December 5, 2006
The main order of business for today was seeing the mine in operation. Craig and I made the short ten-minute walk from the camp to the mine, which once again went through the jungle. Along the way, we noticed that white mud seemed to be taking over the vegetation on the ground. The mine consisted of a large pit that had been dug out in search of gold. Nearby was a break area, where we sat for awhile to observe the action. Water was pumped from the main river into the hole, where the dirt was dredged up and blasted back out into the river. At the end of the process, the dense gold was sifted away from the dirt. A small operation like the one we saw could expect to dredge up about ten ounces of gold per week, which the government will buy for about $5000. Rudy, the friendly GM, came over and happily showed us the entire process.
Later, we sat back down and started talking to one of the miners. Suddenly, a few of the employees decided that a large tree was in danger of falling and killing someone. Out came the chainsaw, and a few minutes later, the tree was down. As more and more of the pit is relieved of its gold, the miners will continue to cut down all vegetation in the way and dredge up more ground in search of deposits. This operation is small with only around ten people actively working at any given time, but with an estimate of 60,000 miners in the country, a lot more damage is being done. The good news is that the government wants to get its revenue so badly, a prospective miner can buy a claim of land (big enough for the entire operation that I visited) for only $5 per year.
When we were finished looking at the mine, Craig and I walked back to camp and learned that another operation's boat would be going back down the river in the afternoon. Considering how long it had taken to reach the back dam, we had intended to stay another day or two, but we didn't know when our next opportunity to leave would be, so we hastily packed up our stuff and prepared our exit. The bike guy happened to be going back to the river, and since he wasn't carrying anything but a bunch of empty fuel jugs, he let us ride along. We opted to walk across the bridges, but the trailer managed to stay intact this time.
Soon after we reached the river, the mining crew that would take us back arrived. It was good timing because in reality, we only knew that the boat would be leaving sometime today. People going back down the river are carrying gold, so they don't establish any sort of pattern for transporting the goods in order to avoid bandits. It's real Wild West stuff.
We got onto the river right away, but the engine kept cutting out. The driver methodically added more and more oil to the fuel mixture, and eventually we got going, but we easily lost an hour trying to get the engine started. Going over the rapids was much easier on the way downstream. The miners all got out and waded over the rocks while Craig and I stayed put inside the boat. It took us three days to get to the camp, but only one to get back. Still, it was dark by the time we were back at the Chinese camp, so we had to camp there for the night. We were told that a Bedford would be on its way out in the morning.