Rockhounds at Drizzle

Trip reports, photos and videos from Rockhounds' list members.

Oct./Nov. 2012 Trip to Namibia and Madagascar

January 14, 2013

It is a brutally cold day here in Espanola, NM (-1 at 8:00 AM), and so a fitting time to describe Laurie’s and my trip to Africa last October and November.  This tale has remained untold until now because we have been super busy doing shows and buying minerals and beaching in Mexico.

NAMIBIA

October 21, 2012

The trip began with the usual agonizingly long plane rides including a very long night layover in Johannesburg where we stayed in the airport lounge called Bidvest.  It is open to all travelers for $50 apiece for 4 hour segments.  All you can eat and drink and places to lie down.  We highly recommend it.

October 23

Arrived in Windhoek early AM on October 23 and picked up our tiny Kia rental car.  Having been in the country 3 times before and knowing that there are plenty of accommodations, we had made no plans for a room or itinerary.  We first headed for Omaruru, one of the prettiest towns in the country where I was promptly faced with a buying dilemma.  Chris Johnson had a 2.3 pound bag of high quality loose aquamarine crystals costing about 1/5 of my entire trip budget.  Chris cut through my dithering by adding a beautiful but damaged aquamarine carving and an unusual siderite specimen with an aquamarine crystal in the center, and the deal was done.

Next we visited the shop/home of Heinz Malsahn who generally has some lovely high end specimens especially from the Erongo aquamarine and school mining activity.  This year the specimens were just too pricy for me to make a profit on, but Laurie bought pietersite specimens at a reasonable price.  

October 24

After a night at the lovely Kashana hotel, we headed for Uis, near the mines for the famous Brandberg quartz.  On the way, we detoured down the bumpy dirt road to the poor town of Tubusis where miners of the Erongo aquamarines and schools are located.  This detour is about 40 kilometers.    The road was really bad for the little tires of our car and I wasn’t even sure that it was the right road because Tubusis is not on the map.  After a long and slow drive, I gave up and turned around only to have two men in a pickup truck flag us down and ask if we needed help.  The driver indicated Tubusis was just down the road, so back we went and arrived soon thereafter.  There are angels after all.   

We went to the little store in the center of the village where, on past trips, villagers with specimens to sell would start to congregate.  This time was different.  A young man dressed much like a Jamaican Rastafarian led us to several homes where we purchased some very nice specimens.  Our impromptu guide’s name was Hans Nguomo who was very proud that his grandfather had been a German.  We were able to buy significant amounts of loose aqua and quartz crystals most of which are in my shed awaiting cleaning.  We gave Hans a nice tip and headed on to Uis and the Brandberg Mining Camp where we intended to spend two nights.

The “camp” is a very nice place with a huge swimming pool, giant TV, decent restaurant, nice accommodations, and a great bar with my favorite Hanza beer.  It is the former facility for the managers of the now abandoned tin mine and is right in the center of this tidy little town.

October 25

First thing in the AM we headed one block “across” town to the home of Monte Smit and his delightfully exuberant pit bull Libby.  Monte has claims in the Gobobos Mountains where the “brandberg” quartz is mined.  These mountains are adjacent to the real Brandberg Mountains where mining is strictly prohibited.  Monte greeted us warmly but with a sad tale of having  been severely beaten by an intruding thief months prior.  He managed to shoot the thief but had severe damage to his arm and head and had to be taken to Swakopmund for treatment.  Despite this, he was back mining and producing fabulous quartz specimens of which we bought a bunch.  

We then headed for the African mining camp at the foot of the Gobobos.  We had been there twice before with Doug Coulter, www.Geodite.com, and in 2011 by ourselves.  We had always bought great specimens at great prices.  This time we just could not get there.  The drive is 80 km down a really bad road.  Whereas last year our Toyota Tacoma rental truck had no trouble with the rutted, wash boarded road, the little Kia just could not make it.  After 10 KM I told Laurie we were idiots to go further, so we turned back to Uis.  Our consolation prize was stopping at the numerous road side stands selling huge amounts of mostly lousy specimens.  But, it was fun and we did find a few decent topaz pieces.  Back to the Bandberg Mining Camp for a pleasant afternoon and evening.  We reupped our room for two more nights.

October 26

What a great day we had!!  Laurie and I have come to love visiting places and having the miners and their middle men come out of the woodwork, and it happened this day.  First, an early AM visit to Monte who had said he would have additional specimens by this time.  He did have some new and very large brandbergs to sell us, and we spent a pleasant hour with him and Libby while he chatted about his life and showed us some exotic plants in his garden.  

Next we went up to the nearby African town to find the school.  Uis is mostly white with a scattering of black residents.  Most of the black citizens live 3 miles away in another town, a remnant of apartheid.  Laurie had toted from the US a full suitcase of art supplies for the school, and they were well received.  On the way back to Uis, a fellow flagged us down at the visitor center where he had set up a display of specimens for sale.  His name, we later learned, is Johannes Garisob who, unlike the large majority of the Uis public school graduates, speaks excellent English.  His prices were a bit high, so we did not buy anything.

Just outside the Visitor Center, we were approached by a man who asked us to come to his house in the black town.  So, back to town we went.  His place is just behind the school, and he had some very nice brandbergs at reasonable prices.  Next, he guided us to another person’s house who also had excellent brandbergs and some very nice large (10 cm) dioptase single crystals, again at very reasonable prices.

Back at the hotel several other men, including one of the hotel workers, offered us quality brandbergs for small sums.  



October 27

Johannes re-appeared at the hotel in the AM with a truly fine cluster of large brandberg crystals in a rose formation.  He wanted 6000 Namibian dollars for it, about $700 US.  Unfortunately, two of the “petals” had major dings disqualifying the premium price for the piece.  We did settle on 2000 ND for the piece and 1000 ND for a nice aqua/schorl specimen he had on display the day before.  He also gave us the names of several people to meet along the route to Swakopmund which was our next destination.  I gave him 200 ND for his assistance past and possible future.

We spent the balance of the day packing our many new specimens and veging by the pool, I with Hansa.

October 28

Off to Swakopmund by way of Hentiesbay, both on the Atlantic coast.  We were to meet a fellow named Claud at the Duine Hotel in Hentiesbay to look at some brandbergs and pietersite.  The brandbergs consisted of one large and much too expensive rose shaped cluster on which we could not close a price.  Laurie, however, was able to get a batch of pietersite rough at a reasonable price.  Claud and his two buddies also offered us some “meteorites”.   There was just no way to confirm them as meteorites, and they looked just like the iron concretions I’ve seen from all over the world.  So, no sale despite the price coming rapidly and continuously down.  

The Duine happened to be where we stayed with Doug Coulter on our first tour with him in 2009.  Since it was lunch time, we settled in to the restaurant for an excellent meal before heading to Swakopmund and the B&B Avignon which Monte had recommended to us.  

October 29

At opening time we were at the door of our favorite rock shop in the world, Stonetique, 100 yards up from the Avignon.  We encountered the ladies who run the store in a highly distressed state.  They had been burglarized the night before and had just discovered it.  Little damage was done but money and jewelry were gone.  Despite their distress, we were made welcome and bought a large list of specimens, mostly brandbergs but also some dioptase, green garnet, shattuckite, and others.  

Next, to a variety store called Henckert’s which has some high end specimens.  Usually, they are much too pricy to return a profit for my business, but in this case they did have a matrix specimen of jeremejevite which I bought.

Next to Desert Gems which usually is too expensive to buy at the wholesale level.  I asked if I could see the specimens that they keep in the attic.  Somewhat surprised that I knew of the attic, I explained that I had been there several years earlier with a Coulter tour.  In a cabinet in the attic I found a drawer full of nice acqua/schorl clusters from the find of several years before.  This type of specimen has all but disappeared from Namibia since production in Erongo ended, and I was more than happy to buy 6  clusters.

Then off to the waterfront for lunch at our favorite outdoor café.  On the way, Laurie picked up three very nice large slabs of pietersite for very little $$ at an outdoor stand.  The café was just as charming, the shrimp salad and Hansa just as good, and the same waitress just as pleasant as a year before, so we enjoyed ourselves immensely while watching the ocean and beach strollers.

On the way back to the Avignon, we meet several street dealers.  One named Claudius had a large rose style brandberg cluster.  Some of the “petals” were heavily covered with iron stain, and one was broken from the cluster at the base.  Still, I bought it for 1000 ND.  Another fellow offered a small Moroccan arragonite cluster for 100 ND.  I hope I did not insult him with my chuckles.  It may be rare in Namibia, but not at home.

October 30

This day we reserved for our favorite place in Namibia, “the Ladies of Spitzkopje”.  The “Ladies” are a group of 40 or so women, miners’ wives, who sell minerals at the junction of the Windhoek/Spitzkopje road.  The government has built them two roundhouse style outdoor buildings with covered stalls for their wares.  This year, the offerings were fantastic.  First, off they had some new Erongo material -- lovely black school clusters studded with white to yellow beryl crystals in the form of little barrels which they were calling goshenite.  If only I had had my truck, I could have bought many pounds of this unlikely material.  As it was, I had to pick very carefully knowing that the specimens were going home in the luggage.  

In addition, they had many spectacular shiny schorls, troves of lesser quality but nicely shaped topazes, and several nice clusters of aquas on quartz and schorl of the type common several years ago.  I bought a bunch only to find out from a real expert at the Flagg show in Mesa last week that these are fakes.  He showed me how to judge this.  Oh well, they are nice fakes.

This was our best trip to the “Ladies” yet and netted so much extra material that I had to buy a third suitcase and pay $200 to get it home.

October 31

After another excellent breakfast at the Avignon, we headed for Wninhoek and our evening flight to Madagascar by way of Johannesburg.  But not before a quick stop with “the Ladies”, where I bought gobs more of the schorl and goshenite.  

Before resuming the trip to Windhoek, one of the few male vendors said that he had a relative living near Usakos on the way and would we like to meet her at the gas station in town.  Indeed, we did, and it turns out she had a very fine dioptase specimen for sale which I snapped up.  Her husband mines them in Kaokoland, and, getting her phone number, I assured her that I would call well in advance of any future trip.

Arriving in Windhoek, we dropped our bulging bags off at the Hotel Pension Christoph and headed for the airport and a problem.  We each had a bag to check through to Antananarivo, but the South African Airways clerk would not do so.  She said we had to pick it up in Johannesburg and recheck it before the morning flight.  This meant that we would have to go through South African customs, get our bags, leave the secure part of the airport,  reenter the airport, recheck our bags early in the AM and go through security again  This was simply impossible because we had planned to spend the night at our favorite Bidvest waiting for the 6:30 AM flight.  The clerk would not budge, so we boarded the flight with great misgivings about spending the night on the hard seats of the not always secure outer airport.

Arriving in Johannesburg, we explained the problem to an attendant who assured us that we could go get our bags and then backtrack through customs to get to the secure part of the airport and Bidvest.  I did not believe a word of it because it seemed so improbable, but it was as they said, and we arrived very relieved at Bidvest.  This has got to be a big loophole in security, but we were happy with it.

MADAGASCAR

November 1

We arrived in Antananarivo mid-afternoon and proceeded to change $1000 USD into 2,000,000 ariary.  Talk about a bunch of money!!!  The biggest Madagascar note is 10,000 ariary or $5 USD, and the bills are big.  This means that the traveler carries huge wads of cash around.

We met a pleasant little hustler cab driver named Girard who agreed to take us to our hotel, the Sakamanga, for 70,000 ariary and on the way stop at a mineral market.  The market was very high priced with very pushy dealers, but I did get one over-priced aqua about 5 inches long, a small but pure white beryl crystal and a nice piece of cut quartz.  

The Sakamanga is in the center of Antananarivo and a real oasis with a funky architecture, nice breakfast and bar restaurant, and a high quality real restaurant.  

November 2

After a great dinner and pleasant evening we met Mr. Mahery whom we had hired to take us on the 5 hour trip to Antsirabe where we intended to spend our 7 days in Madagascar.  He did not want dollars but ariary, and this would have very depleted our stash of that currency.  So, at the bottom of the hill from the Sakamanga, he hailed a money changer who gave us an excellent rate for ariary, and off we went to Antsirabe.

We had spent several days in Antsirabe the year before with a Coulter tour and, given the great variety of minerals and number of dealers there, felt we could do well just hunkering there for the duration.  We had reservations at a truly wonderful hotel, the Camelia, which is small and a botanical paradise.  Arriving there mid-afternoon, the very first thing after check in, we headed for the mineral market 2 blocks away.  This is a grouping of 40 or so small stalls much like “the Ladies” in Namibia.  I scored several nice rhodizites, an exceptional cab of labradorite, well shaped reddish garnets, small green phantom quartz xls, several nice emerald in matrix specimens, a kilo of small rubies, and much more.  

November 3

We had breakfast at the Camelia for the first and only time.  Despite its beauty and the wonderful coldness of its beer, breakfast is awful.  We soon found the French restaurant on the way to the mineral market had excellent food and dined there for the rest of our stay.

Then, of course, back to the mineral market for another round.  By this time, many vendors had discovered that we were at the Camelia, so we were met at the gate on our way out or in, called to the gate, pursued in the street, etc.  A paradise for a mineral buyer with money in the pocket.  Between the actual market and our street encounters, we got many things including more phantoms, zircon, slices of polished ruby, a large aqua crystal, a box of small tourmalines, bags of small rubies, a pure white corundum crystal, rhodizites, and several packets of small tourmalines.  

On the way back from the market around noon, we were approached by Bernardo, puller of the #2 pusepuse, or Madagascar rickshaw.  For 20,000 ariary (a large sum for him), he took us to the Zebu market outside of town.  This is basically a weekly livestock fair where Madagascar cows (zebus), pigs, goats, etc. are sold.  We enjoyed this very much, especially the squealing pigs.  I never knew an animal could make such a racket from the moment they are touched to the moment they are let go at which point they resume rooting as if nothing had happened.  I am told that they are smart animals.  Perhaps, they know that human touch is generally not benign.  One day on the street outside the mineral market we saw a cartload of extremely indignant pigs, squealing at the top of their lungs, pass by.  A while later a cart (the same one???) traveled in the other direction loaded with pig carcasses.



November 4

By this time we had made the acquaintance of Elie, the concierge at the Camelia.  He speaks English with a fairly large vocabulary but needs practice in the pronunciation.  Between his English and Laurie’s French we did just fine.  He commenced to arrange side trips for us via the run down car and services of a fellow church member.  They are members of a Lutheran congregation.  On this day, we had planned to go to a tourmaline mining town of Mahaiza, but Elie had heard that bandits were operating along the road and that we could not go.  

Instead, he had arranged to take us to another mineral market at the Lac (lake) about 12 miles outside of town.  This market was arranged in similar manner to that in Antsirabe, a row of small shacks with minerals and other wares.  The Lac is a beautiful water filled volcanic caldera about 2 miles across.  The minerals on offer were mostly inferior, but they had many cut gems of the local stones, and Laurie went fully mad buying them because the prices were really low.

Back to Antsirabe, lunch, and of course, the mineral market.  This time, a nice sapphire in matrix, several boxes of copal full of insects, another kilo of small rubies, etc.

November 5

On this day, Elie’s friend took us to Ibity, another tourmaline mining town and market an hour out of town to which we had gone with Doug Coulter in 2011.  Here we struck it rich obtaining numerous large and small tourmalines from many miners who crowded around and hemmed us in to my discomfort.  Compounding that discomfort was the presence of 3 heavily armed and obviously well fed (in contrast to the villagers) police who demanded a 30,000 ariary bribe from Elie for allowing us to be there.  On the way home I asked Elie how the miners, who walked away with hundreds of thousands of our ariary, could get away without being hit up by the same police.  He said they could not and would have had to pay 10% to them and then be besieged by friends and relatives at home to share the rest.  No wonder they are so skinny.  I love Madagascar but truly detest its almost universal corruption.  More later on this subject.

Then back to the Antsirabe mineral market for more wonders including two incredible moonstone clusters (real, crystallized moonstone), a nice river tumbled tourmaline, and several packets of small but very nice tourmalines among the usual offerings.  

November 6

Elie arranged for his friend to take us to another tourmaline village, Sahanivotry.  This was a complete bust with only small one pink tourmaline to be had.  The vendors had really poor specimens.  Everyone seemed afraid, and Elie explained that they did not have licenses and would be fined by the police if caught.  I did not tip Elie that day to emphasize that he needed to take us to good places.

Back to Antsirabe and the usual happy round of mineral market and street dealers.  Among the usual great bargains:  a huge aquamarine crystal, packet of nice small tourmalines, and a beautiful river tumbled spessartine.

That evening a man and woman came into the hotel -- unusual, because the owner does not like vendors to enter.  The woman had a beautiful pink cap tourmaline about two inches long and one inch across the flat cap.  The  cap was half the specimen.  She wanted $500 US, an amount I did not want to pay at that moment.  I told her if I still had money left on the 8th, I would buy it.   She came back on the 8th, and I still had some $$ left!!

November 7

A woman the day before had stopped us on the street and pointed down it saying that in a few blocks was some sort of store which she invited us to visit.  It turns out to be another mineral market in front of the Hotel Diamant.  It is along the lines of the market near the Camelia, smaller but with some very nice material.  I bought two emeralds in matrix specimens, a lime green garnet matrix specimen, and a large, undamaged, slightly translucent and nicely pink morganite (4 inches at the base).  Wow.

Back at the Camelia, among the usual offerings was a beautiful gemmy green stone the fellow said was garnet.  Looked like an emerald to me, but may be a fake.  We are asking various folks to help authenticate it.  I bought it, and Laurie bought its lesser but still beautiful companion.  Later in the day, against my better judgment, I bought 4 kilos of nicely formed small garnets for almost nothing.  This was to totally stress my luggage kilo limit later.

November 8

I awoke early and turned on our TV which had few stations, one of which was a sort of French CNN.  They were well into the count of the electoral college in our presidential election, and Romney was ahead.  Florida and Ohio were the big questions, and I was on pins and needles for about an hour.  Then suddenly, the screen flashed something like “Le Ohio” goes to Obama, and my day (year) was made.   

Elie had arranged for a long (2 hour) drive to the town of Ambositra for another go at specimens.   The places he took us were dry -- no rocks.  But, the town is famous for its Tintin (from the Belgian comic books) crafts.  We had stopped there on the Coulter tour in 2011, and Laurie had fallen in love with the Tintin stuff.  So, we enjoyed the trip.

Elie’s friend is named Leon Paul, and he is perhaps a bit too reliant on his Lutheran faith when it comes to driving.  Driving in Madagascar is iffy at best.  The roads are narrow with very poor, if any shoulders, yet they are traveled by anything that moves from pedestrians, animals, bikes, zebu carts, and huge commercial trucks.  The frequent towns are especially packed.  Leon Paul drives at top speed relying only on incredible reflexes to avoid collisions.  In such circumstances, the slightest error on the driver’s part or the part of the sea of motion around you, can be disastrous:  it is a miracle that we had no disasters.  But, he almost killed a little girl who darted suddenly across the street to reach her mother.  When he got out of the car to check on her, his face was pure white.  She was okay, but our nerves were not.  A bit on down the road, a chicken did the same thing and lived to squawk about it.  Did I mention that his, and none of the other cars we were in, have seat belts!!!

Back at the Camelia we arranged for an export permit at a very high cost of 700,000 ariary and took one last trip to the mineral market before being picked up my Mahery the next morning.

That evening, a dealer and his wife in a van came to the hotel with a huge, somewhat translucent, root beer color tourmaline.  The termination reminded me of a chess rook.  He wanted something like $2500 US for it.  Laurie offered $800 and the negotiation went no further.  Because such offerings are usually repeated the following day, we assumed they would appear in the morning for a second effort.  We agreed to offer more, but to our surprise, they did not come before the car arrived to take us back to Antnananarivo.  

November 9

This time one of Mahery’s drivers picked us up.  He is a really good driver, and we got to the Sakamanga in a relaxed fashion in time for an excellent dinner buffet and pleasant evening.

November 10

Our flight was not until mid afternoon, so we set off on a walk into the heart of Antananarivo.  This was a great adventure.  There is a beautiful park about 5 blocks from the Sakamanga at the top of the major hill in town.  From it, you can look and descend into the city which is spread out before you.  There is a huge market where semi outdoor stalls sell anything.  A bit farther on there is a grand avenue ending up at the train station which happened to have a high end craft fair going on.  We got some wonderful knickknacks for Christmas presents.

Back to the hotel and a cab to the airport for our last and, in this case, very unpleasant adventure with Madagascar customs.  The guy at the security checkpoint X-ray machine pointed out the rocks in my back pack.  Because the airport officials are notoriously and fully corrupt, I had anticipated a problem.  I pulled out my permit, flashed it in front of him, and breezed on by.   That got me through security, and we sat down to await the plane.  

About a half an hour later, with the plane beginning to board, I glanced over at the section (50 feet away from the boarding area) where the luggage is loaded onto carts to the plane.  There were our two bags, alone.  I went over and found no one there.  Then, I went to an occupied airline counter and pointed out the problem.  She went around asking for someone, and 4 customs men appeared and started going through our luggage unwrapping our specimens.  This, in full view of dozens of boarding passengers.  They asked if we had gotten a permit from the booth in the outer part of the airport, and I responded that we had not because no one was there and we already had a permit.   First, one and then all looked at the permit and said it was not valid because I had not gotten it from their man.  Then, that official arrived, and contrived to get me away from the 4 vultures.  I bribed him with 2 US twenties, and he told the 4 vultures to let me go.  Still, they would not until I passed out twenties to them also.  I had kept a supply of twenties just for this problem.  Laurie was so mad I thought she would have a stroke.  I wasn’t much happier.

By this time, all passengers had left for the plane (you walk across the tarmac to the plane).  We walked hurriedly outside, and there were our bags just sitting at the side of the airport with no apparent effort to get them onto the plane.  I urgently requested help from an attendant who did have someone get the bags.  We did not climb the stairs to board until we saw the bags put in the cargo hold and the door shut.

Everything went smoothly after that and we arrived in Johannesburg for our 4th over night in Bidvest.

The rest of the trip went smoothly.  Back in Windhoek, we stayed at the always comfortable Hotel Pension Christoph while I obtained a mineral export permit from the always professional and predictable bureau of mines.  South African Airways did not lose any luggage and TSA did not destroy any specimens as they had on the 2011 trip.  

We had a wonderful time and will surely try to go again.

John and Laurie

 







 

 






January 14, 2013

It is a brutally cold day here in Espanola, NM (-1 at 8:00 AM), and so a fitting time to describe Laurie’s and my trip to Africa last October and November.  This tale has remained untold until now because we have been super busy doing shows and buying minerals and beaching in Mexico.

NAMIBIA

October 21, 2012

The trip began with the usual agonizingly long plane rides including a very long night layover in Johannesburg where we stayed in the airport lounge called Bidvest.  It is open to all travelers for $50 apiece for 4 hour segments.  All you can eat and drink and places to lie down.  We highly recommend it.

October 23

Arrived in Windhoek early AM on October 23 and picked up our tiny Kia rental car.  Having been in the country 3 times before and knowing that there are plenty of accommodations, we had made no plans for a room or itinerary.  We first headed for Omaruru, one of the prettiest towns in the country where I was promptly faced with a buying dilemma.  Chris Johnson had a 2.3 pound bag of high quality loose aquamarine crystals costing about 1/5 of my entire trip budget.  Chris cut through my dithering by adding a beautiful but damaged aquamarine carving and an unusual siderite specimen with an aquamarine crystal in the center, and the deal was done.

Next we visited the shop/home of Heinz Malsahn who generally has some lovely high end specimens especially from the Erongo aquamarine and school mining activity.  This year the specimens were just too pricy for me to make a profit on, but Laurie bought pietersite specimens at a reasonable price.  

October 24

After a night at the lovely Kashana hotel, we headed for Uis, near the mines for the famous Brandberg quartz.  On the way, we detoured down the bumpy dirt road to the poor town of Tubusis where miners of the Erongo aquamarines and schools are located.  This detour is about 40 kilometers.    The road was really bad for the little tires of our car and I wasn’t even sure that it was the right road because Tubusis is not on the map.  After a long and slow drive, I gave up and turned around only to have two men in a pickup truck flag us down and ask if we needed help.  The driver indicated Tubusis was just down the road, so back we went and arrived soon thereafter.  There are angels after all.   

We went to the little store in the center of the village where, on past trips, villagers with specimens to sell would start to congregate.  This time was different.  A young man dressed much like a Jamaican Rastafarian led us to several homes where we purchased some very nice specimens.  Our impromptu guide’s name was Hans Nguomo who was very proud that his grandfather had been a German.  We were able to buy significant amounts of loose aqua and quartz crystals most of which are in my shed awaiting cleaning.  We gave Hans a nice tip and headed on to Uis and the Brandberg Mining Camp where we intended to spend two nights.

The “camp” is a very nice place with a huge swimming pool, giant TV, decent restaurant, nice accommodations, and a great bar with my favorite Hanza beer.  It is the former facility for the managers of the now abandoned tin mine and is right in the center of this tidy little town.

October 25

First thing in the AM we headed one block “across” town to the home of Monte Smit and his delightfully exuberant pit bull Libby.  Monte has claims in the Gobobos Mountains where the “brandberg” quartz is mined.  These mountains are adjacent to the real Brandberg Mountains where mining is strictly prohibited.  Monte greeted us warmly but with a sad tale of having  been severely beaten by an intruding thief months prior.  He managed to shoot the thief but had severe damage to his arm and head and had to be taken to Swakopmund for treatment.  Despite this, he was back mining and producing fabulous quartz specimens of which we bought a bunch.  

We then headed for the African mining camp at the foot of the Gobobos.  We had been there twice before with Doug Coulter, www.Geodite.com, and in 2011 by ourselves.  We had always bought great specimens at great prices.  This time we just could not get there.  The drive is 80 km down a really bad road.  Whereas last year our Toyota Tacoma rental truck had no trouble with the rutted, wash boarded road, the little Kia just could not make it.  After 10 KM I told Laurie we were idiots to go further, so we turned back to Uis.  Our consolation prize was stopping at the numerous road side stands selling huge amounts of mostly lousy specimens.  But, it was fun and we did find a few decent topaz pieces.  Back to the Bandberg Mining Camp for a pleasant afternoon and evening.  We reupped our room for two more nights.

October 26

What a great day we had!!  Laurie and I have come to love visiting places and having the miners and their middle men come out of the woodwork, and it happened this day.  First, an early AM visit to Monte who had said he would have additional specimens by this time.  He did have some new and very large brandbergs to sell us, and we spent a pleasant hour with him and Libby while he chatted about his life and showed us some exotic plants in his garden.  

Next we went up to the nearby African town to find the school.  Uis is mostly white with a scattering of black residents.  Most of the black citizens live 3 miles away in another town, a remnant of apartheid.  Laurie had toted from the US a full suitcase of art supplies for the school, and they were well received.  On the way back to Uis, a fellow flagged us down at the visitor center where he had set up a display of specimens for sale.  His name, we later learned, is Johannes Garisob who, unlike the large majority of the Uis public school graduates, speaks excellent English.  His prices were a bit high, so we did not buy anything.

Just outside the Visitor Center, we were approached by a man who asked us to come to his house in the black town.  So, back to town we went.  His place is just behind the school, and he had some very nice brandbergs at reasonable prices.  Next, he guided us to another person’s house who also had excellent brandbergs and some very nice large (10 cm) dioptase single crystals, again at very reasonable prices.

Back at the hotel several other men, including one of the hotel workers, offered us quality brandbergs for small sums.  



October 27

Johannes re-appeared at the hotel in the AM with a truly fine cluster of large brandberg crystals in a rose formation.  He wanted 6000 Namibian dollars for it, about $700 US.  Unfortunately, two of the “petals” had major dings disqualifying the premium price for the piece.  We did settle on 2000 ND for the piece and 1000 ND for a nice aqua/schorl specimen he had on display the day before.  He also gave us the names of several people to meet along the route to Swakopmund which was our next destination.  I gave him 200 ND for his assistance past and possible future.

We spent the balance of the day packing our many new specimens and veging by the pool, I with Hansa.

October 28

Off to Swakopmund by way of Hentiesbay, both on the Atlantic coast.  We were to meet a fellow named Claud at the Duine Hotel in Hentiesbay to look at some brandbergs and pietersite.  The brandbergs consisted of one large and much too expensive rose shaped cluster on which we could not close a price.  Laurie, however, was able to get a batch of pietersite rough at a reasonable price.  Claud and his two buddies also offered us some “meteorites”.   There was just no way to confirm them as meteorites, and they looked just like the iron concretions I’ve seen from all over the world.  So, no sale despite the price coming rapidly and continuously down.  

The Duine happened to be where we stayed with Doug Coulter on our first tour with him in 2009.  Since it was lunch time, we settled in to the restaurant for an excellent meal before heading to Swakopmund and the B&B Avignon which Monte had recommended to us.  

October 29

At opening time we were at the door of our favorite rock shop in the world, Stonetique, 100 yards up from the Avignon.  We encountered the ladies who run the store in a highly distressed state.  They had been burglarized the night before and had just discovered it.  Little damage was done but money and jewelry were gone.  Despite their distress, we were made welcome and bought a large list of specimens, mostly brandbergs but also some dioptase, green garnet, shattuckite, and others.  

Next, to a variety store called Henckert’s which has some high end specimens.  Usually, they are much too pricy to return a profit for my business, but in this case they did have a matrix specimen of jeremejevite which I bought.

Next to Desert Gems which usually is too expensive to buy at the wholesale level.  I asked if I could see the specimens that they keep in the attic.  Somewhat surprised that I knew of the attic, I explained that I had been there several years earlier with a Coulter tour.  In a cabinet in the attic I found a drawer full of nice acqua/schorl clusters from the find of several years before.  This type of specimen has all but disappeared from Namibia since production in Erongo ended, and I was more than happy to buy 6  clusters.

Then off to the waterfront for lunch at our favorite outdoor café.  On the way, Laurie picked up three very nice large slabs of pietersite for very little $$ at an outdoor stand.  The café was just as charming, the shrimp salad and Hansa just as good, and the same waitress just as pleasant as a year before, so we enjoyed ourselves immensely while watching the ocean and beach strollers.

On the way back to the Avignon, we meet several street dealers.  One named Claudius had a large rose style brandberg cluster.  Some of the “petals” were heavily covered with iron stain, and one was broken from the cluster at the base.  Still, I bought it for 1000 ND.  Another fellow offered a small Moroccan arragonite cluster for 100 ND.  I hope I did not insult him with my chuckles.  It may be rare in Namibia, but not at home.

October 30

This day we reserved for our favorite place in Namibia, “the Ladies of Spitzkopje”.  The “Ladies” are a group of 40 or so women, miners’ wives, who sell minerals at the junction of the Windhoek/Spitzkopje road.  The government has built them two roundhouse style outdoor buildings with covered stalls for their wares.  This year, the offerings were fantastic.  First, off they had some new Erongo material -- lovely black school clusters studded with white to yellow beryl crystals in the form of little barrels which they were calling goshenite.  If only I had had my truck, I could have bought many pounds of this unlikely material.  As it was, I had to pick very carefully knowing that the specimens were going home in the luggage.  

In addition, they had many spectacular shiny schorls, troves of lesser quality but nicely shaped topazes, and several nice clusters of aquas on quartz and schorl of the type common several years ago.  I bought a bunch only to find out from a real expert at the Flagg show in Mesa last week that these are fakes.  He showed me how to judge this.  Oh well, they are nice fakes.

This was our best trip to the “Ladies” yet and netted so much extra material that I had to buy a third suitcase and pay $200 to get it home.

October 31

After another excellent breakfast at the Avignon, we headed for Wninhoek and our evening flight to Madagascar by way of Johannesburg.  But not before a quick stop with “the Ladies”, where I bought gobs more of the schorl and goshenite.  

Before resuming the trip to Windhoek, one of the few male vendors said that he had a relative living near Usakos on the way and would we like to meet her at the gas station in town.  Indeed, we did, and it turns out she had a very fine dioptase specimen for sale which I snapped up.  Her husband mines them in Kaokoland, and, getting her phone number, I assured her that I would call well in advance of any future trip.

Arriving in Windhoek, we dropped our bulging bags off at the Hotel Pension Christoph and headed for the airport and a problem.  We each had a bag to check through to Antananarivo, but the South African Airways clerk would not do so.  She said we had to pick it up in Johannesburg and recheck it before the morning flight.  This meant that we would have to go through South African customs, get our bags, leave the secure part of the airport,  reenter the airport, recheck our bags early in the AM and go through security again  This was simply impossible because we had planned to spend the night at our favorite Bidvest waiting for the 6:30 AM flight.  The clerk would not budge, so we boarded the flight with great misgivings about spending the night on the hard seats of the not always secure outer airport.

Arriving in Johannesburg, we explained the problem to an attendant who assured us that we could go get our bags and then backtrack through customs to get to the secure part of the airport and Bidvest.  I did not believe a word of it because it seemed so improbable, but it was as they said, and we arrived very relieved at Bidvest.  This has got to be a big loophole in security, but we were happy with it.

MADAGASCAR

November 1

We arrived in Antananarivo mid-afternoon and proceeded to change $1000 USD into 2,000,000 ariary.  Talk about a bunch of money!!!  The biggest Madagascar note is 10,000 ariary or $5 USD, and the bills are big.  This means that the traveler carries huge wads of cash around.

We met a pleasant little hustler cab driver named Girard who agreed to take us to our hotel, the Sakamanga, for 70,000 ariary and on the way stop at a mineral market.  The market was very high priced with very pushy dealers, but I did get one over-priced aqua about 5 inches long, a small but pure white beryl crystal and a nice piece of cut quartz.  

The Sakamanga is in the center of Antananarivo and a real oasis with a funky architecture, nice breakfast and bar restaurant, and a high quality real restaurant.  

November 2

After a great dinner and pleasant evening we met Mr. Mahery whom we had hired to take us on the 5 hour trip to Antsirabe where we intended to spend our 7 days in Madagascar.  He did not want dollars but ariary, and this would have very depleted our stash of that currency.  So, at the bottom of the hill from the Sakamanga, he hailed a money changer who gave us an excellent rate for ariary, and off we went to Antsirabe.

We had spent several days in Antsirabe the year before with a Coulter tour and, given the great variety of minerals and number of dealers there, felt we could do well just hunkering there for the duration.  We had reservations at a truly wonderful hotel, the Camelia, which is small and a botanical paradise.  Arriving there mid-afternoon, the very first thing after check in, we headed for the mineral market 2 blocks away.  This is a grouping of 40 or so small stalls much like “the Ladies” in Namibia.  I scored several nice rhodizites, an exceptional cab of labradorite, well shaped reddish garnets, small green phantom quartz xls, several nice emerald in matrix specimens, a kilo of small rubies, and much more.  

November 3

We had breakfast at the Camelia for the first and only time.  Despite its beauty and the wonderful coldness of its beer, breakfast is awful.  We soon found the French restaurant on the way to the mineral market had excellent food and dined there for the rest of our stay.

Then, of course, back to the mineral market for another round.  By this time, many vendors had discovered that we were at the Camelia, so we were met at the gate on our way out or in, called to the gate, pursued in the street, etc.  A paradise for a mineral buyer with money in the pocket.  Between the actual market and our street encounters, we got many things including more phantoms, zircon, slices of polished ruby, a large aqua crystal, a box of small tourmalines, bags of small rubies, a pure white corundum crystal, rhodizites, and several packets of small tourmalines.  

On the way back from the market around noon, we were approached by Bernardo, puller of the #2 pusepuse, or Madagascar rickshaw.  For 20,000 ariary (a large sum for him), he took us to the Zebu market outside of town.  This is basically a weekly livestock fair where Madagascar cows (zebus), pigs, goats, etc. are sold.  We enjoyed this very much, especially the squealing pigs.  I never knew an animal could make such a racket from the moment they are touched to the moment they are let go at which point they resume rooting as if nothing had happened.  I am told that they are smart animals.  Perhaps, they know that human touch is generally not benign.  One day on the street outside the mineral market we saw a cartload of extremely indignant pigs, squealing at the top of their lungs, pass by.  A while later a cart (the same one???) traveled in the other direction loaded with pig carcasses.



November 4

By this time we had made the acquaintance of Elie, the concierge at the Camelia.  He speaks English with a fairly large vocabulary but needs practice in the pronunciation.  Between his English and Laurie’s French we did just fine.  He commenced to arrange side trips for us via the run down car and services of a fellow church member.  They are members of a Lutheran congregation.  On this day, we had planned to go to a tourmaline mining town of Mahaiza, but Elie had heard that bandits were operating along the road and that we could not go.  

Instead, he had arranged to take us to another mineral market at the Lac (lake) about 12 miles outside of town.  This market was arranged in similar manner to that in Antsirabe, a row of small shacks with minerals and other wares.  The Lac is a beautiful water filled volcanic caldera about 2 miles across.  The minerals on offer were mostly inferior, but they had many cut gems of the local stones, and Laurie went fully mad buying them because the prices were really low.

Back to Antsirabe, lunch, and of course, the mineral market.  This time, a nice sapphire in matrix, several boxes of copal full of insects, another kilo of small rubies, etc.

November 5

On this day, Elie’s friend took us to Ibity, another tourmaline mining town and market an hour out of town to which we had gone with Doug Coulter in 2011.  Here we struck it rich obtaining numerous large and small tourmalines from many miners who crowded around and hemmed us in to my discomfort.  Compounding that discomfort was the presence of 3 heavily armed and obviously well fed (in contrast to the villagers) police who demanded a 30,000 ariary bribe from Elie for allowing us to be there.  On the way home I asked Elie how the miners, who walked away with hundreds of thousands of our ariary, could get away without being hit up by the same police.  He said they could not and would have had to pay 10% to them and then be besieged by friends and relatives at home to share the rest.  No wonder they are so skinny.  I love Madagascar but truly detest its almost universal corruption.  More later on this subject.

Then back to the Antsirabe mineral market for more wonders including two incredible moonstone clusters (real, crystallized moonstone), a nice river tumbled tourmaline, and several packets of small but very nice tourmalines among the usual offerings.  

November 6

Elie arranged for his friend to take us to another tourmaline village, Sahanivotry.  This was a complete bust with only small one pink tourmaline to be had.  The vendors had really poor specimens.  Everyone seemed afraid, and Elie explained that they did not have licenses and would be fined by the police if caught.  I did not tip Elie that day to emphasize that he needed to take us to good places.

Back to Antsirabe and the usual happy round of mineral market and street dealers.  Among the usual great bargains:  a huge aquamarine crystal, packet of nice small tourmalines, and a beautiful river tumbled spessartine.

That evening a man and woman came into the hotel -- unusual, because the owner does not like vendors to enter.  The woman had a beautiful pink cap tourmaline about two inches long and one inch across the flat cap.  The  cap was half the specimen.  She wanted $500 US, an amount I did not want to pay at that moment.  I told her if I still had money left on the 8th, I would buy it.   She came back on the 8th, and I still had some $$ left!!

November 7

A woman the day before had stopped us on the street and pointed down it saying that in a few blocks was some sort of store which she invited us to visit.  It turns out to be another mineral market in front of the Hotel Diamant.  It is along the lines of the market near the Camelia, smaller but with some very nice material.  I bought two emeralds in matrix specimens, a lime green garnet matrix specimen, and a large, undamaged, slightly translucent and nicely pink morganite (4 inches at the base).  Wow.

Back at the Camelia, among the usual offerings was a beautiful gemmy green stone the fellow said was garnet.  Looked like an emerald to me, but may be a fake.  We are asking various folks to help authenticate it.  I bought it, and Laurie bought its lesser but still beautiful companion.  Later in the day, against my better judgment, I bought 4 kilos of nicely formed small garnets for almost nothing.  This was to totally stress my luggage kilo limit later.

November 8

I awoke early and turned on our TV which had few stations, one of which was a sort of French CNN.  They were well into the count of the electoral college in our presidential election, and Romney was ahead.  Florida and Ohio were the big questions, and I was on pins and needles for about an hour.  Then suddenly, the screen flashed something like “Le Ohio” goes to Obama, and my day (year) was made.   

Elie had arranged for a long (2 hour) drive to the town of Ambositra for another go at specimens.   The places he took us were dry -- no rocks.  But, the town is famous for its Tintin (from the Belgian comic books) crafts.  We had stopped there on the Coulter tour in 2011, and Laurie had fallen in love with the Tintin stuff.  So, we enjoyed the trip.

Elie’s friend is named Leon Paul, and he is perhaps a bit too reliant on his Lutheran faith when it comes to driving.  Driving in Madagascar is iffy at best.  The roads are narrow with very poor, if any shoulders, yet they are traveled by anything that moves from pedestrians, animals, bikes, zebu carts, and huge commercial trucks.  The frequent towns are especially packed.  Leon Paul drives at top speed relying only on incredible reflexes to avoid collisions.  In such circumstances, the slightest error on the driver’s part or the part of the sea of motion around you, can be disastrous:  it is a miracle that we had no disasters.  But, he almost killed a little girl who darted suddenly across the street to reach her mother.  When he got out of the car to check on her, his face was pure white.  She was okay, but our nerves were not.  A bit on down the road, a chicken did the same thing and lived to squawk about it.  Did I mention that his, and none of the other cars we were in, have seat belts!!!

Back at the Camelia we arranged for an export permit at a very high cost of 700,000 ariary and took one last trip to the mineral market before being picked up my Mahery the next morning.

That evening, a dealer and his wife in a van came to the hotel with a huge, somewhat translucent, root beer color tourmaline.  The termination reminded me of a chess rook.  He wanted something like $2500 US for it.  Laurie offered $800 and the negotiation went no further.  Because such offerings are usually repeated the following day, we assumed they would appear in the morning for a second effort.  We agreed to offer more, but to our surprise, they did not come before the car arrived to take us back to Antnananarivo.  

November 9

This time one of Mahery’s drivers picked us up.  He is a really good driver, and we got to the Sakamanga in a relaxed fashion in time for an excellent dinner buffet and pleasant evening.

November 10

Our flight was not until mid afternoon, so we set off on a walk into the heart of Antananarivo.  This was a great adventure.  There is a beautiful park about 5 blocks from the Sakamanga at the top of the major hill in town.  From it, you can look and descend into the city which is spread out before you.  There is a huge market where semi outdoor stalls sell anything.  A bit farther on there is a grand avenue ending up at the train station which happened to have a high end craft fair going on.  We got some wonderful knickknacks for Christmas presents.

Back to the hotel and a cab to the airport for our last and, in this case, very unpleasant adventure with Madagascar customs.  The guy at the security checkpoint X-ray machine pointed out the rocks in my back pack.  Because the airport officials are notoriously and fully corrupt, I had anticipated a problem.  I pulled out my permit, flashed it in front of him, and breezed on by.   That got me through security, and we sat down to await the plane.  

About a half an hour later, with the plane beginning to board, I glanced over at the section (50 feet away from the boarding area) where the luggage is loaded onto carts to the plane.  There were our two bags, alone.  I went over and found no one there.  Then, I went to an occupied airline counter and pointed out the problem.  She went around asking for someone, and 4 customs men appeared and started going through our luggage unwrapping our specimens.  This, in full view of dozens of boarding passengers.  They asked if we had gotten a permit from the booth in the outer part of the airport, and I responded that we had not because no one was there and we already had a permit.   First, one and then all looked at the permit and said it was not valid because I had not gotten it from their man.  Then, that official arrived, and contrived to get me away from the 4 vultures.  I bribed him with 2 US twenties, and he told the 4 vultures to let me go.  Still, they would not until I passed out twenties to them also.  I had kept a supply of twenties just for this problem.  Laurie was so mad I thought she would have a stroke.  I wasn’t much happier.

By this time, all passengers had left for the plane (you walk across the tarmac to the plane).  We walked hurriedly outside, and there were our bags just sitting at the side of the airport with no apparent effort to get them onto the plane.  I urgently requested help from an attendant who did have someone get the bags.  We did not climb the stairs to board until we saw the bags put in the cargo hold and the door shut.

Everything went smoothly after that and we arrived in Johannesburg for our 4th over night in Bidvest.

The rest of the trip went smoothly.  Back in Windhoek, we stayed at the always comfortable Hotel Pension Christoph while I obtained a mineral export permit from the always professional and predictable bureau of mines.  South African Airways did not lose any luggage and TSA did not destroy any specimens as they had on the 2011 trip.  

We had a wonderful time and will surely try to go again.

John and Laurie

 







 

 





January 14, 2013

It is a brutally cold day here in Espanola, NM (-1 at 8:00 AM), and so a fitting time to describe Laurie’s and my trip to Africa last October and November.  This tale has remained untold until now because we have been super busy doing shows and buying minerals and beaching in Mexico.

NAMIBIA

October 21, 2012

The trip began with the usual agonizingly long plane rides including a very long night layover in Johannesburg where we stayed in the airport lounge called Bidvest.  It is open to all travelers for $50 apiece for 4 hour segments.  All you can eat and drink and places to lie down.  We highly recommend it.

October 23

Arrived in Windhoek early AM on October 23 and picked up our tiny Kia rental car.  Having been in the country 3 times before and knowing that there are plenty of accommodations, we had made no plans for a room or itinerary.  We first headed for Omaruru, one of the prettiest towns in the country where I was promptly faced with a buying dilemma.  Chris Johnson had a 2.3 pound bag of high quality loose aquamarine crystals costing about 1/5 of my entire trip budget.  Chris cut through my dithering by adding a beautiful but damaged aquamarine carving and an unusual siderite specimen with an aquamarine crystal in the center, and the deal was done.

Next we visited the shop/home of Heinz Malsahn who generally has some lovely high end specimens especially from the Erongo aquamarine and school mining activity.  This year the specimens were just too pricy for me to make a profit on, but Laurie bought pietersite specimens at a reasonable price.  

October 24

After a night at the lovely Kashana hotel, we headed for Uis, near the mines for the famous Brandberg quartz.  On the way, we detoured down the bumpy dirt road to the poor town of Tubusis where miners of the Erongo aquamarines and schools are located.  This detour is about 40 kilometers.    The road was really bad for the little tires of our car and I wasn’t even sure that it was the right road because Tubusis is not on the map.  After a long and slow drive, I gave up and turned around only to have two men in a pickup truck flag us down and ask if we needed help.  The driver indicated Tubusis was just down the road, so back we went and arrived soon thereafter.  There are angels after all.   

We went to the little store in the center of the village where, on past trips, villagers with specimens to sell would start to congregate.  This time was different.  A young man dressed much like a Jamaican Rastafarian led us to several homes where we purchased some very nice specimens.  Our impromptu guide’s name was Hans Nguomo who was very proud that his grandfather had been a German.  We were able to buy significant amounts of loose aqua and quartz crystals most of which are in my shed awaiting cleaning.  We gave Hans a nice tip and headed on to Uis and the Brandberg Mining Camp where we intended to spend two nights.

The “camp” is a very nice place with a huge swimming pool, giant TV, decent restaurant, nice accommodations, and a great bar with my favorite Hanza beer.  It is the former facility for the managers of the now abandoned tin mine and is right in the center of this tidy little town.

October 25

First thing in the AM we headed one block “across” town to the home of Monte Smit and his delightfully exuberant pit bull Libby.  Monte has claims in the Gobobos Mountains where the “brandberg” quartz is mined.  These mountains are adjacent to the real Brandberg Mountains where mining is strictly prohibited.  Monte greeted us warmly but with a sad tale of having  been severely beaten by an intruding thief months prior.  He managed to shoot the thief but had severe damage to his arm and head and had to be taken to Swakopmund for treatment.  Despite this, he was back mining and producing fabulous quartz specimens of which we bought a bunch.  

We then headed for the African mining camp at the foot of the Gobobos.  We had been there twice before with Doug Coulter, www.Geodite.com, and in 2011 by ourselves.  We had always bought great specimens at great prices.  This time we just could not get there.  The drive is 80 km down a really bad road.  Whereas last year our Toyota Tacoma rental truck had no trouble with the rutted, wash boarded road, the little Kia just could not make it.  After 10 KM I told Laurie we were idiots to go further, so we turned back to Uis.  Our consolation prize was stopping at the numerous road side stands selling huge amounts of mostly lousy specimens.  But, it was fun and we did find a few decent topaz pieces.  Back to the Bandberg Mining Camp for a pleasant afternoon and evening.  We reupped our room for two more nights.

October 26

What a great day we had!!  Laurie and I have come to love visiting places and having the miners and their middle men come out of the woodwork, and it happened this day.  First, an early AM visit to Monte who had said he would have additional specimens by this time.  He did have some new and very large brandbergs to sell us, and we spent a pleasant hour with him and Libby while he chatted about his life and showed us some exotic plants in his garden.  

Next we went up to the nearby African town to find the school.  Uis is mostly white with a scattering of black residents.  Most of the black citizens live 3 miles away in another town, a remnant of apartheid.  Laurie had toted from the US a full suitcase of art supplies for the school, and they were well received.  On the way back to Uis, a fellow flagged us down at the visitor center where he had set up a display of specimens for sale.  His name, we later learned, is Johannes Garisob who, unlike the large majority of the Uis public school graduates, speaks excellent English.  His prices were a bit high, so we did not buy anything.

Just outside the Visitor Center, we were approached by a man who asked us to come to his house in the black town.  So, back to town we went.  His place is just behind the school, and he had some very nice brandbergs at reasonable prices.  Next, he guided us to another person’s house who also had excellent brandbergs and some very nice large (10 cm) dioptase single crystals, again at very reasonable prices.

Back at the hotel several other men, including one of the hotel workers, offered us quality brandbergs for small sums.  



October 27

Johannes re-appeared at the hotel in the AM with a truly fine cluster of large brandberg crystals in a rose formation.  He wanted 6000 Namibian dollars for it, about $700 US.  Unfortunately, two of the “petals” had major dings disqualifying the premium price for the piece.  We did settle on 2000 ND for the piece and 1000 ND for a nice aqua/schorl specimen he had on display the day before.  He also gave us the names of several people to meet along the route to Swakopmund which was our next destination.  I gave him 200 ND for his assistance past and possible future.

We spent the balance of the day packing our many new specimens and veging by the pool, I with Hansa.

October 28

Off to Swakopmund by way of Hentiesbay, both on the Atlantic coast.  We were to meet a fellow named Claud at the Duine Hotel in Hentiesbay to look at some brandbergs and pietersite.  The brandbergs consisted of one large and much too expensive rose shaped cluster on which we could not close a price.  Laurie, however, was able to get a batch of pietersite rough at a reasonable price.  Claud and his two buddies also offered us some “meteorites”.   There was just no way to confirm them as meteorites, and they looked just like the iron concretions I’ve seen from all over the world.  So, no sale despite the price coming rapidly and continuously down.  

The Duine happened to be where we stayed with Doug Coulter on our first tour with him in 2009.  Since it was lunch time, we settled in to the restaurant for an excellent meal before heading to Swakopmund and the B&B Avignon which Monte had recommended to us.  

October 29

At opening time we were at the door of our favorite rock shop in the world, Stonetique, 100 yards up from the Avignon.  We encountered the ladies who run the store in a highly distressed state.  They had been burglarized the night before and had just discovered it.  Little damage was done but money and jewelry were gone.  Despite their distress, we were made welcome and bought a large list of specimens, mostly brandbergs but also some dioptase, green garnet, shattuckite, and others.  

Next, to a variety store called Henckert’s which has some high end specimens.  Usually, they are much too pricy to return a profit for my business, but in this case they did have a matrix specimen of jeremejevite which I bought.

Next to Desert Gems which usually is too expensive to buy at the wholesale level.  I asked if I could see the specimens that they keep in the attic.  Somewhat surprised that I knew of the attic, I explained that I had been there several years earlier with a Coulter tour.  In a cabinet in the attic I found a drawer full of nice acqua/schorl clusters from the find of several years before.  This type of specimen has all but disappeared from Namibia since production in Erongo ended, and I was more than happy to buy 6  clusters.

Then off to the waterfront for lunch at our favorite outdoor café.  On the way, Laurie picked up three very nice large slabs of pietersite for very little $$ at an outdoor stand.  The café was just as charming, the shrimp salad and Hansa just as good, and the same waitress just as pleasant as a year before, so we enjoyed ourselves immensely while watching the ocean and beach strollers.

On the way back to the Avignon, we meet several street dealers.  One named Claudius had a large rose style brandberg cluster.  Some of the “petals” were heavily covered with iron stain, and one was broken from the cluster at the base.  Still, I bought it for 1000 ND.  Another fellow offered a small Moroccan arragonite cluster for 100 ND.  I hope I did not insult him with my chuckles.  It may be rare in Namibia, but not at home.

October 30

This day we reserved for our favorite place in Namibia, “the Ladies of Spitzkopje”.  The “Ladies” are a group of 40 or so women, miners’ wives, who sell minerals at the junction of the Windhoek/Spitzkopje road.  The government has built them two roundhouse style outdoor buildings with covered stalls for their wares.  This year, the offerings were fantastic.  First, off they had some new Erongo material -- lovely black school clusters studded with white to yellow beryl crystals in the form of little barrels which they were calling goshenite.  If only I had had my truck, I could have bought many pounds of this unlikely material.  As it was, I had to pick very carefully knowing that the specimens were going home in the luggage.  

In addition, they had many spectacular shiny schorls, troves of lesser quality but nicely shaped topazes, and several nice clusters of aquas on quartz and schorl of the type common several years ago.  I bought a bunch only to find out from a real expert at the Flagg show in Mesa last week that these are fakes.  He showed me how to judge this.  Oh well, they are nice fakes.

This was our best trip to the “Ladies” yet and netted so much extra material that I had to buy a third suitcase and pay $200 to get it home.

October 31

After another excellent breakfast at the Avignon, we headed for Wninhoek and our evening flight to Madagascar by way of Johannesburg.  But not before a quick stop with “the Ladies”, where I bought gobs more of the schorl and goshenite.  

Before resuming the trip to Windhoek, one of the few male vendors said that he had a relative living near Usakos on the way and would we like to meet her at the gas station in town.  Indeed, we did, and it turns out she had a very fine dioptase specimen for sale which I snapped up.  Her husband mines them in Kaokoland, and, getting her phone number, I assured her that I would call well in advance of any future trip.

Arriving in Windhoek, we dropped our bulging bags off at the Hotel Pension Christoph and headed for the airport and a problem.  We each had a bag to check through to Antananarivo, but the South African Airways clerk would not do so.  She said we had to pick it up in Johannesburg and recheck it before the morning flight.  This meant that we would have to go through South African customs, get our bags, leave the secure part of the airport,  reenter the airport, recheck our bags early in the AM and go through security again  This was simply impossible because we had planned to spend the night at our favorite Bidvest waiting for the 6:30 AM flight.  The clerk would not budge, so we boarded the flight with great misgivings about spending the night on the hard seats of the not always secure outer airport.

Arriving in Johannesburg, we explained the problem to an attendant who assured us that we could go get our bags and then backtrack through customs to get to the secure part of the airport and Bidvest.  I did not believe a word of it because it seemed so improbable, but it was as they said, and we arrived very relieved at Bidvest.  This has got to be a big loophole in security, but we were happy with it.

MADAGASCAR

November 1

We arrived in Antananarivo mid-afternoon and proceeded to change $1000 USD into 2,000,000 ariary.  Talk about a bunch of money!!!  The biggest Madagascar note is 10,000 ariary or $5 USD, and the bills are big.  This means that the traveler carries huge wads of cash around.

We met a pleasant little hustler cab driver named Girard who agreed to take us to our hotel, the Sakamanga, for 70,000 ariary and on the way stop at a mineral market.  The market was very high priced with very pushy dealers, but I did get one over-priced aqua about 5 inches long, a small but pure white beryl crystal and a nice piece of cut quartz.  

The Sakamanga is in the center of Antananarivo and a real oasis with a funky architecture, nice breakfast and bar restaurant, and a high quality real restaurant.  

November 2

After a great dinner and pleasant evening we met Mr. Mahery whom we had hired to take us on the 5 hour trip to Antsirabe where we intended to spend our 7 days in Madagascar.  He did not want dollars but ariary, and this would have very depleted our stash of that currency.  So, at the bottom of the hill from the Sakamanga, he hailed a money changer who gave us an excellent rate for ariary, and off we went to Antsirabe.

We had spent several days in Antsirabe the year before with a Coulter tour and, given the great variety of minerals and number of dealers there, felt we could do well just hunkering there for the duration.  We had reservations at a truly wonderful hotel, the Camelia, which is small and a botanical paradise.  Arriving there mid-afternoon, the very first thing after check in, we headed for the mineral market 2 blocks away.  This is a grouping of 40 or so small stalls much like “the Ladies” in Namibia.  I scored several nice rhodizites, an exceptional cab of labradorite, well shaped reddish garnets, small green phantom quartz xls, several nice emerald in matrix specimens, a kilo of small rubies, and much more.  

November 3

We had breakfast at the Camelia for the first and only time.  Despite its beauty and the wonderful coldness of its beer, breakfast is awful.  We soon found the French restaurant on the way to the mineral market had excellent food and dined there for the rest of our stay.

Then, of course, back to the mineral market for another round.  By this time, many vendors had discovered that we were at the Camelia, so we were met at the gate on our way out or in, called to the gate, pursued in the street, etc.  A paradise for a mineral buyer with money in the pocket.  Between the actual market and our street encounters, we got many things including more phantoms, zircon, slices of polished ruby, a large aqua crystal, a box of small tourmalines, bags of small rubies, a pure white corundum crystal, rhodizites, and several packets of small tourmalines.  

On the way back from the market around noon, we were approached by Bernardo, puller of the #2 pusepuse, or Madagascar rickshaw.  For 20,000 ariary (a large sum for him), he took us to the Zebu market outside of town.  This is basically a weekly livestock fair where Madagascar cows (zebus), pigs, goats, etc. are sold.  We enjoyed this very much, especially the squealing pigs.  I never knew an animal could make such a racket from the moment they are touched to the moment they are let go at which point they resume rooting as if nothing had happened.  I am told that they are smart animals.  Perhaps, they know that human touch is generally not benign.  One day on the street outside the mineral market we saw a cartload of extremely indignant pigs, squealing at the top of their lungs, pass by.  A while later a cart (the same one???) traveled in the other direction loaded with pig carcasses.



November 4

By this time we had made the acquaintance of Elie, the concierge at the Camelia.  He speaks English with a fairly large vocabulary but needs practice in the pronunciation.  Between his English and Laurie’s French we did just fine.  He commenced to arrange side trips for us via the run down car and services of a fellow church member.  They are members of a Lutheran congregation.  On this day, we had planned to go to a tourmaline mining town of Mahaiza, but Elie had heard that bandits were operating along the road and that we could not go.  

Instead, he had arranged to take us to another mineral market at the Lac (lake) about 12 miles outside of town.  This market was arranged in similar manner to that in Antsirabe, a row of small shacks with minerals and other wares.  The Lac is a beautiful water filled volcanic caldera about 2 miles across.  The minerals on offer were mostly inferior, but they had many cut gems of the local stones, and Laurie went fully mad buying them because the prices were really low.

Back to Antsirabe, lunch, and of course, the mineral market.  This time, a nice sapphire in matrix, several boxes of copal full of insects, another kilo of small rubies, etc.

November 5

On this day, Elie’s friend took us to Ibity, another tourmaline mining town and market an hour out of town to which we had gone with Doug Coulter in 2011.  Here we struck it rich obtaining numerous large and small tourmalines from many miners who crowded around and hemmed us in to my discomfort.  Compounding that discomfort was the presence of 3 heavily armed and obviously well fed (in contrast to the villagers) police who demanded a 30,000 ariary bribe from Elie for allowing us to be there.  On the way home I asked Elie how the miners, who walked away with hundreds of thousands of our ariary, could get away without being hit up by the same police.  He said they could not and would have had to pay 10% to them and then be besieged by friends and relatives at home to share the rest.  No wonder they are so skinny.  I love Madagascar but truly detest its almost universal corruption.  More later on this subject.

Then back to the Antsirabe mineral market for more wonders including two incredible moonstone clusters (real, crystallized moonstone), a nice river tumbled tourmaline, and several packets of small but very nice tourmalines among the usual offerings.  

November 6

Elie arranged for his friend to take us to another tourmaline village, Sahanivotry.  This was a complete bust with only small one pink tourmaline to be had.  The vendors had really poor specimens.  Everyone seemed afraid, and Elie explained that they did not have licenses and would be fined by the police if caught.  I did not tip Elie that day to emphasize that he needed to take us to good places.

Back to Antsirabe and the usual happy round of mineral market and street dealers.  Among the usual great bargains:  a huge aquamarine crystal, packet of nice small tourmalines, and a beautiful river tumbled spessartine.

That evening a man and woman came into the hotel -- unusual, because the owner does not like vendors to enter.  The woman had a beautiful pink cap tourmaline about two inches long and one inch across the flat cap.  The  cap was half the specimen.  She wanted $500 US, an amount I did not want to pay at that moment.  I told her if I still had money left on the 8th, I would buy it.   She came back on the 8th, and I still had some $$ left!!

November 7

A woman the day before had stopped us on the street and pointed down it saying that in a few blocks was some sort of store which she invited us to visit.  It turns out to be another mineral market in front of the Hotel Diamant.  It is along the lines of the market near the Camelia, smaller but with some very nice material.  I bought two emeralds in matrix specimens, a lime green garnet matrix specimen, and a large, undamaged, slightly translucent and nicely pink morganite (4 inches at the base).  Wow.

Back at the Camelia, among the usual offerings was a beautiful gemmy green stone the fellow said was garnet.  Looked like an emerald to me, but may be a fake.  We are asking various folks to help authenticate it.  I bought it, and Laurie bought its lesser but still beautiful companion.  Later in the day, against my better judgment, I bought 4 kilos of nicely formed small garnets for almost nothing.  This was to totally stress my luggage kilo limit later.

November 8

I awoke early and turned on our TV which had few stations, one of which was a sort of French CNN.  They were well into the count of the electoral college in our presidential election, and Romney was ahead.  Florida and Ohio were the big questions, and I was on pins and needles for about an hour.  Then suddenly, the screen flashed something like “Le Ohio” goes to Obama, and my day (year) was made.   

Elie had arranged for a long (2 hour) drive to the town of Ambositra for another go at specimens.   The places he took us were dry -- no rocks.  But, the town is famous for its Tintin (from the Belgian comic books) crafts.  We had stopped there on the Coulter tour in 2011, and Laurie had fallen in love with the Tintin stuff.  So, we enjoyed the trip.

Elie’s friend is named Leon Paul, and he is perhaps a bit too reliant on his Lutheran faith when it comes to driving.  Driving in Madagascar is iffy at best.  The roads are narrow with very poor, if any shoulders, yet they are traveled by anything that moves from pedestrians, animals, bikes, zebu carts, and huge commercial trucks.  The frequent towns are especially packed.  Leon Paul drives at top speed relying only on incredible reflexes to avoid collisions.  In such circumstances, the slightest error on the driver’s part or the part of the sea of motion around you, can be disastrous:  it is a miracle that we had no disasters.  But, he almost killed a little girl who darted suddenly across the street to reach her mother.  When he got out of the car to check on her, his face was pure white.  She was okay, but our nerves were not.  A bit on down the road, a chicken did the same thing and lived to squawk about it.  Did I mention that his, and none of the other cars we were in, have seat belts!!!

Back at the Camelia we arranged for an export permit at a very high cost of 700,000 ariary and took one last trip to the mineral market before being picked up my Mahery the next morning.

That evening, a dealer and his wife in a van came to the hotel with a huge, somewhat translucent, root beer color tourmaline.  The termination reminded me of a chess rook.  He wanted something like $2500 US for it.  Laurie offered $800 and the negotiation went no further.  Because such offerings are usually repeated the following day, we assumed they would appear in the morning for a second effort.  We agreed to offer more, but to our surprise, they did not come before the car arrived to take us back to Antnananarivo.  

November 9

This time one of Mahery’s drivers picked us up.  He is a really good driver, and we got to the Sakamanga in a relaxed fashion in time for an excellent dinner buffet and pleasant evening.

November 10

Our flight was not until mid afternoon, so we set off on a walk into the heart of Antananarivo.  This was a great adventure.  There is a beautiful park about 5 blocks from the Sakamanga at the top of the major hill in town.  From it, you can look and descend into the city which is spread out before you.  There is a huge market where semi outdoor stalls sell anything.  A bit farther on there is a grand avenue ending up at the train station which happened to have a high end craft fair going on.  We got some wonderful knickknacks for Christmas presents.

Back to the hotel and a cab to the airport for our last and, in this case, very unpleasant adventure with Madagascar customs.  The guy at the security checkpoint X-ray machine pointed out the rocks in my back pack.  Because the airport officials are notoriously and fully corrupt, I had anticipated a problem.  I pulled out my permit, flashed it in front of him, and breezed on by.   That got me through security, and we sat down to await the plane.  

About a half an hour later, with the plane beginning to board, I glanced over at the section (50 feet away from the boarding area) where the luggage is loaded onto carts to the plane.  There were our two bags, alone.  I went over and found no one there.  Then, I went to an occupied airline counter and pointed out the problem.  She went around asking for someone, and 4 customs men appeared and started going through our luggage unwrapping our specimens.  This, in full view of dozens of boarding passengers.  They asked if we had gotten a permit from the booth in the outer part of the airport, and I responded that we had not because no one was there and we already had a permit.   First, one and then all looked at the permit and said it was not valid because I had not gotten it from their man.  Then, that official arrived, and contrived to get me away from the 4 vultures.  I bribed him with 2 US twenties, and he told the 4 vultures to let me go.  Still, they would not until I passed out twenties to them also.  I had kept a supply of twenties just for this problem.  Laurie was so mad I thought she would have a stroke.  I wasn’t much happier.

By this time, all passengers had left for the plane (you walk across the tarmac to the plane).  We walked hurriedly outside, and there were our bags just sitting at the side of the airport with no apparent effort to get them onto the plane.  I urgently requested help from an attendant who did have someone get the bags.  We did not climb the stairs to board until we saw the bags put in the cargo hold and the door shut.

Everything went smoothly after that and we arrived in Johannesburg for our 4th over night in Bidvest.

The rest of the trip went smoothly.  Back in Windhoek, we stayed at the always comfortable Hotel Pension Christoph while I obtained a mineral export permit from the always professional and predictable bureau of mines.  South African Airways did not lose any luggage and TSA did not destroy any specimens as they had on the 2011 trip.  

We had a wonderful time and will surely try to go again.

John and Laurie















 



 

















 



 


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