After the fire where our shop burnt to the ground, we sifted through the ashes of the devastating fire and found only burnt pieces of jewelry and discolored rocks. I remember a large sphere of rose quartz that turned brown and was completely crazed by the heat of the fire. That is when we realized that we can not go back to what we had.
We felt the same as Elijah when the ravens stopped bringing him his daily food. We then decided to relocate to Harties. This was the best move we could make at that time. It healed all our hurts.
I then sold the pottery and my favorite slogan was ” I have made enough pots for one lifetime”
And then I decided to become a rockhound. Now some of you who are not familiar with this term will ask. What is a rockhound? It is someone who sniffs out rocks and sells them to collectors. I never became a collector myself. There was something wrong with the idea that I would keep the best specimens for myself and sell the second-best to other collectors.
Quartz was my thing and I became a master at identifying the best South African quartz. One of the best rocks we dealt with was the blue included ajoite quartz. I remember selling one specimen for the whopping price of R32000. But the biggest deal we brokered was a sale of a collection of quartz for one million in cash. I still remember the day I went to the bank with my bag and packing the money into an exercise bag. My heart was literally beating in my throat when I left the bank. It was exhilarating.
I traveled to Namibia to buy up collections of rock and visited the Goboboseb mountains where you will find plants that are over 1000 years old in the desert. They are the Welwitchia plant. Amazing ancient life. Rounding a bend you may encounter a herd of desert elephant or desert giraffe. But hunting down the best quartz brought us in contact with remote places and beautiful people burnt brown by the African sun. We could be a day late when the miner sold his stash to another collector. It was a game of luck and chance. And we were oftentimes lucky or shall I say blessed.
The next venture I tried was mining and selling optical calcite. This took me to Zambia. Optical calcite is used in the manufacture of specialized lenses for industrial use. The best quality is used for looking at stars.
And I had stars in my eyes because the demand was huge. But nature did not play along and I could never source the quality that they needed. Each piece had to be tested with green laser light and if any small bubbles are found the piece had to be rejected. I scoured Zambia from top to bottom.
I slept next to mines in remote places and dug holes that disappear into the ground.
At one mine I had 30 people digging and had to pay for it all. It was epic. I recollect that these were some of the best days of my life but also the most stressful. Annalie stayed at home and managed the shop. Annalie never wanted to travel where there was malaria.
And that is where I came to hate a mosquito. They carried malaria and I avoided these little pests with every effort. I can happily say that I never contracted malaria. I slept underneath mosquito nets and wore long sleeves and sprayed myself with repellant where I went.
We took our stash of calcite to China. Two suitcases full. At customs, we explained that these were just samples for a potential order. The lab spends all day going through every piece and at days end we just made enough to cover our cost and keep on looking.
Wherever I went I collected specimens of rocks and sold these at my store in South Africa and exported a lot of them. I started an eBay store and had 3 permanent staff just dealing in rocks on eBay. I had to travel all the time to get enough rocks. Dealing in rocks was not a simple business. There were always tons of permits to acquire to take even one rock out of Zambia. Sometimes we carried with us expensive gems of tourmaline and aquamarine. The permits and bribes were just exorbitant. They had a funny rule that you are only allowed 30 days per year on a business permit in Zambia. I decided to chance it and travel with a tourist visa once because my business days were finished on my visum. One evening while having our dinner in the east of Zambia a gentleman approached our table and seated himself. He turned out to be the local customs official. He saw me when I put my scale in the truck and he suspected that I was trading. He ťhreatened to search my truck and lock me up and impound my vehicle and take all the gems we already bought. It cost me $500 to get rid of him and early the next morning we were out of town with the fears that he was in for a second round of threats and maybe waiting for us at a roadblock.
Such was the life of Rockhounding in Africa. I have many stories to tell and will share some more in the next blog. What do you collect?