Emerald hunters in the Chapada Diamantina

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Esmeraldas em Campo Formoso BA
Emerald hunters in the Chapada Diamantina

The town of Campo Formoso in the Chapada Diamantina is known for its caves and emerald trade.

The municipality of Campo Formoso, an age known for the production of emeralds, 414 kilometers from Salvador, also hosts the Precious Stones and Handicrafts Fair.

The Chapada Diamantina in Bahia and has in its territory many caves with various types of interior formation, as well as the largest cave, in extension, in the Southern Hemisphere: the Toca da Boa Vista, the largest known cave in Brazil and the Southern Hemisphere with more than 120 km of galleries mapped until 2007, is one of the most important speleological and paleontological sites in Brazil.

Together with the neighboring caves Toca da Barriguda, Toca do Calor de Cima, Toca do Pitu and Toca do Morrinho, they constitute a set of worldwide geological relevance.

Mountains of rare beauty, valleys that seem to have no end, rivers that squeeze in the corridors of stones. These impressive monuments were created by nature 400 million years ago, when the Earth was still a child.

In the heart of Bahia, the winter waters leap from the highest points of the Northeast. An exuberant spectacle. The Queda d’Água da Fumaça, almost 400 meters high, seems to start in the clouds.

In Chapada Diamantina, the water trail shows the path of the stones. Precious stones, which tell the story of many adventurers, Carnaíba, north of the chapada.

The town-like village attracts thousands of prospectors. The region’s mountains are home to Brazil’s largest reserve of emeralds.

Caçadores de esmeraldas na Chapada Diamantina

Emerald extraction in Chapada Diamantina

See also Fruits from the Municipality of Campo Formoso in Bahia

Businessman Alcides Araújo has been chasing his luck for more than 20 years. He is one of the big investors in emerald extraction. Alcides says he has not yet found the big luck.

Only second-rate emerald stones have come out of his garimpo. Still, he can’t complain.

“I’ve already made a fair amount of money in the mine, I’ve produced almost four thousand kilos. If I had those stones today, they would be worth R$ 300, R$ 200 per gram. I have already earned more than R$ 3 million,” says the businessman.

See the map Chapada Diamantina

Much of that money is buried in the deposit that Alcides exploits. We went to see how the prospectors go after the emeralds. An adventure that requires, in addition to luck, a lot of courage.

In the largest emerald mine in the region, the team went 280 meters deep. To get down there, the equipment is a rubber belt known as a horse. Check out this video challenge.

Garimpeiros are really brave. In the abyss of the garimpos, life hangs by a thread.

The operator of the machine that lowers and raises the steel cable cannot falter. The water that falls from the ceiling comes from the water table that the tunnel cuts through. It feels like a trip to the center of the earth. But is it really worth the risk?

It was almost six minutes of descent alone. Six minutes of chills.

At 280 meters the team reached a narrow corridor. In the wake of the emerald, prospectors open kilometers of galleries. Heat, little air, eight, ten hours a day in the strange underground world. These men live like human armadillos.

The real joy is when green begins to appear on the rock. A sign that what they are looking for may be nearby. The rock has to be blasted to see if it really is emerald. The desire to get rich is stronger than the fear of danger. Without any security, they fill the holes opened by the drill with dynamite.

“We usually do up to four blasts a day. With each detonation, ten to fifteen shots are fired,” says mining inspector Klebson de Araújo.

A lot of stone came down from the roof of the gallery. The job now was to take everything upstairs and examine the stones properly. And the owner of the garimpo? Does he trust his miners?

“They find it and we check it. If it makes it easier, they put it in their pocket,” says Manoel.

“There are several ways to take it. Some say they are thirsty, ask for a watermelon to suck. They break off a small piece, put the pebbles inside and take the watermelon,” says Alcides.

Hidden or not, an emerald in your hand is money in your pocket. At weekends, the main square in the town of Campo Formoso becomes a bustling market for precious stones. What matters least is where they come from.

Cleverness always prevails. Quality emeralds are never sold in the square. Business with valuable stones is closed indoors for fear of robbery.

The minerals of the Chapada Diamantina have made fortunes and produced stories. Stories like that of Herodílio Moreira, who once lived in the glory days.

“I’ve made a lot of money with emeralds. I used to buy merchandise and make five cars at a time, in profit. Today those cars are gone. I’m looking for money to buy an old bicycle,” he says.

In the world of these adventurers, poverty and wealth share the same space. José Gomes, a 70-year-old gold digger, has also experienced both situations, but he has never lost hope.

“When I see an emerald in the shape of a jewel in the jewelry store, I analyze what I have lost. I see the stones in the stores worth millions of dollars and me with nothing,” he says.

See also History of Garimpo in Chapada Diamantina

Chapada Diamantina Tourism and Travel Guide

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