Peru & Colombia 2022
6-26-2022 through 7-8-2022
The purpose of this trip had nothing to do with emeralds or adventures Frank and Mark wanted to experience. Mark and Frank wanted to take their wives, Beth and Lina, to see places Mark and Frank have been and they wanted to share with their wives. Peru, The Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu are some of those places. Mark and Frank wanted to see a couple of ruins in Cusco and Ollantaytambo that they had missed when they were there in 2016.
NOTE: Select most pictures to see them larger. Click anywhere to close the picture.
(Sunday 6/26/2022 Day 0)
We left Sunday afternoon from LAX. We parked the truck at a Boeing parking lot near LAX and took a shuttle bus to the airport. $15 round trip each. Not bad.
We flew LATAM airlines from LAX to Lima Peru on flight LA2477 that left LAX at 7:55 PM on a Boeing 767-300. We had to do a Peru health declaration via the internet and print a copy prior to leaving.
We had to wear a CN95 mask or double max on all flights and in all airports throughout the entire journey. The requirement only became laxed on the Bogota to Los Angeles flight returning home and after immigration at LAX.
I can tell you, more than 12 hours with a mask on is most annoying. The backs of my ears hurt. The skin on my cheek was chafed. It sucked and was only barely tolerable.
(Monday 6/27/2022 Day 1)
We arrived in Lima Peru at 6:35 AM. It was a 7.5 hour flight. We had a 2-hour layover in Lima. We left Lima at 8:50 AM on flight LA2322 and flew to Cusco Peru on a Airbus 319. We arrived in Cusco at 10:13 AM.
I should note that we paid extra for our flights that put us is group C boarding and into comfort seats and cancel anytime tickets if before the flight. Frank and Lina did the same and we all agree it was well worth the extra money.
After arriving in Cusco, we were tired and just wanted to get to the hotel so without too much negotiation Mark paid a taxi driver $10 for the 20 minute lift to the center of town and their hotel.
We stayed at a hotel Mark and Frank had stayed at in 2016 - the Tierra Viva Cusco Centro. The plan is to spend one night at the hotel, leave most of our luggage, go to Machu Picchu, and return to the hotel 2 days later and stay for another 3 more nights.
After Mark and Beth settled into their hotel, Mark took Beth on the several block walk to Plaza de Armas as an introduction to Cusco and so she could orient herself to her surroundings.
Frank and Lina flew from Cartagena Colombia to Bogota then to Lima and then Cusco and arrived around 7:00 PM.
After Frank and Lina got settled in we took another walk to Plaza de Armas. On our way back we decided to have a bite to eat.
We went to dinner at a corner Italian cafe on the way to, and adjacent to, Plaza de Armas. It was really good. The name of the place is JJonaS Cocina Fusión. They are located right on the corner. Their food is a little expensive for Peru but absolutely the best. We ate there 3 out of our 4 days we were in Cusco.
At the restaurant, Lina was having problems with altitude sickness. Cusco sits at 11,100 feet (3,399 m). The employees at the restaurant had several remedies of coca oil that is rubbed on the skin and coca and herb tea that is a drink. They provided Lina good care like nurses. Lina was in a lot of pain, so Frank went to the pharmacy across the street and purchased a couple bottles of oxygen. I think the oxygen helped her the most.
We finished dinner and immediately returned to the hotel about 4 blocks away. Lina was better by morning.
I should also note that we were in Cusco in their winter. The temperature in the daytime was in the 60's and got as low as 29 degrees F at night. In other words, it was cold and something none of us was accustomed to.
(Tuesday 6/28 Day 2)
We got up early and had the breakfast at the hotel and, as in our previous stay, it was very good.
Frank had already arranged for a taxi to pick us up at 8:30 AM to take us to pick up a rental car near the airport. We picked up the rental car and off Mark and Frank went to try to get back to the hotel. Of course, there was some sort of demonstration and celebration going on in the center of town near the hotel and we could not get anywhere near where we knew we needed to be to park the car next to our hotel. They literally had the street closed the parking area was on.
We needed to get checked out of the hotel, get our luggage stored, and get off to the Sacred Valley and Ollantaytambo - the beginning of our journey to Machu Picchu. We ended up on the north side of town. Every place we needed to turn to get back to our hotel ended up being a one-way street going in the wrong direction. Anyway, we finally went the wrong way down a one-way street and ended up on a street that took us back to our hotel. Keep in mind that each and every street we were on was bumper to bumper traffic with pedestrians, vendors, protestors, and everything else everywhere. Driving is Cusco proper is a nightmare. After about an hour of driving around aimlessly, we finally got back to our hotel and the street where the parking lot was located was finally open. We parked, got the luggage stowed, got the girls and headed out of Cusco without stopping for anything. We were finally on our way to the Sacred Valley and Ollantaytambo.
We took the rout that went through the cougar country and the kui (guineapig on a stick) areas. This was exactly the opposite direction that Frank and Mark took on the 2016 trip.
We were hungry and we were in kui territory. Lina was curious so Frank stopped at one of the kui restaurants. We sat at a little table in a garden area on the grass under a low tree.
Lina ordered and tried kui. We all tried a little piece, and it was horrible. Lina finally gave her plate to one of the Peruvians who worked at the little place we were at and he devoured the kui that was left.
We went on and arrived at Ollantaytambo in the early afternoon. We found our hotel and it was much nicer than the hostel Frank and Mark stayed at in 2016 although the hostel was not that bad and more reminiscent of the area.
The hotel Tunupa Lodge Hotel was just a block above the train station and had parking for our rental car. It was very nice and comfortable but no heat in the rooms and it was cold at night. However, they had enough covers on the bed that you could not use them all or you would cook.
We took a tuck-tuck up the long road to (all uphill) to the center of town and then walked down to the chocolate store near the flea market. They moved deeper into the store area down the hill a few blocks from where they had been in the past. We then walked back up hill to the plaza in the center of town and had pizza at one of the pizza joints that overlook the town square. As before, it was really good.
We were off to Machu Picchu in the morning so we ate and walked - downhill - all the way back to our hotel to get some rest.
When we arrived at the hotel there was a woman weaving blankets and scarves in the yard area of the hotel. Lina started talking to her and we found out that she sells on of her blankets for $100 and it takes her 1 month to make a blanket.
Beth purchased a scarf from her that is beautiful and got her picture taken with this lady in her traditional Peruvian attire. Where else can you know the person who weaved your clothing?
(Wednesday 6/29 Day 3)
We woke early because we needed to be at the train station at 8:00 AM. Our train leaves at 8:30 AM. We ate breakfast at the hotel's complimentary breakfast which was stellar. Plenty to eat and a good selection of eggs, cereal, fruit, bread, drinks, and everything was really good.
We walked to the train station. It only took a few minutes. We boarded the train and off we went to Aguas Calientes, the city below Machu Picchu.
The train had several delays mostly dropping off people at places that start the 4 day walk along the Inka trail to Machu Picchu. It was very interesting to see the porters carrying their huge backpacks, purchasing food and goods while crossing the railroad tracks to begin their 4 day trek on the Inca trail.
We arrived Aguas Calientes with just enough time to board the bus and head up the long road to Machu Picchu. It took about a half hour to get from Aguas Calientes to the entrance of Machu Picchu on the bus. We arrived in perfect timing for our entrance time to Machu Picchu.
We entered Machu Picchu and did the same maneuver we did back in 2016. We turned left and started up the mountain. It is an arduous uphill walk. It takes about 30 minutes walking up stairs and we had to stop many times to catch our breath. Machu Picchu is at 8,000 feet (2,440 meters). We finally reached the top and the ordeal was over. Picture taking was now the priority.
We walked abound Machu Picchu for about 3 hours and went to more of the citadel than Mark and Frank did in 2016.
The only thing Mark was disappointed in is that the only thing he wanted to see was the sun dial and it was closed from some damage it had received from a storm in 2018.
We took the bus back down the hill to Aguas Calientes and we had a couple of hours to eat and walk around the flea market.
Mark purchased more of the hand carved wood lamas with silver saddles with stone inlay. This is the only place Mark has found this item. Mark purchased 7 more lamas.
We left Aguas Calientes at 6:20 PM (just after dark) and took the train back to Ollantaytambo arriving at 8:05 PM. We walked back to the hotel - about a block uphill - and went to bed. It was cold and we were tired.
(Thursday 6/30 Day 4)
We got up a little before check out and had breakfast at the hotel. We checked out, loaded up the car, and took a tuck-tuck to the entrance to the Temple of the Sun adjacent to the flea market. This is where the 6 monoliths are located at the top of the ruins, about 1000 feet up the side of the hill. These are 6 several hundred-ton carved granite stones fitted perfectly together. Who, why, when, no one knows? Absolutely remarkable coupled with all the other stonework of perfection. Mark believes, contrary to all the tour guides, this particular stone work is pre Incan.
After walking the entire Temple of the Sun for about 2 hours, Frank and Lena went back to the chalcocite store and purchased some chocolate. Mark and Beth remained in the flea market and Beth purchased some items from one of the venders weaving more goods.
We walked back to the hotel - downhill - got the car, and headed back for Cusco.
We took a different route back where there are stunning vistas. Beth bought a hat and scarf from a vendor. Lina also purchased more things.
We arrived back in Cusco in the afternoon. We went back to our favorite restaurant and had dinner.
(Friday 7/1 Day 5)
Today we slept in but still had breakfast at the hotel. We went to Sacsayhuamán and Cristo Blanco. None of us had ever been to Sacsayhuamán. Mark and Frank drove around it several times in 2016 but never went and had a look. That turned out to be a mistake. Frank renamed the place Sexy Woman and that works for me. Just another place in Peru where no one knows who built the place, when, or why. But, some of the most awesome stone work on the complexity of Puma Punku in Bolivia and not too far from Cusco. 100 ton stones fitted with precision we could not do today.
(Saturday 7/2 Day 6)
We had an extra day in Cusco because in order to get a direct flight from Lima to Cartagena Colombia, it was only offered every other day. We had to have the car back by 9:00 AM and that was Mark and Frank's 1st priority. We got gas and got it back to the car rental place by the airport with 30 minutes to spare. We took a cab back to the hotel.
We went to the San Pedro market. Frank and Lina ate a good soup and chicken meal that cost about $2. Mark and Beth walked around the market and checked things out.
We then walked to the 12 point stone in the oldest part (pre Incan) part of Cusco.
Beth and Lina got to hold some baby alpaca.
(Suday 7/3 Day 7)
Sunday was an early day. We had to leave for the airport by 5:00 AM to make a 7:07 AM flight. Our first leg was flight LA2004 on a Airbus A320 to Lima.
We arrived in Lima at 8:30 AM. We had a 4-hour layover. We gladly went to McDonalds, and it was really good and inexpensive. McDonalds has been ripping off the American public. In Lima, we got a double quarter pounder with bacon meal x-large and a quarter pounder meal large for less than $13. You would think that if they can do this in a airport in Lima Peru - they should be able to do the same or better in the USA. We are being gouged.
We left Lima on flight LA2448 at 12:35 PM on a Airbus A320. We arrived in Cartagena Colombia at 4:18 PM.
Our total flight time from Cusco to Cartagena was 7:48 hours.
Lina got us a taxi upon arriving in Cartagena and we went directly to Frank's apartment on the 5th floor of the T???? across from the beach in Boca Grande.
Now we are in a furnace. 90 degrees F with 70+% humidity. It was unusually hot, even for the Colombians, during our visit.
(Monday 7/4 Day 8)
Went to the beach and went swimming.
We all went to Fidel's in the old city. We all took our picture with Fidel and he is going to put our picture on the wall with the hundreds of other pictures.
(Tuesday 7/5 Day 9)
Beth and Lina went and got manicures.
We all walked to Alfredo's Caribe Jewelry Store about 3 blocks away from Frank's apartment.
(Wednesday 7/6 Day 10)
Went to the aviary.
(Thursday 7/7 Day 11)
We went to Alfredo's ranch for lunch.
(Friday 7/8 Day 12)
We thought we had to be at the airport for a 8:00 AM flight. Really our flight didn't leave until 10:00 AM. We simply misread our itinerary incorrectly. Anyway, Frank got us to the airport by 6:00 AM.
We boarded flight AV8557 at 10:01 AM and flew to Bogota on a Airbus 320. We arrived in Bogota at 11:27 AM.
While waiting to board our final leg home (Bogota to LAX) Beth's name was call to go to the boarding desk. The separated Beth and Mark and took Beth down the jetway. Bla Bla Bla
After a short 1:20 layover, at 12:55 PM we caught flight AV084 from Bogota to Los Angeles on an Airbus 320. It was just short of an 8-hour flight. We arrived in Los Angles at 6:50 PM. We took the shuttle to the parking area just under the tunnel and walked to our truck parked in the Boeing parking lot. A short drive down the 105 to the 710 and then the 91 and we were home and avoided all the traffic on the 405.
It's good to be home! It's summer and hot but we feel a little cold having acclimated to Cartagena Colombia.
This article is to be determined ----------------
Mark and Beth both came down with Covid19 upon returning from Colombia. They returned on Friday afternoon 7/8/2022 and Mark became sick on Sunday evening. Beth became ill on Monday. The both tested positive with different tests.
As of Thursday 7/14/2022, both Mark and Beth are feeling better but are still broken.
Mark will continue documenting the trip when he recovers.
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 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.
Inside 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 defenses, the 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!”
On 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 city.
Every Kind of Plant Imaginable
After walking through the botanical gardens we drove a half hour or so to Miguel's. 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
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 exploitation zone.
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 to find.
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:
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)
We moved 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 - probably Germany.
(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 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 exhausted.
(Thursday 4/24 Day 10)
It 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 our way.
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 walked 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 dogs 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 to date.
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 the kitchen.
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 found. 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 Almeida.
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.
To see more pictures and maps of Chivor please follow this link to Panoramio | Google Maps
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 sky.
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 everything. 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 Saturday 1/2 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.
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 producers.
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. There we 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 another Turkish 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.
On the 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.
Now let me blow your mind!
More adventures from Frank and Mark:
Ay Caramba Colombia - Emeralds - Cartagena - Bogota - Chivor - Coscuez - Muzo
Cambodia - Zircon and The Tempels of Angkor Wat
South America - Bolivia - La Paz - Tiwanaku - Puma Punku - Brazil - Belo Horizonte - Ouro Preto - Colombia - Emeralds - Peru - Cusco - Ollantaytambo - Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu