A final round of exchanging phone numbers, and we got up and walked to the north end of this village. Moe pulled me aside and quietly said, “We had to lie so they would let us see the mine. I told them you were an American investor and that you want to help them get a machine so they can dig the gold out. They only use hands now.”
“Oh great Moe. I’m screwed when they find out I’m not. Can I at least take pictures?”
“Yes, take all you need.”
We took some photos in the village and then continued up the mountain, again through jungle trails – careful to avoid a couple processions of army ants. The air was getting misty and I could see my breath. The ground started getting very rocky in parts, and I noticed that the rocks were predominately quartz. The weather was also getting warmer now and I could feel the sweat starting to trickle down my head. It was another 15 minutes of hiking and then we came across the actual mine. And it was huge! All around were more quartz rocks. And capping it was this massive dirt mound.
We finally reached the summit, and you could see the pit. It had been dug – completely by hand. It was at least 80 feet deep, and perhaps well over 100, because the bottom of the pit was filled with muddy water. Fedex explained, “They’re saying they can’t mine in this part today – because of the rain. It has filled in the hole”
GOLD. GOLD, EVERYWHERE
We got back up to the top of the hill and continued on yet another jungle trail before seeing this. A huge swath of sand. And the sand was shiny (despite the cloudy sky). It was covered in gold sediment, as far as you could see. I’ve never seen anything like this. I can only imagine what this would look like on a bright, sunny day, and I know my poor photography skills on my compact camera can’t do it justice.
Rock, with gold in it
We pressed, this time reaching the top of this hill. And I got another sense of the destruction that had happened to this mountain-top – stumps and logs strewn about, trash here and there, and erosion.
This part of the mine utilized a sluice-system. Gold-laden sediment, like we had just seen, was flushed down a series of channels in water, where the heavier gold would sink and get trapped in specially marked areas (usually another channel or a plank would be placed in intervals to trap this golden sediment). Eventually the water would be stopped, and workers would retrieve the golden sediment, and take it down to the village to further separate the gold out using the aforementioned buckets. The process on the Congolese side in small mines such as this one was fairly straightforward. From there, the golden sediment could be further refined using mercury or certain acids (which can dissolve / separate gold).