Gold Mining is a Lot Tougher if You're Stupid
(We all know about greed, but can gold make you stupid too?)
There's little doubt that human beings are complex creatures at times whose motives are often questionable, if not downright suspect. Throw a bit of gold into this Freudian stew and sometimes there's hell to pay.
I recently watched a very interesting online documentary about a pleasant, well-intentioned English goofball who strapped on a pair and decided to travel the Amazon River from its source high in the Andes Mountains of Peru all the way to its end in the Atlantic off the coast of Brazil. Like most travelogues dealing with the Amazon rain forest these days, there was plenty of global warming pseudo-science and a healthy dose of dire warnings about what "we're" doing to the environment in this show...some of the latter justified, I might add.
Despite his perennial gooney bird grin and lame attempts to communicate with the locals by speaking pidgin English, Spanish, Portuguese, and various Indian dialects alone or in combination, this little Brit impressed me. "How so?" you ask? Well, aside from his over-sized bollocks, this guy actually tried to tell the story of the Amazon from all points of view, not solely from the viewpoint of the sackcloth and ashes environmental "boo-hoo-hoo" crowd intent on crucifying us right along with themselves. Wow! What a refreshing concept.
Lots of Gold
So along with the unusual suspects (you know, the "sustainable" this and that nuts and cultists) our little Brit went the limit and interviewed fishermen, loggers, cattle ranchers, and last but not least...gold miners. Needless to say, you know where my attention was most strongly focused. Yep, toward our comrades-in-arms trying to make a go of it in the hot, humid, and dangerous Amazon jungles. (Sorry to disappoint anyone, but I'm not talking about TV or Discovery Channel "miners" here...only the real thing from Brazil.) One of the Brit's interviewees was the actual discoverer of extremely rich placer diggings not far from the Amazon River deep in the heart of the jungle and far removed from any aspect of civilization as you and I would know it. I'll call these mines "Serra Pelada II" after another significant and rich Brazilian Amazon gold find that took place back in the early 1980s.
(Gold mining in the Amazon.)
Anyhoo, this middle-aged Brazilian gold prospector and miner (along with his two pards) was a true "down-and-outer" who dreamed of hitting the big one in the jungles of the Amazon...no small feat for any gold prospector, young or old. As luck would have it, he and his pards did find gold amidst the huge trees and choking jungles of Serra Pelada II...lots and lots of gold as a matter of fact. In a very short time the miner in question had accumulated (as his share) more than four kilograms or approximately 128.6 troy ounces of placer gold worth nearly $200,000!
Open Mouth, Insert Foot
When they first came across their unbelievably rich find, the three miners had agreed NOT to say anything to anyone about their discovery...nary a single word. This excellent rule of thumb and very sound idea went awry when the three started resorting to strong drink as a means of contending with the hard work and loneliness of Amazon mining. One of the three (not our guy, by the way) eventually ended up in the nearest Amazonian outpost getting supplies and also getting very drunk. In his inebriated state he began bragging to one and all about the fabulous gold find he and his mates had made at Serra Pelada II. Open mouth, insert foot. The rest is history, as they say...
The tres amigos were soon overrun by hordes of poverty stricken miners and their families looking for a better life and found themselves shoved aside as hundreds and then thousands staked out the ground around them. The three mineros could do little about this invasion because it's illegal to mine gold in Brazil without the proper paperwork and permits, especially in pristine areas of the Amazon. In remote locations like Serra Pelada II where there is no government presence, miners work illegally...always hoping the federal police or government troops don't show up to run them off the gold ground so the big players in the cities can come in and take the gold for themselves.
A Lesson for All
To make a long story short, our miner friends (including the discoverer of Serra Pelada II) made another fatal mistake. Instead of hightailing it out of the gold diggings with their gold clutched tightly in their hot little hands and starting a new life back in Menaus or Brasilia or Rio, they proceeded to throw away their hard-earned gold on "living large" in the Sierra Pelada II mining camp, blowing their new-found wealth on alcohol, gambling, and the prostitutes who soon infested the gold grounds. This is a painful story to relate, but it's one that's been repeated in thousands of mining boom towns throughout history.
What eventually happened to his two mining pards (including Mr. Big Mouth who gave up their secret) isn't clear, but our middle-aged Brazilian gold prospector, the bold discoverer of Serra Pelada II, is now nearly broke and trying to eke out a daily wage hydraulicking second-rate ground at the site. I know you're shaking your heads out there and so am I. How in the hell can you screw up so royally after finally achieving your gold mining dreams?
There's a lesson for all here. The very same lesson that wasn't heeded by countless other Argonauts throughout the world who got silly or let their baser instincts take charge of their rationality. As American actor and folk hero John Wayne once said, "Life is tough...but it's tougher if you're stupid."
Ditto for gold prospecting and mining...
(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2013
Questions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org