Happy October to everyone! I hope this final quarter of the year brings you all you desire.
For this month’s Missive I want to take you with me on my trip to the blue celestite mines of Majunga, my first destination outside the capital city of Tana. A primary reason for my travelling to Madagascar was to visit a crystal mine there and see the difference between the mines of Madagascar and those of South America. Many stones and crystals come from Madagascar: Labradorite, carnelian and blue celestite are just a few that are found primarily, if not exclusively in Madagascar. But these crystals and stones are generally much smaller than the large quartz clusters and amethyst geodes that come from Brazil and Uruguay, and I wanted to see how the mines and mining of these smaller stones differed from that of the larger crystals found in South America. And boy, what a difference!
As I wrote in last month’s Missive, my hosts, Ita and Elka, and I ended up taking a private, packed, non-air-conditioned minivan on an 11-hour ride from Tana to Majunga. While the ride was bearable, and the people sharing the minivan were pleasant, I’ll share three aspects of the trip that will give you its, ummm, flavor.
First, as we travelled through the countryside of Madagascar seeing varying terrains of mountains, wide open vistas and small villages, there would frequently be huge groves of mangos and along the side of the road there would be groups of women selling the mangos out of large baskets. Cars and trucks would pull over and load up. We did the same; and the mangos were great! Second, about mid-way through our trip, we stopped at a small restaurant that was on the bottom floor of a family’s home. The sisters ordered for me, and I got an amazing whole fish lunch. Quite amazing for out in the middle of nowhere!
Finally, and certainly the aspect that of the ride made the biggest impression on me, were our “potty stops”: thing was, there were no pottys. Instead, twice during our trip, once before and once after lunch, the minivan simply pulled over on the side of the road and everyone piled out into the vacant countryside, dropped their drawers, and did their thing! Men, women, children, all together; we were all sort of spread out, so everyone had “some” privacy, but everyone was just “going” together in bushes. No one seemed to think anything of it, so I guess it was just the normal course for a trip like this. (No picture here, sorry!)
...the aspect that of the ride made the biggest impression on me, were our “potty stops”: thing was, there were no pottys.
After about 11 hours, we arrived in Majunga. It was evening, and the city was hopping. The sisters said that Majunga had a reputation of being a bit wild, and a bit dangerous. Given our long ride, we just decided to pass on the nightlife, have a quick dinner, pack it in for the night, and get ready for visiting the blue celestite mines the next day.
When I awoke and met the sisters for our day at the mines, I had no idea what I was about to experience, for sure! We took a taxi over to a dock and boarded a small motorboat. We then took what was about a 30-minute ride across a vast expanse of water, navigating amongst the traditional sail boats of Madagascar, to what I thought was an island. But the sisters told me we had really just travelled across a bay to an outcropping of land that was part of Madagascar. When we reached land, we slowed down and went through a series of small channels surrounded by mangroves. I watch lots of travel shows and always wondered what mangroves really looked like, and for the first time, I was amongst them.
I watch lots of travel shows and always wondered what mangroves really looked like, and for the first time, I was amongst them.
We “landed” on a bare shore, no dock, with people on nearby boats and the land watching and starring. I’m sure not many people come out to this place, particularly not an American. After we hopped off the boat, we walked for about 15 minutes and then came to a clearing, where Elka said; “Here we are.” I was like, “OK, but there’s nothing here.” Suddenly, a bunch of people, mostly men and children, but a few women too, came running up to us. They pointed in a certain direction and waived us to follow them.
A short distance away, I came to what can only be described as a hole in the ground, into which a rope fell that was attached to a two-person hand-winch that was used to let down and pull up a plastic bucket. This bucket, slightly larger than a Sparklets 5-gallon water bottle with the top cut off, would be filled with up dirt and, of course, blue celestite crystals. This is how the crystals came out of the earth. Slightly different than the machinery, sometimes heavy machinery, used to take the large quartz cluster and amethyst geodes out of the ground in South America!
I went over and peered down the hole, really the mine shaft, and started taking pictures. Everyone from the nearby village gathered around. The children really wanted to be in the pictures. I watched as the buckets came up and were then hand-carried and emptied out. I looked around at other holes/shafts in the ground that were nearby and saw men emerging and bringing up some blue celestite clusters for me to look at and hold. And then Ita said: “You want to go down?” I said, with great excitement, “Sure!” Elka said, “Are you really sure, no one who has ever come out here with us has ever gone down into the mine?” I was like, “You bet I’m sure, this is why I came to Madagascar, I’m not missing out on this!”
“You want to go down?...Are you really sure, no one who has ever come out here with us has ever gone down into the mine?” I was like, “You bet I’m sure, this is why I came to Madagascar, I’m not missing out on this!”
So Elka said, “Follow me” and we went with her to an open mine shaft. The shaft was only about 4 feet by 3 feet wide. I’d say it was about 20 feet down to the bottom. More significantly, all there was to hold on to going down were little hand-holds carved out in the sides of the walls which I could grab into to stabilize myself. And these handholds were spaced pretty far apart, especially for me being a bit short of stature. It was like, spread out, arms and legs, like a spider, and pray a bit. I have to say, I was somewhat nervous going down, but there was a miner below me to help me navigate and I guess catch me if I slipped and fell. After a good bit of time, and sweat, I finally reached the bottom. When I did, I found myself on a powdery dirt floor with a small opening on one side. The miner that was there motioned me to follow him.
I have to say, I was somewhat nervous going down, but there was a miner below me to help me navigate and I guess catch me if I slipped and fell.
I got down on my hands and knees, at times almost on my belly, and crawled for quite a while until we finally reached what I would call an ante-chamber, a small room in which I could sit, but not stand. The “room” might have been about 10 feet in diameter. In it was a bucket and what I can best describe as a spear. The miner motioned me to watch, and then he began to use the spear like a pick-axe to break apart the walls of the chamber. He would get some large pieces of dirt, and some crystal clusters, and put them in the bucket. And this is how it was done. This is how the blue celestite crystals are mined in Madagascar, with a spear, a bucket, and a handle-pulled winch. About as low-tech as you can get! I stayed with the miner for about 10 minutes, and then he motioned so as to ask if I was ready to go back up, and I nodded my head.
This is how the blue celestite crystals are mined in Madagascar, with a spear, a bucket, and a handle-pulled winch. About as low-tech as you can get!
We headed back to the shaft, and I faced the task of getting up and out of the mine. It was far more daunting than coming down. The hand holds were so far apart, and I had to pull myself up. I got up a bit of the way, and then sort of got stuck. Elka hollered down that they could send the bucket down and pull me up in it. I was like, “No way”. I couldn’t think of anything more embarrassing than being hand-winched out of the mine in a small bucket. So I got myself together and with the help of the miner, pulled myself up and out of the mine.
When I emerged, I got what was almost like a hero’s welcome from all the people, men, women and children, that surrounded the mine shaft. They cheered and applauded, and then I took pictures with everyone around. I really think I was about the first foreigner they ever saw go down into the shaft. What an experience!
When I emerged, I got what was almost like a hero’s welcome from all the people... I really think I was about the first foreigner they ever saw go down into the shaft. What an experience!
We then headed back to the boat. But on the way, we stopped at a home, made out of wooden sticks and a thatched roof of real raffia, and met the woman who the sisters said was the leader of the village.
And for sure, she was the leader; what an amazing, vibrant woman. She wore the traditional face make-up that is used by Malagasy women to block the sun. She, of course, couldn’t speak English, but we became fast friends. Elka and Ita translated how much I appreciated her letting me go down into the mine and visit her home and be with all the people of the village. She gave me a gift, we took more pictures, and then continued our walk back to the boat.The final part of the walk brought us to something that didn’t exist when we landed. The tide had gone out, and now there was a large area of deep, gooey red mud to traverse to get back to the boat. We took off our shoes and oozed through the mud, slipping and sliding, and finally boarding to make our way back to Majunga for a casual evening before the 11-hour minivan ride back to Tana the next day. But wow, what a day, what an experience. I couldn’t have asked, even dreamed of anything more out of this part of the trip.
The tide had gone out, and now there was a large area of deep, gooey red mud ...We took off our shoes and oozed through the mud, slipping and sliding...
I’ll conclude my Missives on Madagascar next month when I share my trip to an amazingly beautiful beach some 2 ½ hours of four-wheeling from the nearest city, my aborted trip to Andasibe National park, and my adventure to the world-famous Baobab Alley.
But in closing, I want to share some very deep feelings I have for you, Mystic Journey, and the blessed life I have led. Today, October 24, is the 11th anniversary of Mystic Journey Bookstore. My life path to, and with the bookstore, and all of you who have visited and patronized the store, have changed my life, and made it so much better, so much more fulfilling, so much more gratifying. I intellectually knew from my prior spiritual training that “being of service” was the highest calling one could answer. But for the past 11 years I have lived it. I now “know” it. In the next 11 years of my life, and the life of Mystic Journey, I intend to not only continue on, but expand upon this path of service I have undertaken. As I have said to many people over the years, I don’t really feel like Mystic Journey is “my” store. That’s often why it may seem that I hang in the background, and people often say to me, “Oh, you’re the owner?!” Me and Mystic Journey are simply here for you, for your aid, your evolution, your growth. Whatever the stores, or I can do for you, please let me know and I will do my best to meet that need. It has been, and continues to be and honor and privilege to be a part of our community and your life.