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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