Dona rambling around Bogota, Colombia – March 2012
In March Wayne and I had the opportunity to take a quick trip to Bogota, Colombia. Traveling with Dr. Peter Keller, President of the Bowers Museum, we spent the better part of a day at the famous Museo del Oro in preparation for the exhibit of many of those fabulous pieces which is now open at the Bowers Museum (bowers.org) in Southern Los Angeles. I had been to Bogota and the Muso Mine years ago with Peter but this was Wayne’s first trip.
For each one of these magnificent pieces at the museum there are hundreds, if not thousands, more….the most important collection of pre-Colombian gold in the world – certainly it alone is worth a visit to Bogota. In early April we hosted a dinner party at our home for the principles of the museum while they were in California to set up the Bowers exhibit.
Peter, of course, began his career as a geologist with a love of minerals. He was curator of minerals at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles, also Assistant Director there and Director of Education at the GIA before taking over the reins of the Bowers Museum. So naturally, we would drift off into the world of emeralds in Bogota and what fun we had! Ron Ringsrud (http://www.emeraldmine.com) was a capable and fun guide (thanks Ron for the fun party at your house with the local musicians).
Peter Keller, Ron Ringsrud and Wayne at the Casa Medina hotel
The obligatory tour of the downtown emerald district was in order and we drifted in and out of various offices in search of specimens and all of those beautiful faceted emeralds were certainly ‘eye candy’. Saw a number of specimens and spent time haggling over prices, which is common since the specimens come from the miners, to the mine owners, to the brokers in town and then to the offices – the price going up each step of the way. Did we come away with piles of great specimens? No…but we did get some good contacts and invitations to visit again.
Emerald brokers working the street
Nothing like an emerald crown to make a girl feel special!
Wayne studying specimens up close - many emerald specimens were 'glue jobs' or oil treated - beware!
We spent a day touring around the city and a fabulous dinner at Casa Viejo with the traditional Colombian dish of Ajiaco soup –a combination of chicken, corn, several kinds of potatoes and guascas, a local herb. Cream, capers and avocado are added at the table before eating along with rice. Yum, yum…..
When we decided to go to Bogota many of our friends said “oh no, it’s so dangerous”….well – yes and no to that. It is like any large city – common sense makes for a safe trip. Since the four year war ended between the drug cartels and the emerald miners I would say a new sense of calm and purpose has taken over the city. A new mayor did much to turn the attitude. We were never harassed on the streets, people were friendly and helpful and it makes sense that I’m not going for a stroll alone at midnight. There are areas of extreme beauty and parks as well as areas of less visual delight. BUT….oh my gosh – the traffic!!! I thought Beijing was a nightmare of traffic but perhaps Bogota might be included in the top 10 traffic cities. One evening it took us almost 1.5 hours to go about 30 blocks!
Scenes around the city and a couple of friends I made along the way….
The best and most exciting was to come when we headed to a private airstrip to hop on board a helicopter to take us to the town of Zolia and then overland to the Mina Español, which is very near the LaPita mine along the Minero River.
landing in the field outside Zolia
Peter anxious to get to the mines!
meeting some new friends – emerald dealers are never without their white towels!
About an hour over bumpy, bumpy roads to the mine – Wayne’s back was really hurting after ‘Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride’
Entrance to the Espanol Mine
Ah, mud, glorious mud….
Wayne opted out on exploring the mine but I decided to go for it – hell, I’m on the downside of my life so why not take in every experience….it did, however, take three long showers back at the hotel to get the black mud off of me.
While I was working hard in the mine Wayne was outside drinking a beer and checking out some specimens.
Interesting quartz from LaPita mine
Along the way we passed by the LaPita mine
The weather was moving in over the mountains and our pilot was a nervous wreck over the radio – advised us to get the hell out of Dodge and head back to the field otherwise we would be stuck overnight in Zolia. After a frantic high-speed run over the less than desirable dirt roads we were at the field about the same time as some heavy rains and lighting and thunder. At times I thought we would not make it back to Bogota. Talk about wild rides…..
These two specimens were NOT for sale but certainly appreciated seeing them – Emerald inclusions in Quartz…..nice!
We’ll definitely be making more trips back to Colombia, and hopefully for a longer stay. The food is delicious and so many museums to visit. But of course….there’s always those stones with the ‘green fire’….which reminds me of a ‘small world’ story. Years and years ago (actually 1944) there was a book written by Peter W. Rainier called “Green Fire”. Peter was a miner/explorer involved with the Muzo Mine. In 1933, the Muzo mines reopened under the direction of Peter W. Rainier, and an American group marketed production on a commission basis for the government. The book was made into a movie with Stewart Granger and Grace Kelly later on. Anyway, I digress…..in 2011 we hosted a Bowers Museum reception at our home for Chris Rainier, probably one of the finest photographers in the world of indigenous people (www.chrisrainer.com) - the name was familiar and Wayne found the book and showed it to Chris……’my grandfather’ he said….love it!