Searching for El Dorado: A Journey into the South American


10 thoughts on “Searching for El Dorado: A Journey into the South American Rainforest on the Tail of the World's Largest Gold Rush

  1. Tim Martin Tim Martin says:

    _Searching for El Dorado_ by Marc Herman is an intriguing look at a land of contrasts, the South American nation of Guyana Though the nation has potentially billions of dollars of untapped gold and a large percentage of its citizens are employed in the gold mining industry, it is one of the very poorest nations in the western hemisphere The various ways in which gold is mined are all destructive and dangerous yet the consequences of stopping the mines could possibly be even worse There are two main ways in which gold is produced One way is used by large foreign owned internationally financed mining corporations, mines which employ professional geologists and millions of dollars in heavy equipment The other is used by small time local miners, sometimes working in small groups, often independently These are subsistence operations and are run with only a few crude tools, often by uneducated if not illiterate men Local miners can produce gold from the creeks and rivers River mining uses slow rafts that float low in the water, made of scrap metal and of questionable seaworthiness Located on the center of these rafts is an engine and pump, connected to a hose that goes over the side A diver breathing through a small rubber hose gripped in his teeth takes the hose to the riverbed, dredges the bottom, and the other miners usually there are about five or six collect the riverbed mud, which is treated with mercury, which bonds with the gold in the sediment and forms heavy nuggets which drop out of solution in the mud The mud is strained to remove these nuggets and the rest of the mud is dumped back into the river Land mines are created when miners cut down a patch of trees and dig holes ten or twenty feet across in the forest floor Men would then enter the clearing and wet down the bottom and the sides of the hole with water from buckets or high pressure hoses the water drawn from a nearby river or swamp Other miners would haul out the mud and place it in a long box where it would be treated with mercury With either method, once the nuggets were obtained the miners would use a blowtorch on them Most of the mercury would boil and rise as vapor though some could be saved, often collected in a rag which was later wrung out What would be left would be small amounts of gold, often just a few ounces resulting from tons of mud being collected The small time miners had it hard The work was very physically demanding There were no police indeed, the mining was often illegal and the miners had to keep their gold on them in the form of cheap, badly made jewelry or gold teeth Miners were occasionally robbed or often forced by other miners off of particularly rich patches They would also have to compete with miners from other countries, such as Venezuela or Brazil border control being almost nonexistent in the jungle or being preyed upon by corrupt police often a problem in Venezuela than Guyana The mercury was very toxic over time and eventually many got sick from that as well as catching malaria Herman viewed a large mining operation at Omai, located on the Essequibo River, four hours south of the Guyanese capital of Georgetown At the time of his visit it was the largest gold mine in South America The large gold mines can afford machinery to process hard rock in addition to mud Omai blew huge chunks of rock out of the ground, took the several ton boulders to their mill, and ground down the rocks into sand in huge rock tumblers nicknamed cyclones However, instead of using mercury they used cyanide, which much like mercury could draw or leech out all the gold dust from the sediment, though apparently cyanide pulls out gold than mercury does This type of operation is very expensive, and as a consequences mines could and did close if the prices of gold on the world market fell too much, and also made Guyana dependent upon foreign companies as Guyana did not have the money to operate its own mines Both methods have their pros and cons Omai and other mines require large lakes of very deadly cyanide which occasionally did spill , while the local miners only need small amounts of mercury However, cyanide decomposes in direct sunlight while mercury can stay in a region for centuries mercury used by the California gold rush still is causing problems Unfortunately cyanide is too expensive for local miners to use and is also deadly cyanide can immediately kill you while mercury does not By and large however, environmentalists, if forced to chose, would rather have a single massive cyanide mine than fifty teams of untraceable local miners using mercury throughout the jungle The mines and mining caused many problems Miners spread diseases such as dengue deep into the rain forest to the detriment of Amerindian groups Fights often occurred, either between local miners or involving Amerindians and or the big mines.For all their effort, most miners were very poor a nation of gilded paupers For instance, a crew of six might work for an owner, the owner getting 70% of the gold, the crew 30%, split six ways Each man might get 5% of the week s gold, which might be half an ounce, working out to wages of about a dollar or two U.S a day Unfortunately, gold mining is a declining industry The value of gold has been declining for two decades and changes in the jewelry industry and in international currencies has increasingly made gold a commodity exchangeable for money rather than money itself Guyana though has few choices Mines make up one fifth of the national economy and mining is often the only job open to thousands of people The book is not all grim, as Herman did provide many amusing stories of his travels.


  2. Miriam Miriam says:

    The book was biased against Guyana from the beginning, and was only brief snapshots of the culture and country based on the author s relatively short visits Written from an outsider s view point, he understands little of colonialism s aftermath with no attempt at a balanced view just the bleak and the mud It seemed that he only attempted to get to know locals who supported his view, or because of his obvious distain for the country, brought out the worst of those he did meet In Guyanese culture, his attitude and the obvious chip on his shoulder would have, at best, caused people to treat him with indifference and distain.Of course the Omai cyanide spill was terrible and inexcusable, but the author didn t even handle that very well The aftermath and effect on the lives of the people living downstream was essentially uninvestigated.When he flew to Kaiteur falls, he didn t even see what I consider one of the most beautiful places on earth its grandure as lovely or to have much, if any, value For a journalist I didn t think that he was very good at his craft But he did make a few points that made the read worthwhile People living on top of the worlds gold and diamond reserves are the poorest people on earth Digging and processing gold is expensive, distructive, creates loss of life and environment, and is not worth the effort there is easily accessable gold on top of the earth in our jewel boxes and in our pawn shops Mine that not what s still in the earth.


  3. Tommy Tommy says:

    Very interesting balanced look at the realities and complexities surrounding problems faced by poorer resource centered third world countries This work started from the author s inquisitiveness about a gold rush in South America He actually followed up on his questions and went to Guyana multiple times getting first hand perspectives from local people living in the remote areas, wildcat miners, large multinational mining companies, environmental NGO s, and representatives of the Guyanese government This made for a thorough interesting read as the issues associated with gold mining on the remote edges of rainforest unfolded Herman tackled the issue as a reporter vs laying out a clear agenda on how actors should proceed From his writing you find his conclusion that there is neither a moral nor economic perspective that he thinks is clearly the best or should take precedent He prefers to lay out competing perspectives and force the reader to formulate their own thoughts on the matter Interesting difficult subject also faced many other poor resource based economies As such I found it a good topic to learn about and ponder over.


  4. Elisabeth Elisabeth says:

    Really informative I didn t know anything about Guyana until reading this book.


  5. Jeannie Jeannie says:

    This book was very interesting I learned a lot from it The authors style was easy to read and absorb.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Searching for El Dorado: A Journey into the South American Rainforest on the Tail of the World's Largest Gold Rush The search for the lost City of Gold in thebasin has inspired adventurers since the days of the Spanish conquistadors and Sir Walter Raleigh Intrigued by the cultural, economic, and environmental fallout of a five hundred year gold rush, journalist Marc Herman traveled to the rainforests of Guyana, where he joined up with a rowdy crew of local gold miners as they pursued their dreams of riches In an adventure filled narrative rich with humor and empathy, Herman brings to life the group of miners They are independent prospectors who wear all their earnings on their fingers and around their necks their bank accounts are oversized rings and huge gold necklaces But yards away from the mines where these men seek their fortunes with techniques reminiscent of California s forty niners dynamite, tin pans, and wooden sluices there are mines run by international corporations that fail to alleviate the area s poverty despite their tremendous technological and political power Searching for El Dorado is an astonishing achievement, a lively, humor filled adventure full of colorful people and incidents wrapped around an eye opening look at the contemporary colonialism that is enough to make you question the value of gold.

  • Hardcover
  • 272 pages
  • Searching for El Dorado: A Journey into the South American Rainforest on the Tail of the World's Largest Gold Rush
  • Marc Herman
  • English
  • 14 May 2019
  • 9780385502528