Sunday, January 22, 2017

Off The Charts In Guyana - Gold, Dimonds, Trees and Sugar

Timber waiting for transport down river
Below is based on our limited personal observations and conversations we had while in Guyana along with some reading and internet research.  I am sure there is way more to all of this but these are the things we learned while we were there.
Timber on The Red Road - cut and ready to go
While we were at Iwokrama, we were able to learn a little bit about the timber industry in Guyana.  Strange as it might be, Iwokrama is also a timber company.  Addit, one of the researchers at Iwokrama has his masters in Forestry from University of Florida.  He told us how they have learned to manage not the timber cutting but more the canopy.  The approach in Guyana is to selectively cut trees to manage the amount of sun that get into the rainforest.  Huge gaps in the canopy allow more sunlight in and thus allow different types of growth to develop.  That is not a good thing.  By selectively cutting trees, they can maintain the sunlight and more importantly the shade and keep the rainforest growth natural.  I am probably not describing it correctly.  But I think you get the gist.  Addit said as a Forestry major, he still struggles with the term “selective” when it comes to cutting ANY trees but he is also realistic and knows timber is important to his country and is proud that the forestry/lumber industry is taking advanced approaches to work together. 
Tom's favorite lumber yard - they gave him greenheart and purpleheart scraps for free!

Another lumber yard
The gold mining industry in Guyana doesn’t not seem to be quite as far along in terms of modernizing.  The small and medium operations still use mercury to extract every last tiny spec of gold.  There is talk and promises and signed accords by the Guyanese government.  However, during our time in Bartica, a frontier town to the mining industry, mercury/quicksilver/amalgamate was readily available and in use.  One day while sitting at Kenny Rogers drinking a beer with the locals, the beer lady pulled a small bottle (3 oz of liquid) out of the deep freeze (aka unplugged freexer that acts as cooler with ice to hold the beer) - she carefully handed it to David.  “Holy cow.  What is this?  It’s heavy.  What sort of messed up rum is this?  It looks silver.”  She laughed and said “It’s amalgamate.”  O-Kay?   It took a minute and the help of local Junie to realize it was a small bottle of mercury weighing 5 lbs.
Far right - Quicksliver $13,000 G$

Quicksilver or mercury or amalgamated
Wondering around in Bartica, it seems every other business had a sign saying “We buy gold.”  Okay, not every other but every forth business.  And weird combos.  Every hardware store also buys gold.  Pawnshops?  Of course.   “Stella’s  Fashions, Salon and We Buy Gold.”  Seriously!  Finally one day we were at the Boathouse just limin’before heading back to our boat.   I noticed the Boathouse had a sign – We Buy Gold.  I asked the owner, “So what all is involved in having this sign?”   With so many signs, I just sort of assumed there wasn’t much to it, maybe a license. 
We Buy Gold equipement at the Boathouse

Boy, was I wrong.  The owner of the Boathouse explained that there is a whole licensing process.  But beyond that, you also have to have very specific equipment to Buy Gold, with specific procedures and training.  The government initially inspects your facilities and then issues the license and in theory, they can do follow up inspections at any time.  He actually has mercury onsite to extract gold out of other things like water, dirt and especially away from other elements like copper and zinc.  He also has equipment to burn the mercury off from the gold.  There were scales, various venting equipment, glass beakers, big science tongs and hoods like in a proper high school science lab……*high school science labs still have those don’t they?  Please tell me we haven’t complete eroded the teaching of science! 

We Buy Gold vented hood

Anyway….he also had a few molds so he can form the gold into various standard sizes for sale to the Guyana government.  That is the primary buyer of all the gold that comes out of the interior.  “Could we buy some from you now?”  He was a tad fuzzy on the answer but generally “No.”   There are a few We Buy Gold dealers that are also licensed to sell internationally but most can only sell to the government.  Interestingly, according to him, the world gold market it basically set by the Canadian gold market.  Really – that is what he told us.  He said quite a few Canadian gold buyers by coincidence also go on “holiday” to Guyana on a regular basis to Bartica.  Wink, wink. 
We Buy Gold equipment

We Buy Gold - molds for liquid gold

We also asked about the small gold mining pontoons we spotted on the river.  I read somewhere that these are also called artisanal gold operations.  The Boathouse owner said that he could buy one of those gold mining pontoons.  He said he would have no shortage of workers to live and work on it.  Right after high school graduation it is very common that most newly graduated boys in Bartica find work in the gold and diamond mining industry.  When I asked Boathouse guy Sean about this.  “Did you go into the interior to work in the mining camps?”  “Yes, of course.  But only for six weeks.  I just wanted to see what it was like in the interior.  I came back here because I prefer the river and boats.”  I am not sure how much gold gets pulled out of the various size gold mining operations - river vs land mining.  
River gold mining pontoon - note the satelite dish
River gold mining pontoons

The pontoons have a sluice rig that digs up watery mud off the bottom of the river and runs it through a screen to filter out the gold.  Mercury is also used to pull the really tiny flecks out of the water collected.  The effects of all the mining is showing up in their environment.  Sean told us that when he was a kid (he is probably 19 or 20 now), the river was much clearer.  “There wasn’t all this mud and silt.  You could see the bottom.”   The older generation of Guyanese still believe the gold and diamond supply will last forever.  The younger generation knows that it is going to run out someday and that Guyana must expand into other areas economically to survive.  This is being done with sugar, rice, timber and now oil exploration off shore.  Certainly tourism and eco-tourism could be expanded as well. 
See the sluice ramp on the back?

See the big engine specifically built for river gold mining

We never got into any diamond mining discussion.   I would have liked to have gone into the interior specifically to visit a mining camp.  Everything we read said that this must be very carefully set up in advance.  I can understand that.  These mining camps are not a place for tourist to be wandering around alone.  However, we could have had local Junie take us up to one of the camps he services with his three boats.  We discovered this too late. Perhaps next time.
Interior mining

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