A Gold Prospecting Adventure
(from the new book I am writing)
You can barely see a waterfall in the background to the south. It is seen at the tip of my walking stick. That was where the gold was supposed to be coming from.
I am in the process of writing a book about some of my more interesting adventures over the last 40 years. Below, I have posted one of my gold prospecting stories from a number of years ago. If you like it, I can post more of my adventures in coming weeks.
Gold Prospecting Expedition,
September 6, 2003, approx. 10:30 p.m.
(Please note: Names have been changed and faces blotted out in one photo for security purposes…)
“How much did he get? I don’t think I heard you properly Pedro,” I said in a rather excited tone.
Pedro said, “Yes Stan, you heard right. Incredible, if it’s true.”
“Tell me the story Pedro,” I said, “I really need to hear all the details. Please, don’t leave anything out and start from the beginning.”
Pedro began telling me a story about one of the most amazing gold discoveries I had ever heard of. I sat there just listening to the story for about a half hour without interrupting. I was spellbound.
Pedro explained to me that a local retired police official had just purchased a half million dollar building lot in Quito, was currently working on the construction of the fifth floor of his new home, was driving a new Land Rover Discovery and that no less than eleven members of his family were also driving brand new cars. The retired police official had let the secret of his recent financial bonanza out to just a few select people and Pedro’s brother was one of them.
The story began that as a young man, the police official had been taken to a small remote river in southern Ecuador by his grandfather, just before his grandfather retired to live in Spain as a wealthy man. The river was loaded with course alluvial gold. Apparently the grandfather had shown his grandson where the gold was and how to recover it with a simple sluice box and shovel. Now this grandson had grown up, had a successful career and family, and was finally ready to live his golden years in a very golden manner.
Pedro’s brother eventually became aware that the retired police official had also invited one of his laborers from town to participate in one of the gold mining trips. The laborer was allowed to use a pan and keep the gold he recovered. The word was that the laborer had spent most of one day panning with a large, wooden “batea” gold pan, completing only three pans before dark. The laborer had no previous experience with a gold pan and had spent his time separating the sand, gravel and gold manually, not using the pan properly.
“How much gold did he get?,” I asked again, not believing Pedro the first time.
Pedro said, “He got 28 grams (nearly one ounce) in those three pans.”
“Are you sure?”
Pedro said that the laborer had returned from the mining expedition to the small town nearby in southern Ecuador. He had sold the gold to a gold buyer for nine dollars per gram, which was big money for him compared to his normal six dollar per day wage.
“Can you speak to this laborer confidentially and try to confirm the story,” I asked Pedro.
“You bet I will and then I’ll let you know what I find out Stan.”
A few weeks past and Pedro called me back. He said that he had indeed confirmed the story with the laborer and that he believed it completely as the laborer had a very good reputation for honesty in town. He told me that he was in the process of trying to coax the laborer to show him the river.
Pedro’s primary point of persuasion with the laborer was that he had 2 friends (myself and my exploration partner, Bill) who have three gold dredges. Pedro pointed out that if the four of us could work with those gold dredges in the river, we would all come out as wealthy men in a few short weeks. The laborer was very reluctant to go along with this proposition as he had promised the retired policeman that he would never reveal the location to anyone.
More weeks past and Pedro gently and continuously reminded the laborer of the proposition. He reinforced the great wealth that would surely be the result of our venture. One dredge alone could probably produce $10,000 - $20,000 per day in gold in such a rich river. Still, the laborer would not budge.
Then one day the retired police official embarrassed the laborer with a rather crude remark about his work. The comment was made in front of the laborer’s co-workers and everyone laughed at him. He went home mad that day and contacted Pedro the same evening.
Pedro called me the next day and said, “Are you ready to go Stan?”
“Go where?,” I responded.
“Juan, the laborer, has finally agreed to take us to the river and show us the gold,” Pedro said. We got excited.
Pedro, my partner Bill, and I began planning the expedition. We soon set a date and had everything in order, ready to go.
Bill and I left Quito on September 5. We drove to Zamora near the trailhead in southern Ecuador, a 14-hour drive. We made arrangements to store our pickup truck at a hotel while we were up on the mountain on our expedition. We also bought a few last odds and ends for the big hike. I then stopped at an Internet café and posted my message about the expedition on September 6.
That same night, Pedro arrived in Loja at the bus station, along with Juan and a friend of Juan named Pablo. Apparently, Juan wanted a close friend on the trip with us as he had never met Bill and I and didn’t know what to expect of us. He had heard the gringos were packing handguns and felt uneasy. It was 10 pm and we began organizing our gear before the drive to Zamora.
Strategy required that we begin our climb up the mountain in the middle of night to help avoid a possible encounter with anyone from the retired police official’s mining group. We began our climb at midnight. The moon was out and we didn’t even need a flashlight for most of the way.
The climb was difficult, about a forty-five degree incline and some muddy spots. Our backpacks soon felt very heavy. However, the gear we took was absolutely necessary to properly evaluate the river. By 5 am we had reached a safely hidden place on the mountain and decided to get some sleep. We agreed to sleep for two hours. We spread out a plastic sheet and all slept side by side under the stars. The moon had set by this time and the sky was a solid sheet of stars. The snoring started immediately.
I was awakened at 6 am by Pedro who was rolling up his sleeping bag and preparing to hit the trail.
“What gives Pedro? We all agreed to sleep for two hours.”
“It’s a beautiful morning and the gold is calling me to come right away,” he laughed.
Now we were all awake. There was no use to try and sleep again. Pedro had filled a cooking pot with cold water from a nearby stream so that we could at least wash our faces before continuing the climb. We were soon loaded up and ready to go.
And so the climbing continued.
I had cracked a rib just one week before the expedition and was on pain pills. I had foolishly participated in a bloodless bullfight during the annual festival of a small town near Cotopaxi Volcano. The last and biggest bull of the day had caught me on the leg with his horn; lifting and flipping me like a rag doll. Now I was beginning to pay the price as we entered a jungle environment high on the mountain.
The going got very rough. We had to remove our backpacks and crawl under fallen trees through deep mud numerous times. It was something like right out of a “Join the Army” promo campaign. “Be all you can be,” I kept telling myself. At least that kept me smiling.
Interestingly, three of us had sweat pouring out of our bodies in bucket loads. Juan and Pablo, the two natives, had no sweat on them at all. They hadn’t even taken a drink of water all day and they were each carrying at least 60 pounds in their backpacks. They both make an ox look weak.
Later in the afternoon we finally arrived on top of the mountain. You can see the city of Zamora looking to the north.
Next we descended into the river valley behind the mountain. The going continued to be difficult and I began wondering how the retired police official and his gang of family members could possibly withstand passing through this terrain on a regular basis. Some in their group are supposedly over 60 years old. That was the first red flag that appeared in my investigative, sometimes skeptical mind.
After about an hour we finally arrived near the river. I was very happy to hear the water from about a hundred meters away. Bill and I literally rushed to the river with our gold pans and shovels.
“This is it Stan,” Bill yelled over to me. “We will either find our big pay day within a few minutes now or go home with a frown.”
“Juan,” Bill called. “Please show me exactly where you took the gravel from that had all that gold in it.”
Juan pointed to the spot. Bill and I each took a pan full of material from this area.
“Will I really see more gold at the bottom of this pan than I have ever seen in my life before?,” I wondered to myself as I worked my rectangular “Le Trap” plastic pan. I could feel my heart beating with great hopes. After all, if Juan had gotten nearly an ounce in three pans, I was bound to see something fantastic... and see it right away.
I got to the bottom of the pan and there was not even one small color in it. “What’s this?,” I yelled out loud. “This is impossible! What’s going on here?”
You see, in Ecuador, one always sees at least a little gold in one’s pan, almost anywhere in the country. This was really hard to believe… NOTHING. I looked at Bill, an expert with the Le Trap. He disappointingly gazed up with a shocked look on his face. Then he threw his black sands back into the river. How could it be? We each washed about ten more pans from a variety of spots all along the river, just to be sure. Same results… ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.
I sat down with Juan and began an investigative interview, just as I had done hundreds of times with hundreds of people as a private investigator, years ago.
One thing was certain in my mind; Juan is a very honest person. He had nothing at all to gain by taking us up that mountain. In a short time I had come to like him and believe in everything that he had told us so far.
“Juan,” I asked, “how many people were in the group that you came up here with?”
“There were only three of us,” he replied.
“Juan, did you select the place from which you took your sand and gravel to pan or were you told where to take it from?”
“They pointed to this spot and told me to take it right from there,” Juan pointed.
“Then one of them went upstream to pan and the other guy went downstream.
After awhile, just before dark, they came back to my spot and showed me all the gold they had just panned.”
I asked, “Did you ever see either of them actually wash a pan of gravel and get the gold out of the pan?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Juan, something very bad is going on here. I believe you were tricked into believing that these people are recovering a lot of gold from this river. I believe that they are getting their money from some other activity and that it is not gold mining. They tell people they have a gold mine to cover up their “other activity”.
Juan responded by being very mad at the retired police authority. He said that he wanted to return to his town and file a public announcement about this deception so that everybody would know the truth.
I responded in a low, calm voice, “Juan, it is best for you to forget about this whole thing and never tell anybody about our discovery. If you do start telling people, you and your family will likely be killed. Do you understand?”
He thought about it for a minute and then finally agreed. We all agreed to forget about it. After all, it had been quite an adventure just getting in to this beautiful and remote place. We had seen some great wildlife and had a great time together.
We made camp for the night, had a fantastic dinner and then taught the natives how to shoot the guns. They ended up shooting better than the rest of us.
The good meal and laughs helped us to forget a little about our terrible disappointment on the river. Bill and I had already been counting the money we would make and what we would do with it. Aren’t gold prospectors a hopeful bunch?
December 10, 2003
Since this disappointing expedition, I have been involved in three others. One is related to a lost city of El Dorado. Fortunately, last week, we finally did find a great river to dredge. My partner is there right now and reports more than three ounces per day in production with a small, 4” dredge. Just think what the 8” dredge will do there. I will continue writing about these adventures and much more in coming weeks and months.
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