Madagascar: A gemologist’s journey (Isalo National Park Morning)

On the way from Amboarohy corundum deposit to Illakaka sapphire deposit we pass Isalo National Park, Madagascar’s most visited national park…and probably the most beautiful.

This unique park has incredibly diverse landscapes including grassy plains, mountains, deep canyons and tropical oases with picturesque waterfalls dropping into inviting teal-blue pools of cool water. Our eight hour hike took us through all of these in one day!

Isalo National Park
We begin our day-long hike in terrain that is reminiscent of the Badlands of South Dakota. It’s hot, but the views are spectacular, making it all worthwhile.

Isalo National Park
We pass Frankenstein Rock, an old tomb and a hornet’s nest before descending upon…
Piscine Naturelle: A gorgeous tropical oasis complete with ring-tail lemurs. This area was so beautiful and the water so inviting. It’s one of the favorite tourist locations in the park.

Isalo National Park
We follow the small oasis until it ends and we’re back in the hot arid landscape. We walk some distance under the direct sun before stopping under a nice shade tree for a break. Shade trees are rare in this area.

Our guide takes a moment to show off a tiny scorpion, and the wings of a grasshopper, which mimic a poisonous plant. Then we’re off again!
Isalo National Park

As we ascend a small mountain, we can see our starting point behind us in the distance, and flat grassy plains in front of us.
Isalo National Park
Hiking just a little further takes us peering over deep canyons like the desert southwest. Ken stops to take a selfie over the cliff.

After a busy morning hiking, we stop for an amazing BBQ lunch of ice cold beer, salad, zebu kabobs and rice, while a group of four lemurs entertains us.

Isalo National Park

Tomorrow we continue our beautiful hike in Isalo National Park.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A gemologist’s journey (Amboarohy corundum quarry)

Amboarohy is a famous locality for sapphire and ruby in well-formed crystals occurring in biotite metamorphic schists. The mine is located at the top of the mountain near the town of Zazafotsy. It’s a several-mile hike up to the top.

Amboarohy Corundum deposit
Amboarohy corundum quarry
The view from the top is amazing. I’m the first one to reach the mine, thanks to living in Colorado, so I start digging for something valuable. But, while I’m in the pit with several others, something scary happens…


I was a little freaked out when I could hear the popping and crackling of the fire and I looked up and saw the large flames. Thankfully the pit I was in was large enough so the fire could not suck out all the oxygen. One of my fellow travelers was in a small but deep hole when the fire came through. He quickly scrambled out of the hole for fear he might be suffocated.

Fires burn all over Madagascar. Locals burn the brown grass to make way for new grass for their zebu. But they don’t supervise the fires, so they just burn wild all over the country. This is causing further deforestation and loss of lemur habitats in Madagascar.

So was the hike worth the effort?

Those who decided to dig in the dump pile found some amazing pieces. This beautiful specimen shows blue and pink sapphire in the same crystal. Something that is commonly found from this particular corundum deposit. This is the same piece from three different angles. Not bad for a free specimen!

Amboarohy sapphire tailings
Those of us who chose to dig in the pit got skunked. But at the end of the day, we all had the opportunity to buy ruby crystals in schist from a local miner. The price was 20.000 ariary, or about $8.50 each. These are the ones I bought.

All in all, I appreciated the good exercise of our hike. I enjoyed seeing a new type of deposit and my rubies on schist were priced right, so it was good. And although scary, it was interesting experiencing the fire as well.

In my next post, I’ll introduce my favorite park we visited on our trip: Isalo National Park.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A gemologist’s journey (Anja Community Reserve)

Our morning on this day was spent in Ranomafana National Park. We left mid day to reach Anja Community Reserve before evening. This is a beautiful park located outside of Ambalavao. Anja Community Reserve is a gorgeous 74-acre wonderland. Designated a protected reserve in 1999, this fascinating park has breath-taking views and beautiful plant life.

Anja Community Reserve

Anja Community Reserve also hosts more than 300 ring tailed lemurs who aren’t camera-shy. As well as a variety of other animals. It’s a beautiful park. Watching the ring tailed lemurs here was absolutely amazing. In the lemur video on my previous post, the footage of the lemurs jumping between trees is from here in Anja.
Anja Community Reserve

We spent about three hours hiking around Anja Reserve, which included climbing up a steep rock face and using a rope to climb down. It was a bit scary but fun!

Like Ranomafana National Park, one must hire a guide to visit Anja Community Reserve. The price for entrance and guide was a little less than Ranomafana, but not much. There is a restaurant near the park entrance that has delicious food and decent prices, so we enjoyed lunch here on both of my trips.

Our next stop is Amboarohy corundum on schist deposit…time for more digging for rubies and sapphires!

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A gemologist’s journey (Daytime in Ranomafana)

I remember this morning awakening for the first time surrounded by mosquito netting and listening to the call of lemurs in the forest. It was amazing! This area is known for mosquitoes, especially in the evening. I was told by guides on the first trip to be sure to wear mosquito repellent during the 3-4 hour day hike in the park. But upon my return in October, the guide strongly discouraged wearing mosquito repellent. He said it damages the small plant and animal species in the park. And he insisted there was not a mosquito problem during the day. He was right…I didn’t wear any on my second trip and didn’t get a single bite….during the day. At night, it’s completely opposite. The mosquitoes are everywhere in that area at night. Dress in long clothing.

Ranomafana Park
The park is very beautiful with dense forest and lots of walking paths. It can be strenuous at times and sometimes we are taken into the brush to get a good look at lemurs. The scenery is beautiful. We see several species of lemurs in their natural habitat as well as a ring-tailed mongoose, some geckos and other small animals.

One must always hire a guide when entering the park. The current rate is 40.000 ariary, which is about $16…for up to four people for 2-3 hours I believe. The price for a Malagasy to enter the park is 1.000 ariary, for a foreigner, it is 25.000 ariary! Love it!

We were fortunate enough to see the greater bamboo lemur, which is the star of the Imax movie, Madagascar: Island of Lemurs. We also saw several others. They are beautiful and amazing creatures.

Lemurs of Ranomafana Park
There are about 105 species of lemurs, all are endemic to Madagascar (found nowhere else in the world) and many are endangered.

Of course, I have some lemur video to share with you. A Madagascar presentation wouldn’t be complete without lemur footage. This 5-minute clip shows various different lemurs in different areas around Madagascar.

This might be a good time to share with you other wildlife of Madagascar. I was surprised to learn there are no real predatory animals in Madagascar…at least predators of humans that is. And there are also no penguins, elephants, giraffes, lions etc. The only predatory animal to humans is the crocodile, if you happen to be in one of the rivers where they are found.

Wildlife in Madagascar includes geckos, big spiders, snakes, ring-tailed mongoose crocodiles, birds, lemurs & more. These spiders are huge and they are everywhere. But they are beautiful and harmless to humans. So I just enjoyed looking at them.

Animals of Madagascar

After Ranomafana, we leave to see another gorgeous lemur habitat: Anja Community Reserve!

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A gemologist’s journey (Evening in Ranomafana)

Continuing on from Ambatovaky we head to Ranomafana, where we spent a day without gem mining activities to enjoy the park. Ranomafana National Park, located outside Ranomafana the town, is a gorgeous tropical rain forest comprising over 161 square miles. Ranomafana Park is home to several of Madagascar’s rare lemur species among other rare species of flora and fauna. It is also the backdrop of the new Imax movie Madagascar: Island of Lemurs.

Ranomafana Park

We arrived in Ranomafana at nightfall, just in time to take an evening walk, a short night time tour to see the nocturnal animals. We saw mouse lemurs hopping back and forth between branches, spiders, lizards, frogs among other creatures. The guides were very interesting and knowledgeable. It was really a neat thing to do. Ranomafana is one of the most visited parks in Madagascar.

Nocturnal Creatures of Ranomafana Park
We closed the evening with an amazing feast in the town of Ranomafana and entertainment with a local band and children doing Malagasy tribal dance. Unfortunately it was so dark in the room, they were difficult to see. But I really got a kick out of these kids with their floppy hairstyles. They were so fun to watch.

Next, we take a daytime tour of Ranomafana to see all the beauty the park has to offer.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A gemologist’s journey (Placer gold locality)

About an hour outside of Ambositra in the country is a gold placer mining locality. In this placer gold locality miners use very primitive methods. It is said they find on average only .30 gram per day among all of them, but it is enough to make their efforts worthwhile.

I really enjoyed this location. The woman panning gold with her child was working hard using a wooden pan that had a large crack in it. I watched and wondered how effective that pan could really be with such a large crack in it. Enjoy the video below, be sure to allow enough time for it to load.


Further down the road on our journey to Ranomafana National park, We stopped and visited a metalsmithing village, Ambatovaky Village. I was amazed at the precise timing the men had pounding the shovel spade into shape. While the men were busy making tools, women ground corn and children begged or played a simple game.

In my next post, we arrive at Ranomafana Park!

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A gemolgist’s journey (Ambositra)

My goodness, time has gotten away from me. I left for a mission to Madagascar on October 20th and returned just in time for the busy holiday season. Unfortunately I mis-calculated how much time I would have on the Internet during my stay, so I didn’t have the time to post while I was gone. I wish you all a blessed 2015 full of peace and prosperity!

Our next stop after the Ihasofotsy mineral market is Ambositra, pronounced by the locals as Ambustch. For those who desire a little nicer place to stay, there is really only one choice in Ambositra. The pricetag, about $24 – $32 per night depending on the room.

Ambositra

The Artisan Hotel and guest house is very nice. I stayed here on both trips to Madagascar. The accommodations are nice, the food is delicious and there is a good Internet connection. Upon our arrival, a group of local singers and dancers performed for us. Enjoy the video below…

In the morning, we had a bit of time to visit the town of Ambositra. The contrast is stark between the grounds of the Artisan Hotel and just outside its gates. Here is a typical meat market. I’m amazed the people can actually eat this meat without getting sick. It is often very dirty and covered in flies. The Malagasy people must have amazing immune systems!
Ambositra Meat Market

Ambositra is the wood carving capital of Madagascar. We stop in one shop and are fortunate to see wood carvers at work in the back room. I bought some beautiful wooden masks and salt/pepper shakers carved here in Ambositra.
Ambositra home depot
I couldn’t resist the urge to take a photo of the local home depot! We should have stopped here for some wood planks before going over the bridge on the way to Itremo.

In my next post, we will stop along the way to Ranomafana at a placer gold locality!

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A gemolgist’s journey (Ihasofotsy)

Along the way to the quartz mine, locals in Ihasofotsy set up a mineral show. There were lots of amazing quartz pieces including quartz with fuchsite, quartz with hollandite, rock crystal clusters etc. As we shopped, locals looked on.

Ihasofotsy Mineral Show

One table featured several Japan law twin quartz specimens. Those were bought out very quickly by the wholesalers and serious collectors in the group. I hope to get one on my next visit to Madagascar.

Ihasofotsy Mineral Market
I bought a beautiful specimen of quartz with fuchsite inclusions for 70,000 ariary or about $30. It’s about the size of my palm. Everyone was envious. I also purchased the two pineapple quartz with rare hollandite star inclusions for about $.10 each.
My quartz with fuchsite
Unfortunately, due to the bridge being out on the way, we didn’t have enough time to make the last trek up to Itremo Massive. So we hung out in town a little longer to spend more time with the locals. The kids got out of school to see the Vazaha.

When we were coming toward the town, you could see long lines little children running down the hillside to greet us. While they knew we were coming ahead of time, many of the children had never seen a white person before. And it was clear that many had never seen their own reflection before. They were amazed at seeing themselves in the LCD screens of our cameras. It’s amazing what we take for granted. These people are very poor and have had very little exposure to the ouside world.

My quartz with fuchsite

In my next post, we will stop along the way to Ranomafana in a town called Ambositra!

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A Gemologist’s Journey (Drive to Itremo Massive)

Early in the morning, we leave Ambatofinandrahana for the long drive to Itremo Massive, the quartz capital of Madagascar. This area is famous for numerous quartz veins producing an enormous number of quartz specimens each year including rock crystal quartz, pineapple quartz, quartz with rare fuchsite or hollandite etc. The countryside is beautiful!
The road to Itremo Massive
National road #35 was so bad it took us over four hours to go 35km (21.7 miles). Some of us took the opportunity to get out and walk for a little exercise. Sometimes it was quicker to walk than ride! I met my driver at the top of the hill. Many national roads in Madagascar are difficult to navigate and require the use of a 4 wheel drive vehicle.
The road to Itremo Massive

There’s a bit of a problem when we come upon the only bridge across a river and it’s missing some boards, making it impassable for our 18 4-wheel drive vehicles. Drivers and security guards scramble to find wood for a makeshift repair.

As we await the slow and careful passage of all 18 4-wheel drive vehicles over the semi-repaired bridge, we get our first lesson in Malagasy: Mora mora = slowly, slowly!

In my next post, we will stop along the way to Itremo in a town called Ihasofotsy!

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A Gemologist’s Journey (Ambatofinandrahana)

Ambatofinandrahana
Ambatofinandrahana is probably my favorite town in Madagascar. This once-thriving town in an area rich in quartz, Beryl-Columbite, Lepidolite, danburite and other minerals, is now in disrepair.

Upon our arrival in Abatofinandrahana we were greeted at the boarding house by local mineral dealers selling mostly quartz. I purchased the small pineapple quartz in the upper right hand coner for about $4. The dealer was happy to quickly grab my money, so I think I may have over-paid for this piece.

I enjoyed walking around the town, meeting some of the locals. I was even given a wagon ride by several giggling children. I am looking forward to returning to this town to spend a few days getting to know the people better.

Accommodations were very basic on this night. Electricity was provided by a generator that was only on for a few hours. And we had to flush the toilet with a bucket of water since there was no running water. But I enjoyed my time in Ambatofinandrahana, the villagers are very beautiful, happy people.

Ambatofinandrahana was our stoping point before the long drive the following day.
In my next post, we’ll take the long drive to Itremo Massive.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar A Gemologist’s Journey (Ambatonapetraka Tourmaline Locality)

Tourmaline Fever
Ambatonapetraka is a recently discovered weathered pegmatite zone with a very high concentration of tourmalines. Because it is such a recent discovery, the locals still have “tourmaline fever.” We are there on a Sunday, so fewer miners are busy working. We’re told there are normally hundreds of miners digging in this area.

Families working in Ambatonapetraka
Here entire families work the mine in the hopes of finding the next best tourmaline. Women and children scoured the dump piles. While older boys and men worked the mine shafts. While our group walked among the miners being lookey-lous and taking photos, we barely disturbed their work.

The road between Ambatonapetraka and our next destination of Ambatofinandrahana was full of interesting creatures. We encountered a swarm of locusts of biblical proportions! The locals catch them in nets and eat them.
Swarm of Locusts of Biblical Proportions
In addition to the locusts, we also shared the road with herd after herd of zebu making their way to the market to be auctioned off in two days.
Zebu on the way to market

In my next post, we’ll visit one of my favorite towns, Ambatofinandrahana.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A Gemologist’s Journey (Sahatany Valley Pegmatite Field Part II)

My previous post I covered the first half of our day in the Sahatany Valley. I ended at the Estatoby dig where our group split up. I chose to continue on up the mountain.
Ampatsikahitra Mining Locality
We begin the long hike up the mountainside to see the active underground mining activities at the Ampatsikahitra mine. There’s a small mining camp high on the mountain where miners stay while they are mining. This locality has produced some beautiful red and polychorme tourmaline crystals.

Some brave souls tour the dark narrow passages of the underground mining shafts. This was the only horizontal mining tunnel we saw. Others search the dump pile for treasures including kunzite, amazonite, citrine, tourmaline and more. I found some nice pieces, but in the end, I put them back because I didn’t want to carry them with me the whole journey. Of course, I now wish I had kept them.

Hiking up the mountains
After leaving the mining camp, we march on to the top of the mountain to see more active mining operations in the Tamponilapa dig site. The view from the top of the mountain was spectacular in all directions! Madagascar really is a beautiful country.

At the top of the mountain, more tourmaline mining is underway in the Tamponilapa dig. The Malagasy miners don’t like to mine in tunnels, so they dig vertical pits one after another in which to work. These two holes follow a pegmatite, none continues horizontally. See the tiny miner in the bottom of this hole?
Tamponilapa Mining Locality
We’re just in time to see one miner bring up a bag of promising tourmaline pieces. While not fine mineral specimens, these pieces can be faceted into beautiful gemstones for gemstone jewelry. Federico inspects the pieces and pays the miner for a job well done. The miner is very happy.

In my next post, we’ll visit the new tourmaline deposit in Ambatonapetraka.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A Gemologist’s Journey (Sahatany Valley Pegmatite Field)

Sahatany Pegmatite Field
Our day in the Sahatany Valley was a long one, so I’ll split it up into two consecutive posts. Sahatany Valley is of the most famous and productive pegmatite areas in Madagascar. This gorgeous valley is known for producing polychrome tourmaline, pink, green, blue and polychrome beryl, kunzite and garnets among others.

In Ibity (the town to the right of Tsarafara), Federico Pezzotta, who owns many mining claims in this area, gives us an overview of the pegmatites and the different dig sites in the area we will be visiting. We have a long day of hiking ahead of us as shown below.

Sahatany Pegmatite District
From Ibity it’s about an hour walk to the Estatoby dig area passing through the Tsarafara pegmatite field along the way. From there we hike to the top of the mountain to visit the Ampatsikahitra and Tamponilapa digs. We have about 8 hours of hiking through varying terrain to reach all the planned stops.

Along the way, miners sifted for gem fragments or dug vertical mining shafts using a bucket on a rope to discard the excess dirt. Some of the most extraordinary tourmalines in the world are found in this area of Madagascar, so it’s worth their effort.

Sahatany Pegmatite District
Other miners were selling mineral specimens. I bought a green and a red tourmaline and a doubly-terminated quartz crystal with a fuchsite phantom. The two tourmaline specimens I purchased for 120,000 ariary, or about $55 at the time. For the doubly tourmaline quartz with fuchsite I paid 10,000 ariary, or about $4.25. Unfortunately, the red tourmaline crystal broke later in the day. I just glued it back together, but it’s lost much of it’s value now.

We finally arrive to the Estatoby workings. It’s a vast area of dig sites with heaping mounds of red and white tailings. The white tailings are kaoline, a product of eroded feldspar and mica. The Estatoby pegmatite has produced some famous, giant multi-color liddicoatite specimens.

Sahatany Pegmatite District
We stayed for a short time so those who wanted to could field collect. From this point, those who were fit could continue up the moutain to our next location. Others who did not want the challenge could head back down to town. I chose to continue up the mountain…

In my next post, we hike up the mountain to the Ampatsikahitra and Tamponilapa digs.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A Gemologist’s Journey (Tsaramanga Pegmatite Mine)

The journey from Mahaiza to the Tsaramanga Pegmatite was beautiful. Terraced landscapes of rice paddy fields are very common in this area. What looks like a cascading waterfall on the hillside is actually a vein of marble.

From Mahaiza to the Tsaramanga Pegmatite Mine

All along the way we saw women on their trek to or from the Mahaiza market carrying baskets on their heads. I was amazed at the sheer volume and weight of objects the Malagasy people can carry on their heads!

We arrive to the dig site! Tsaramanga is one of the most famous localities in Madagascar. It comprises a beryl-columbite subtype known for dark blue beryls, columbite crystals and world-famous rose quartz.

Renowned Madagascar rose quartz forms in large crystal grains rather than terminated crystals. It is famous for it’s color, transparency and asterism. We could buy rose quartz from this pile, or find a piece in the dump area to take home at no charge. I chose to take a piece from the dump pile.

Tsaramanga Pegmatite Mine
This was our first opportunity to dig in a mine. Those of us who brought our own tools could dig in the open pit. Unfortunately, no one found anything valuable digging in the pit in the two hours we stayed. But it’s always fun to tell people I got to dig in the Taramanga Pegmatite Mine in Madagascar.

In my next post, we head on to our next mining locality, the Sahatany Pegmatite District.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A Gemologist’s Journey (Mahaiza Market)

Mahaiza Market
The market at Mahaiza was unlike anything I had ever seen. It was a busy Friday afternoon and the streets were packed with people who had come from miles around to shop at the market. Here one could buy anything from clothing, food, live chickens and zebu, purses and cookware to gems and minerals. Locals were given a heads up that we were coming, so many had gems and mineral specimens ready for our viewing.

It was a chaotic free-for-all in the street. Crowds of local market-goers looked on to watch the Vazaha (Malagasy word for white foreigner)! Those of us who were lucky got first dibs on some amazing minerals.

Mahaiza MarketThe deal of the day was this beautiful perfect tourmaline crystal on a quartz crystal. It looks black in the photo, but the tourmaline was a beautiful deep green color. It was a steal of a deal at just 100,000 ariary, or about $43 at the time.

Mahaiza Market
The streets were so crowded we needed an escort for our 18 4-wheel drive vehicles to get through the market. Our group was the largest group the people had ever seen in Madagascar, so everywhere we went it was like being in a parade!

It was here at Mahaiza Market that I realized, some of the people here had never seen a white person before…or at least not one with blonde hair and blue eyes like mine. There were several young gals who took one look at me and backed up in fear. For some, a smile was all they needed to feel comfortable coming closer. For others, they just backed up all the way around me as if I was some sort of taboo to them. It was quite interesting.

In my next post, we head on to our first mine of the journey, the Tsaramanga Pegmatite Mine.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A Gemologist’s Journey (Antsirabe)

Antsirabe Mineral Market
Antsirabe, called the city of water for its thermal activity, is also the gem and mineral trading center of Madagascar. Upon our arrival we met local gem and mineral dealers having their usual street show.

There were mineral specimens, cut gems, cabochons, beads, carvings and just about anything else you could think of at a gem & mineral show.

Madagascar is one of the top producing countries of gemstones in the world.

Antsirabe Mineral Market
I pick through the offering and left with just these two pieces: A bi-color tourmaline and amethyst scepter. It was only the first day so I wanted to save my money. I actually bought a small red tourmaline crystal on matrix too, but I lost that specimen along the way. For the three specimens, I paid about $25.
Antsirabe Lake Tritriva
From the Antsirabe mineral market, those of use who wanted to, could take the scenic drive and short hike to Lake Titriva. It is a beautiful lake that fills the extinct crater of a volcanic cone surrounded by majestic metamorphic cliffs. This is a must-see for anyone in the area. I also bought a nice polished and cut ammonite for about $4.50 from a vendor in the parking lot.

Antsirabe: famous for pous-pous
Like most evenings, we ended this first day in Antsirabe with a dinner and party. But the day didn’t end so well for one of our travelers.

Antsirabe is famous for its rickshaws, or in Malagasy pous-pous. Upon leaving the dinner party this evening, one of our fellow travelers tripped over a rickshaw and broke his elbow and knee in three places. He was airlifted to Reunion for immediate surgery. Unfortunately, he remained in Reunion until after our journey was over.

In my next post, we head south west to Mahaiza mineral market.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A Gemologist’s Journey (Antananarivo)

Antananarivo: Capital City of MadagascarOur journey began May 28th in Antananarivo. Antananarivo, also called Tana, is the capital city of Madagascar and also the largest city in Madagascar with an estimated population of 1.6 million people.

I have to admit, I imagined Tana to be much more metropolitan than it is. The city has very few tall buildings, many buildings are very run down or in disrepair. My driver, Tanjona, said the lack of tall buildings is because the city is built on soft ground, which wouldn’t support the weight of tall buildings. Not sure how accurate that is but it makes sense. In the center of town there are lots of beggars, many young women with babies etc. They seem to flock to white people, whom they consider wealthy.

Antananarivo: The Marketplace in Tana
Amid the hustle and bustle of the busy city is the marketplace. Locals and visitors alike go to the market to buy anything from fresh vegetables, clothes, live chickens and even gems and mineral specimens. Visitors must be especially careful of pick-pockets in the busy marketplace.

I was intrigued by the basket of live chickens I saw for sale. The chickens were just sitting nicely in their place in the basket, barely moving. Upon closer inspection, I noticed the feet of the chickens were tied together, making them immobile.

Antananarivo: Sanitary Conditions
Like other third world countries, the sanitary conditions in Madagascar are a bit shocking by our standards. The streets are littered and the rivers are very dirty. Just outside the marketplace, one boy uses the river as a toilet. I’m told his mother cleaned him off with his shirt, then put the shirt back on him. Further down the river, women wash clothes in the same river. Some locals even drink the river water!

Antananarivo: Queens Palace
Perched on the highest hill overlooking the city is the Queen´s Palace. This is a must-see if you are visiting Antananarivo. Here we learned some history, legends and admired an incredible 360 degree panorama of the city.

The French invaded the capital city in 1895, prompting the Queen’s surrender. Madagascar remained a French colony from 1895 to 1960 when it transitioned to an independent country. Here are some of the buildings at the Queens Palace, including a traditional tomb and beautiful protestant church.

Antananarivo: Dinner Party with Entertainment
We ended our first day in Madagascar with a dinner party of delicious local cuisine and entertainment. Our entertainment was live traditional music, singing and dancing by local Malagasy talents. This was just the first of many similar dinner parties with live entertainment.

In my next post, we head south to Antsirabe, the mineral trading capital of Madagascar.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A Gemologist’s Journey (FAQ)

Madagascar: Frequently asked questionsWhenever I give a presentation about the trip or tell friends about it, I’m always asked the same three questions: What are the accommodations like? What is the currency of Madagascar? and is it safe?

With regard to the accommodations, most of our hotels and bungalows where very nice with running water and electricity. Most of them had an Internet connection somewhere on the premises we could use. One of the places we stayed did not have running water, but we could flush the toilet with a bucket of water. The electricity in this place was powered by a generator and was only on for a few hours each evening to allow us to charge phones etc. In general, I was pleasantly surprised by how nice the hotels were for our group.

With regard to the currency, the primary currency in Madagascar is the Malagasy Ariary (MGA). In my photo I am showing a stack of their largest bills. Each bill is 10,000 Ariary, which, at today’s exchange rate is about $3.77. For my $1,000 in US dollars, I received about 2,655,000 MGA and for the first time in my life, I was a multi-millionaire! It felt strange to be carrying around such a large stack of bills! It also became far too easy to just whip out 10,000 MGA for anything and anyone.

Just an FYI, decent rooms in Madagascar can start at about 25,000 MGA per person per night and on up. So housing is relatively inexpensive. For my return trip in three weeks, I found a nice, contemporary 2 bedroom apartment with all utilities and WIFI in Antananarivo for just $160 for the entire week.

As for safety, of course no matter where you go, whether it’s Madagascar or Kentucky, there is always a risk of some sort of danger. I didn’t feel unsafe or threatened in any way the entire three weeks I was in Madagascar. I’m not aware anyone else did either. But we were traveling in a large group. Nevertheless, when we toured the mines or shopped at the mineral markets, we had hired armed guards to accompany us. One must also be careful in the market places of pickpockets etc.

For my return trip, I have hired a full time body guard, who is also my driver, because I stick out like a sore thumb in Madagascar being a blonde hair, blue eyed, white woman traveling otherwise alone. A little common sense always goes a long way when traveling overseas.

In my next post, we begin our journey in Antananarivo, the capital city of Madagascar.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A Gemologist’s Journey (Geological Overview)

Madagascar: A Gemologist's JourneyI recently took a trip to Madagascar for a mineralogy conference and to tour some of the remote mining villages. It was such a wonderful trip and I learned so much that I’d like to share my experience with you over the next couple of weeks.

Before I begin specifics about our journey, I’d like to touch on the geology of Madagascar. Madagascar has a very unique geological history, which created many unusual mineral deposits.

Roughly 2.5 billion years ago several land masses, including Madagascar, collided to form the Gondwana Supercontinent. The magmatism and metamorphism generated by this collision is largely in part responsible for Madagascar’s wealth of gemstone and mineral deposits.

Madagascar is divided into 3 geographical zones clearly visible on the image below:
1: Low Plains in the west comprised of Mesozoic to Cenozoic sediments
2: Central Highlands comprised of old crystalline basement complex
3: Narrow Coastal Strip in the east comprised of lower Cretaceous volcanics

Madagascar Topography

Madagascar has more mineral deposits than any other island in the world. It is especially rich in pegmatite deposits. More gems are found in pegmatite deposits around the world than any other type of deposit. Pegmatites form in granite and when conditions are perfect, can form gem pockets.

The overlay below shows all the major pegmatite districts in Madagascar, taken from the book Madagascar, by Federico Pezzotta. As you can see, most are located in the central highlands. This is where we spent the majority of our time.

Madagascar Topography
Madagascar Book For more information on the geology and mineralogy of Madagascar I suggest this book written by Federico Pezzota. The book is full of amazing photographs of beautiful gem and mineral specimens along with a wealth of information about Madagascar’s mineral localities. The book is $35 and $13 of each purchase goes to helping the kids in the remote mining villages of Madagascar. Contact me if you wish to order a book…it is almost out of print and I have fewer than 10 copies left: 970-535-4139.

In my next post I will begin our journey of Madagascar.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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232 Carat Diamond Unearthed at the Cullinan Diamond Mine

Diamond Grading LabsAnother amazing diamond was discovered at the Premier Mine, renamed the Cullinan Diamond Mine, in South Africa. The mine is known for the famous Cullinan diamond discovered in 1902. When found, that diamond rough crystal weighed a whopping 3,106.75 carats and is the largest diamond ever discovered.

The announcement came on Tuesday, September 9, 2014 that another notable diamond was discovered at the Cullinan Diamond Mine. This diamond rough crystal weighs 232 carats and is D color with high clarity, consistent with other high quality diamonds found in this mine.

According to the press release from Petra Diamonds, owner of the mine: “Cullinan is renowned as a source of large diamonds and frequently yields diamonds larger than 10 carats. Furthermore, it has produced just under 800 stones weighing more than 100 carats, over 130 stones weighing more than 200 carats, and around a quarter of all diamonds weighing more than 400 carats.

In its history, the mine has produced four of the top 20 largest high quality gem diamonds: The Cullinan (3,106 carats rough), The Golden Jubilee (755 carats rough), The Centenary (599 carats rough) and The Cullinan Heritage (507 carats rough). The Cullinan Heritage was recovered by Petra in 2009 and sold in February 2010 for US$35.3 million, being the highest price on record for a rough diamond.”

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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