were several
important things we needed to do right away. Money exchange was top priority.
Miguel helped us out and took us to a place that I would never have gone to and
got us a money exchange rate of 1940 pesos for $1 American - a darn good rate.
Money behind us, while looking around the old city with Miguel as a tour guide,
Miguel overheard us talking about emeralds and before we knew it we were in front of the
largest emerald cutting and distribution store in Cartagena. We actually didn't
expect to find emerald anything in Cartagena - luck was on our side.
When we entered Caribe Jewelry we were greeted by a young salesman
Carlos. Juan spoke good English and of course Spanish with the Colombian
twist. He pointed us to the emerald museum on the second floor and off we went.
It is here that you can see the largest emerald matrix ever found in Colombia.
Juan was listening to what Frank and I were saying while looking around the Museum. He told us he could tell we knew something about minerology and mining and were not the normal tourists. We let him know that we had done some mining in the USA and knew a little about
minerals - however - we knew nothing about emeralds. Juan took us down to
the 1st level of the store - a several thousand square foot display and
sales area of Colombian emeralds. Cut stones and cabochons
some set in jewelry and some not. An impressive site indeed. All in a sudden a gentleman appeared and
greeted us in Spanish. He introduced himself as Alfredo. He then
began to speak in English. I was elated because my Spanish is horrible.
Thank God Frank is fluent.
Alfredo began asking us questions about the USA and mining.
We talked about the trip he was planning to the USA to attend the GIA gem and mineral
show in Las Vegas. We must have talked
for 45 minutes and not once did we look at or discuss emeralds. Alfredo
talked about being a mineral and geology teacher to the young people of Cartagena.
I asked Alfredo if there was a way Frank and I could get an education
about emeralds as emerald was one of the gemstones we were not familiar with.
Alfredo agreed and said he would contact us later as to when. The store was busy and
Alfredo had to get back to business. Frank and I were off to the walled
city and Miguel was leading the way.
We were elated - hitting on all 12 cylinders. We
accomplished more and made more connections in one day than we anticipated we
would in a week.
The walled city is a place that was built during the 17th century.
The Spanish Crown paid for the services of prominent European military engineers to construct fortresses
using black slaves. Today these are Cartagena's most significant identifiable features. Engineer
and slaves took well over 208 years to build and ended with some 11
kilometers (6.8 mi) of walls surrounding the city. It was constructed to repel
land attacks. It is equipped with sentry boxes, has buildings for food and
weapons storage, and contains underground tunnels connecting the fortifications.
The original fort was constructed between 1639 and 1657 on top of San Lazaro
Hill. In 1762 extensive expansion was undertaken, and the final result is the
current bastion. Numerous attempts to storm the reinforced fort were mounted,
but it was never penetrated. Cartagena was a major trading port, especially for precious metals. Gold and silver from the mines in the New Granada and Peru were loaded in Cartagena on the galleons bound for Spain via Havana. Cartagena was also a slave port; Cartagena and Veracruz, (Mexico), were the only cities authorized to trade African slaves. The first slaves were transported by Pedro de Heredia and were used as cane cutters to open roads, as laborers to destroy the tombs of the aboriginal population of Sinú, and to construct buildings and fortresses. The agents of the Portuguese company Cacheu sold slaves from Cartagena for working in mines in Venezuela, the West Indies, the Nuevo Reino de Granada and the Viceroyalty of Perú.
the walled city is - well you guessed it - an entire city surrounded by a
massive wall. Churches,
banks, stores, houses, hotels, shops, restaurants, you name it. A city
within a city. Today it revolves around tourism.
We found out a lot about Miguel while having lunch with him at a
restaurant inside the walled city. He turned out to be an interesting character.
He told us about some botanical gardens that were not too far out of the city. After some
discussion and our deciding that the botanical gardens were something we would
like to see, he invited us over to his house after seeing the botanical gardens to have a real Colombian
dinner. We accepted. After paying for lunch in the walled city, it became apparent that food was going to be expensive everywhere. We needed a
new plan. We asked Miguel to take us to a grocery store. We bought
ham - good ham - cheese, mayonnaise, bread, orange juice, eggs..... We
were set for the rest of our stay in Cartagena for a mere $25. Awesome! Back
to the apartment and get settled in for the rest of the Easter celebration.
(Thursday 4/17 Day 3)
Still in 3rd floor apartment. We started the morning with
scrambled eggs with cheese and ham topped off with some orange juice. Frank
is a good cook. A great breakfast indeed.
Miguel picked us up at the apartment and took us sightseeing.
We first went to the castle but it was too hot to attempt
walking up to the castle (90 degrees 80% humidity) so we took some pictures and moved on.
The 17th century governor of Cartagena, Don Francisco de Murga ordered the construction of the city's principal
fortification, the San Felipe de Barajas Castle in 1656. Spanish engineer Don Pedro Zapata was given the task of
building the first ramparts on the hill of San Lázaro to
the east of Cartagena. Its strategic location
prevented foreign troops - and the occasional European
pirate - from setting ashore and circling the back of
Cartagena's (now) Old Town. Initially built with just
eight canons and barracks for 20 soldiers, the castle
took its familiar shape over a period of 120 years. It was finally completed in 1769 after undergoing
sporadic reconstruction as a result of a string of
damaging attacks on the city during the 17th and 18th
centuries. The fortress was subject to its first assault in 1697
at the hands of Sir Bernard Desjean, Barón de Pointis
and Jean Baptiste Ducasse. Juan de Herrera y Sotomayor
undertook reconstruction of the castle in 1725 adding
important fortifications and gun turrets to strengthen
its position. After completing much of the outer
structure played a critical role in repelling Lord
Vernon in the most famous raid made on the city in 1741. A force of 23,000 men and almost 200 hundred ships
were unable to breach the Spanish defenses with the
rainy season and tropical diseases taking its toll on
the invaders before a siege could be enforced. Antonio de Arévalo completed the castle's structure
between 1762 and 1769.
Just outside the fortress is the Old Shoe Monument, a popular
photo op that commemorates a poem by Cartagena wordsmith Luis Carlos Lopez, who
famously compared the old city to a worn, but comfortable, pair of shoes.
After the shoes Miguel took us to the top of a large hill just
outside the city. The views of Cartagena are breathtaking. You can
see the entire city and port - a 360 degree view. At the top of the hill stands a monastery with an amazing
church and alter.
The Convent de la Popa was built in 1566 on top of the
highest hill in the city. It is the oldest church in
Cartagena. There is a lovely baroque altar, and image
of the Virgin with a crown bordered in gold and emeralds,
and an image of Christ carved in wood. Each year for
their holiest festival, the Virgin is taken off the altar
and carried down the steep, winding, LONG trek into the city
by a group of specially chosen men. One of the fascinating
things was to see the wardrobe of all the different handmade
gowns worn over the years. Each year a new gown is created,
and they are kept in the museum of the church. In the chapel
there are glass frames filled with small gold charms of all
kinds of things such as animals, children, objects and parts
of the body. These were given by individuals to the church
when their prayers were answered. Another intriguing
aspect about this church is the steep cliff at the back of
the convent called “Salto del Cabron” or “Jump of the Goat.”
The legend goes that when the Catholic Bishop first came to
Cartagena, the Indians were worshipping a golden goat.
In anger, he took the goat and threw it off the cliff where
it exploded and burned the whole side of the mountain.
This spot has now become a favorite spot for anyone wanting
to commit suicide, thus the name, “Jump of the Goat!”
our way back to the apartment the Caribe Jewelry
emerald museum was on the way and we hadn't heard back from Alfredo so we
decided to stop by and see what was up. The timing was right and Juan Carlos had the
time to begin educating us about emeralds. He started by showing us some
cut stones. He showed us the best of the best which was a
1.33 kt rectangular stone (lower left in the picture).
He showed us the next step down (upper left) and the next step down again
(middle left). Each stone down the chain had less color and more
inclusions. The line of 10 or so stones went across the paper. It
became very apparent quickly what was good quality and what was not so I had
Juan remove all but the best 3 stones (3 stones on the left side of paper).
We then started looking at crystal pencils for a necklace for my wife (2 lower
right crystals). Alfredo then brought out 2 - .5 kt rounds (upper 2 right
hand stones) for earrings. These too were of awesome color and clarity.
The negotiations began. Even though I intended to only by one small stone
for my wife, I ended up purchasing all of them. A total of 12 kt of cut and crystal
emeralds consisting of 7 pieces in the picture plus a terminated emerald crystal mineral
specimen for Frank. It was a lot of money. Way more money than
I would usually pay for any gems. I found out just how expensive emeralds
are especially emeralds of good quality. In the end Alfredo ultimately
made me a deal I could not refuse. I paid a total of $ plus
$ in Colombian tax that is refunded at the airport before leaving the
country. Let me clarify "refunded". Refunded means that you fill out paperwork before leaving the country, turn it in to the correct place and person, and you will receive the refund check 6 to 8 months later. I
suspect that Alfredo gave us such fair prices because Alfredo could see a relationship developing that could end up
benefiting all of us. Alfredo is a very smart man. Anyway, that was my gut feeling
and first impression.
After our buying session we asked Alfredo if there were some
way we could go to the emerald mining area - Muzo. He told us it
would be dangerous for us to try to go by ourselves - that we would need someone who was familiar with the area and who was known by the miners - and that even then it would be difficult to get the proper permissions for us to be there. He was not talking about government permissions, he was talking about permission from the mine owners - an invitation to be more precise. He did say that he knew of a buyer who might be making a trip to the Muzo mining area in
the next couple of days and he would see what he could do. This is really
weird. On the walk back to our hotel we had another emerald dealer we had
met the day before approach us on the street and tell us that we could not go to
the mines - that is was simply too dangerous. One of his female employees
that was with him said that they couldn't even go to the mines. They
stressed several times that we should not go. How did they know we were
trying to go to the mines? We had only discussed the possibility a few hours
earlier - in private - at Caribe Jewelry. Do you think that deterred us? Oh no - we wanted to go even worse after all of the warnings about the mysterious and apparently very dangerous Muzo mining district.
(Friday 4/18 Day 4)
Still in 3rd floor apartment.
We went to the Cartagena Botanical Gardens just outside the
Every Kind of Plant Imaginable
After walking through the botanical gardens we drove a half hour or so to
We had lunch which consisted of some kind of fish seasoned such that if didn't taste like fish
- rice - and a salad of thinly sliced cabbage, carrot, onion, and some other
ingredients with a dressing that was sweet and tasteful. I think we both
agree that it was the best Colombian food we had during the entire trip.
The primary diet of the common Colombian resident is fish - in fact - Miguel
told me he often has fish for breakfast lunch and dinner for many days in a row.
We also discovered that Miguel has 5 children. 3 of them were still living at home and
in school. Miguel gets credits whenever he takes a tourist to a particular
restaurant or business and they spend money. He redeems these credits and
somehow uses them to pay for tuition and books for sending his kids to school.
This is how he affords to keep his family going. He rents his taxi on a
daily basis and pays around $200 per month for rent at his house. Miguel's
house is in a newly constructed group of tract housing of 2 room with a kitchen
and bathroom single story structure. It has a concrete floor and is very
small. They have a rooster as a pet. Miguel works 6 days a week 12
hours a day to support his wife and children. There is no retirement only
a chance that one of your children will become prosperous and be able to take
care of you when you can no longer work. Alternatives are nonexistent.
We left Miguel's
and drove back to Cartagena.
(Saturday 4/19 Day 5)
Still in 3rd floor apartment for an additional night.
to some training at Caribe Jewelry and learned about Colombian emeralds.
Thank goodness Caribe Jewelry has air-conditioned
In addition to the emerald museums and stores, Caribe Jewelry has developed an education and training center where classes about all aspects of jewelry making are offered to the general public and to underprivileged citizens.
Where in the country emeralds are prevalent and the geology in which
they exist was much of the topic of the afternoon. The reasons for Colombia’s international prestige are many.
Being the largest emerald producer, with 55% of the world’s total, is just one
of them. Next on the list are Brazil and Zambia with 15% each. And it is not
only a question of quantity. Their quality places them among the most coveted
gems. It is in Muzo, in the northwestern part of
the department of Boyacá, that the largest
deposits of this precious stone are found. Apart from Muzo, the
mines of Borbur, Coscuez, Chivor,
Peñas Blancas, La Pita and Quípama stand
out. The latter is characterized mostly by mining done by
informal miners called “guaqueros”.
Gachetá and Gachalá, two
municipalities in northeastern Cundinamarca,
make up the rest of Colombia’s most important emerald
The brightness and sumptuousness of Colombian
emeralds are preceded by the hard work of
miners. It is an arduous task that dates back to
before the birth of Jesus Christ. Thousands of
men represent the face of darkness during their
long days in the mines in search of this green
spell that is actually a beryllium stone that
owes its special color to chromium and vanadium,
two chemical elements that are very scarce and
the reason for the color of the only crystalline
green stone in the world.
The miner’s work is the initial work and the
most complicated one in emerald processing. The
gem’s value is determined by its color, size,
purity, and brilliance. With these features
considered, the price of a stone may vary
between ten and four million dollars, although,
the very expensive ones are not easy
Although green is the generic color
of emeralds, not all of them have same tone, a
characteristic that the experts identify
carefully when it comes to evaluating them.
Basically, five kinds of types are recognized:
slightly bluish green
very slightly bluish green
slightly yellowish green
Deep green is the most beautiful, scarce, and
valuable, as well as the most exclusive – it is
found only in the deepest depths of Colombia.
We spent the rest of the day shopping in the old city and relaxing
at the apartment. It is very hot and humid. A 6 block walk will find
you awash in sweat.
(Sunday 4/21Day 6)
across the street to the 10 floor of a 14 story apartment building. We had
Miguel take us back to the grocery so we could resupply with more food
and water. We did a little more shopping in the old city and exchanged more money preparing for the
potential trip to the mines.
We spent the
evening walking around the old city with hundreds of other tourists. We
think most were Colombian tourists but a few were obviously from Europe -
(Monday 4/21 Day 7)
We stayed on 10 floor of 14 story apartment. Slept in. Didn't do
much this day.
Alfredo contacted us and he was successful in setting up a trip to the Muzo
mining district with his buyer Publio and one of his employees at Caribe Jewelry - Juan
Carlos. Juan had never been to the mining area before and Alfredo thought
this would be a good opportunity for him to go. Publio makes frequent trips
especially when there is production or as the Colombians say the mine is
painting. So Frank and I started getting
prepared for our flight to Bogota and then the 12 hour drive to Muzo.
We finally finished eating the last of the ham and cheese
we had purchased. Tasty!!!!
We walked on
the beach for the first time since arriving in Cartagena. Everyone has
gone. It is really peaceful now. The Caribbean water is refreshing - not
hot and not cold. But - that is as far as I went in - ankle deep.
(Tuesday 4/22 Day 8)
We moved from our 10th floor palace to an apartment just down the
street that Juan Carlos had procured for us for just one night. It was right across the
street from where Juan Carlos lives and was still located in Bocagrande.
This was or last night in Cartagena. $55 a
night. No hot water, no toilet paper, and no towels. In fact, Frank went
down to the front desk to get some toilet paper and he was told that was
something we had to supply ourselves. Whoda thunk! The bedrooms (2) had
air conditioning but the air conditioning heat exchangers were in the exterior wall of the living room
and kitchen behind an open cupboard in an exterior wall. There was a fan
in this room to help mitigate the heat from the outside and the condensers. What a
difference from the awesome rooms we had been accustom to. Thank God we were only spending the night.
(Wednesday 4/23 Day 9)
We left Cartagena early in the morning. Alfredo gave Frank, Publio, Juan Carlos, and I a ride to the airport at 3:00 AM.
We arrived in Bogota by jet early in the morning after an 1:10
flight We flew on a Airbus
aircraft and it was really comfortable. We went by Pubilo's apartment
and dropped off our suitcases and consolidated a backpack to get us through the
next few days.
We were off to the Muzo mining district. First stop Coscuez at the
northern boundary of the Muzo mining district.
On the way to Coscuez we get a
flat tire. The right rear tire had a wedge of aluminum stuck between the
tread. We put on the spare tire and down the road we went. We
stopped at the first truck stop along the road. The mechanic took the flat
tire, removed it from the rim, patched the tire, took the spare off of the right
rear, put the fixed tire back on the car and stowed the spare. How much do
you think the bill came to. $2.50 US or 4900 pesos. Unbelievable.
We arrived in Coscuez in the afternoon. The Coscuez mines
are situated in the western foothills of the eastern range of the Colombian
Andes, about 96 km northeast of
Bogotá. The elevation of the city of Coscuez is 3038'.
We pet and held one new kitten of one of Don Louis's pet cats.
Yep - a litter of just 1.
We had dinner at Don
Louis's house, found our rooms, and went to bed. We had been on the road -
dirt roads with chuck holes everywhere - for around 10 hours. We were
(Thursday 4/24 Day 10)
rained hard all night. It was difficult to sleep with the rain pounding on the
tin roof. The roosters, distant thunder and lightning, and occasional dog barking helped keep me
aware of the pending sun rise. Needless to say - I didn't get much sleep.
Frank said he slept OK as did Juan Carlos. Publio said he slept like a
baby and was rested and ready to go to the mines just after sunrise. We
woke early, had breakfast, suited up, and were off to the mine.
We found out from one of the miners who came for breakfast that
the road we had come in on last night had collapsed and was no longer passable.
We would have to leave via another route that would take us several hours out of
We went to the mine tunnel which is just down hill
from the house - but - what a walk. You had better be in shape.
Coming back was even more fun. Up hill all the way and very slippery
because it rains hard all night every night so the ground and vegetation remain
damp and slick most of the day.
Miners working at the 1000 m level bring out dump carts on about 30 minute
intervals. Miners typically work 6 days a week for 8.5 hours a day with .5
hours for lunch. When the vein is painting - when emeralds are being found
- the mine might be operated day and night until the vein plays out. In
Coscuez, the rock is soft and tunnel shoring is necessary to mitigate tunnel
collapses. The tunnels are not very tall and become shorter as you get
deeper into the tunnel. A 6' person must walk bent over for much of the
tunnel distance. Due to the wet environment, the timbers rot easily and
quickly and become fragile. The miners use electric drills and even though
electricity is available the entire length of the 1000 m tunnel, lights are
illegal. You can see the electric cables running down both sides of the
tunnel. Apparently there was a coal mine explosion that killed some miners
so lights have been outlawed in tunnels. This does not make much sense as
I doubt one would get a coal dust explosion in one of these tunnels - but - I'm
told those are the rules.
Several miners were already working at the 1000 m
depth - not down - but straight into the mountain. Frank, Publio, and Juan Carlos went to the 1000 m depth and
through the tunnels for an hour or more. I went part of the way but kept
hitting my head on the timbers shoring up the tunnel. The tunnels in
Coscuez are not very tall - neither are the miners. Being over 6 foot
tall, Frank and I had to walk hunched over most of the time. For me this
was difficult especially after having had neck surgery a few years ago. We were asked to not
touch the timbers because many are old and fragile. I decided that
whacking my hard hat on the timbers every few feet was probably not a good idea. I did not want
to jeopardize the safety of everyone else so I exited the tunnel before reaching
the 1000 m working area.
Frank with one of the 72 year old owners of one of the mines.
We visited the mining administration area at the top of the neighboring hill.
This is where the explosives are stored, where miners sometimes eat, and where general
mine administration for the area takes place. This administration
establishment is common for all of the mining areas. The picture on the
right is of the view from the administration building with some of the mine
owners and workers that happen to be at the administration building at the time.
The explosives bunkers are located adjacent to the administration building and must be surrounded with a barbed wire fence, must have
guard doge inside the fence, and must have 24 hour video surveillance.
The area has tunnels all over the place. Apparently you
can go from one end of the area to the other via tunnels if you know the route.
However, we were told that only 10% of the mineable emeralds have been recovered
This is a view of the town of Coscuez from across the valley.
We went back to Don Louis's where his wife Yolanda was preparing
and early dinner. This is the cooking area where she has a BBQ and classic
Colombian oven. The kitchen part of the house consists of a sink
hooked up to a rain water barrel, a preparation table, and pantry. All of
the cooking devices pictured here are about 50' and up a flight of stairs from
We went to the Coscuez trading area and Frank purchased several
terminated emerald crystals.
Coscuez is the mining area where the very rare trapiche emerald is
Many websites say these stone are from Muzo or Chivor but I can tell you that
the only place trapiche is found in the Muzo mining district is in Coscuez.
This is the open trading area in Coscuez where people actually had trapiche
rough for sale. The miners with rough were a little skeptical of us at first because they rarely see anyone other than Colombian buyers in the mix. But as soon as they saw Publio and the introductions were over, the place came alive. Publio is a regular and well known buyer and we were just observers.
When we returned from the trading area, we sat down and had our
last meal in Coscuez with Don Louis and Yolanda. We spent some time
looking at all of the things Yolanda makes from beads, emerald pieces, and
baskets woven from paper. We purchased some really nice necklaces for the
women folk and left Coscuez for Chivor.
On our way to Chivor we did a little shopping in a pueblo outside Coscuez, we were delighted to see
some cattle being driven through town.
After traveling on dirt roads and portions of the
Andes highway that are being rebuilt with a really nice concrete road, we arrived in Chivor around midnight.
Chivor is at the southern boundary of the Muzo mining district. On the
way from Coscuez to Chivor we passed through Muzo proper which is in the
center of the Muzo mining district. Apparently there is no legal mining
activity currently going on in Muzo proper as one of the mining czars who
had control of the area recently passed away creating a lot of turmoil
and confusion. Illegal, turmoil, and confusion equates to extreme danger so we decided to drive right on past Muzo.
(Friday 4/25 Day 11)
Waking up in Chivor was delightful. Chivor is a municipality in the
Colombian Department of
Boyacá, part of the sub region of the
Eastern Boyacá Province. Chivor has a population of around 2200
inhabitants and an average temperature of 65° F or 18° C. Chivor is located 90
km northeast of Bogota at an elevation of around 6200'. I am not sure
which end of town is at that elevation because from one end of the town to the
other it has to be an elevation difference of around 1000' - mas or menos. Chivor is bordered to the north by the Municipality
of Macanal; to the south by the Department of
Cundinamarca, on the east by the Municipality of
Santa María, and to the west by the Municipality of
In Chivor we stayed at Hotel Anny.
Alfredo had teased us about the Chivor Hilton and we expected something
primitive. To our delight this is a
very neat and clean establishment with 10 rooms, toilet seats, and hot water. It is as nice of a place
as you would find in any USA quality hotel. 2 of the rooms have their
own bathrooms and the rest share a bathroom. Frank and I were lucky enough to get the rooms
with their own bathrooms. Sonia
runs the hotel and is a very friendly person. There is also a little gem
and mineral store in the downstairs lobby of Hotel Anny that is an awesome place
to look around and purchase a piece of Colombia. I highly recommend this
hotel if you are staying in Chivor.
The church overlooks the plaza as does the Hotel Anny.
This is a very pleasant place to relax. We woke early so we could eat and
then go to the mines.
The scenery on the way to the mine is breathtaking. Steep green mountains
with roads everywhere with clouds embracing the tops of the mountains and the
The town of Chivor from top to bottom is not very large but to walk from one end
of town to the other can be considered getting daily exercise. The
Colombians do this regularly and are used to it but at 6,000 feet + elevation, it
is hard work for us gringos'. This is the birthplace of Publio and many
of his family still live in Chivor. Sonia, the proprietor of Hotel Anny, is
his niece. His sister has a store on the other side of town. Publio
is a wonderful and happy man who is a blast to be around. He rarely stops
talking and laughing. He can tell you the history of every hill, river,
and road. It is amazing how he navigates his way through the mountains and
all of the winding roads and rarely makes a wrong turn. His ability is
truly remarkable. When he smells emeralds he becomes the consummate buyer.
Let the negotiations begin! Publio is in his element. I wish I had
the tenacity that Publio does. He is the negotiators negotiator. Because Publio
is such an amazing person, we gave him several nicknames. One was the
president of Chivor because you cannot go a block with him without shaking the
hands of a
dozen people who know him. Another was mountain goat because he can
out walk all of us up and down steep hills. He is 61 and in great shape.
Another was the man with the hollow leg
because he eats every couple of hours and is always hungry. Publio is not
a tall person and we could not figure out where he was putting all of the food.
The man can really eat.
Sonia came to Frank and my rescue and we can't thank her enough. You see,
in Colombia you get soup for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. All kinds of
soup - egg soup, fish soup, chicken soup - but soup none the less. And
often the soup would come
with vegetables - vegetables we had never seen or eaten before. Both Frank
and I were getting a little stomach upset from all of the local food - soup and
weird vegetables - (me more than Frank I think) and Sonia could see I
was having problems. For several of our meals the last day or so that we
were in Chivor, Sonia would walk all the way to the other side of town to the
little restaurant where we were eating and prepare food for Frank and I that was something
other than soup. Yea - everyone is related to everyone else some how so
the restaurant owner would let her cook for us. It was great - food that
was more American than Colombian. My stomach issues vanished.
Thank you Sonia!
We went to the Chivor mine. Our arrival at the mine there were some
tense moments. All of the miners standing around looking at us - the
Americans - who just did not belong. They had not seen Americans before.
We may as well have been aliens. We were invited by the mine owner, Don Omar,
to have lunch with the miners at the
administration building. After lunch Omar took us to a secluded part of
the administration area and opened a locked door. He handed Publio 65 kt of high
quality emerald crystals. The cost at the mine was negotiated from $80,000
to $60,000 for the 65 kt lot.
(Saturday 4/26 Day 12)
We went to the mine for a second day but it was raining.
It continued to rain and Frank and I were getting bored sitting in the car
listening to it rain while Publio continued negotiating for anything and
We had Publio
take us back to the Hotel Anny. Publio and Juan Carlos returned to the
mining area so Publio could continue negotiating the purchase of a large plate
of iron pyrite with small emerald crystals distributed on the surface of the
plate. Frank and I helped Sonia find the leak in her roof that
developed the night before in the room I was staying in. We went to the
store adjacent to Hotel Anny and talked to some miners who were in town for their
day off. They were very friendly and drinking some sort of peppermint
schnapps. That's not a lot of alcohol but I think they
were on their 4th or 5th bottle and they seemed to be feeling no pain.
This was our last night in Chivor. Juan and Frank were
getting a little crazy! It must be time to go.
(Sunday 4/27 Day 13)
We left for Bogota Sunday morning after having a great breakfast
that Sonia helped prepare at the restaurant down the street from Hotel Anny. Publio finally
finished the negotiations for the
iron pyrite and emerald plate he had been attempting to buy since he saw it yesterday.
He finally got the piece minutes before we departed. On the way out of
town we stopped at the bull arena where we saw many cows, bulls, and horses for
sale. We met the Mayor of Chivor and Publio spoke with her for a while.
The Mayor welcomed the gringos from America to Chivor over the loud speaker.
We drove from Chivor to Bogota.
We got to see Fura and Tena from a
Like many other Colombian traditions, the history of emeralds
has been attributed with fantastic anecdotes that dispute the
veracity of the geology of Colombia’s emerald zone. There is the
legend that tells of the existence of Fura
and Tena, a man and a woman created by the
god Ares for populating the earth, while being faithful to each
other, in exchange for eternal youth. Fura,
the woman, did not remain faithful. She aged rapidly, and
Tena soon passed away. Ares took pity on
the unfortunate beings and turned them into two crags protected
from storms and serpents and in whose depths Fura’s
tears became emeralds. Today, the Fura and Tena
Crags, rising 840 and 500 meters respectively above the valley
of the Minero River, are the guardians of
Colombia’s emerald zone. They are located 30 km north of the
mines of Muzo - the country’s largest
We had to feed Publio every couple of hours so we stopped in several small towns on the way back to Bogota. Publio ate more
than Frank and I combined. He is a year older than I am and he is in way
better shape. Way to go Publio!
While in these little towns, we would visit some of the stores especially if they had to do with minerals.
Frank and I at one of the water falls we came across while driving back to Bogota.
We arrived at the tallest waterfall of the trip. This is also at the entrance to a series of primitive tunnels bored through the mountains that must be traversed to get above the reservoir on the way to Bogota.
At the 1000' waterfall we came across some volunteer civil response teenagers
who were climbing the mountain adjacent to the 2nd waterfall not pictured here.
They were very friendly and wanted to get into our pictures. From here you
enter a series of .5 mile long tunnels that lead to a dam. These tunnels
are primitive as they are not paved and water is raining from the ceiling
constantly. It is something to see and experience.
After arriving in Bogota and retrieving our suitcases from
Publio's apartment we checked into the Habitel
hotel. 5 star for $105 per night. We found the place thanks only to
Alfredo. He really knows how to do things. Great deal - slooooow internet is the
only drawback. We went straight to the bar and toasted surviving in the
Andes mountains with several rum and cokes while enjoying and Jacuzzi and
Turkish bath. The best way I can describe living in the jungle is that I
almost cried when I saw out hotel room bathroom - hot water and a toilet seat.
Except for Hotel Anny in Chivor, I hadn't seen a toilet seat or hot water since leaving Bogota.
(Monday 4/28 Day 14)
We stayed a 2nd night in the Habital 5 star hotel. In the mid-morning we went to
downtown Bogota with Publio
and Juan. We went to Publio's office which overlooks the emerald trading square.
were shown a couple of medium and fine lots of cut emeralds mostly under 1 kt.
We walked around the trading square and were looking at book stores for a
particular book which we never found.
We purchased a couple of emerald mineral specimens and iron pyrite crystals.
The matrix on the left if emerald crystal, calcite, and iron pyrite and was
purchased in Bogota. The middle iron pyrite crystals were purchased in
Chivor as was the matrix of drusy emerald, calcite, and iron pyrite on the right.
We went back to the hotel with Juan
Carlos. We celebrated the trip with more rum and coke's, another Jacuzzi, and
bath. What a way to end a trip. While at the bar refreshing out rum
and cokes, Frank commented
that he was craving a grilled cheese sandwich. So we ordered ham and
cheese sandwiches at the bar. When our order came they were grilled ham and cheese
sandwiches with french-fries. Who would have guessed. Our luck was
still with us. Man was it good!
Below there are two of the most ingenious things I saw while in downtown Bogota.
left is actually a hot charcoal BBQ with all of the fixin's on wheels - bicycle wheels that is. On the right - well - you be the judge.
(Tuesday 4/29 Day 15)
Frank and I left for the Bogota airport at 3:30 AM. We flew to Panama
City and then on to LA. We arrived in LA a little after 1:00. As
unexpected as it was, we buzzed
through customs and were ready for pickup by 2:00. Beth arrived about 2:15
and we were off for home. The end to a trip that went like clockwork even
though it wasn't planned much past the 4th day.