Tanzanian Gem Safari – A perfect holiday
A journey into East Africa
Combining family vacations while pursuing the holy gemstone grail has probably been the bane of many a spouse of the avid gemologist. I for one am guilty of such pursuits, however this summer my wife Carol did not complain when I announced that our summer holiday plans included a trip for two to East Africa. With that said, Carol was on a mission to see the great wildlife of the Serengeti and I was on a mission to experience the diverse gemstones of this region.
Gemstone Safari and the Lapidary Training Centre, Dar es Salaam
With a little internet research I discovered the Lapidary Training Centre, located in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. This centre is run by Ms. Noreen Masaki, a certified lapidary instructor who offers hands-on courses in all aspects of gemstone cutting, geared to the hobbyist as well as the more serious- minded student.
In partnership with Mr. Hubert Heldner of Free Form Artists, Montreux, Switzerland and in collaboration with the Southern and Eastern African Mineral Centre,SEAMIC, the centre also offers personalized “Gemstone Safaris” to various mining area of Tanzania.
This was the perfect opportunity that I was looking for! All I needed now was a plan to combine my gem follies with a wildlife safari for Carol. This was solved with the discovery of Gosheni Tours, an Arusha based safari tour company. The firm came highly recommended in Trip Advisor reviews and I found their pricing very competitive. In addition they were more than willing to customize our safari to fit the plans of our gemstone safari
With our bags packed we were ready for our trip to Africa. Carol and I agreed to compromise on the itinerary whereby I would take the three day faceting course at the Lapidary centre while Carol visited with the locals and enjoyed some R &R at the nearby beach. The Gemstone Safari was due to depart the day after I finished my course and traverse much of Tanzania over a two week span. I knew that Carol would have had her fill of picking through mine tailings by day two, so I arranged for our Gosheni Safari guide to pick us up on day three in the Morogoro region, a day’s drive west of Dar.
The art of lapidary was not completely new to me as I had cabbed many a stone as a teenager but learning to facet was like starting all over again. As it turned out I was the only student in the class, giving me a one
on one training for the three day course. Ms. Masaki is a very competent teacher who demonstrates each step of the cutting process in great detail.
For my first project I chose a citrine from a wide selectio
n of Tanzanian rough (shown here in the upper left hand corner of the photo). I picked this stone because of its substantial size and clarity. Ms. Masaki showed me how to mark the stone for trimming away unwanted colour zoning. We then chose a basic round facet design for this
first project After preforming the stone on the grinding wheel I learned how to apply it to the dop stick with hot wax . The faceting process then started. The lapidary school employs top of the line digital faceting machines, of Ultratec brand. To start the project I learned how to facet the pavilion , polishing it to exacting angles and finish. We then removed the stone and redopped it to face
t and polish the crown. Through careful tutoring I managed to complete my first faceted stone, – a fine 9.50 carat citrine
I took the stone out the
next morning to marvel at its beauty in the natural sunlight. The critical angles that Ms. Masaki taught me about were working their magic
. The stone sparked like a beauty!
Over the course of the next two days I finished a 0.90 carat rhodolite garnet and 0.70 carat aquamarine. Both stones presented different learning experiences
to those that I encountered in cutting the citrine.
The Gemstone Safari Begins
On our fourth day we were joined by the organizer of the Gem Safari, Mr. Hubert Heldner, and the rest of the gem safari guests for an orientation class, held in conjunction with Ms. Masaki.We spent the morning learning about the geology and gemstone deposits of Tanzania before departing from Dar es Salaam on our bus journey. Chatting with Hubert en route to our first stop in Morogoro, Carol and I were impressed with his knowledge of the country. I was most interested in his tips on how to interact with the local people and negotiate with gem miners and dealers.
The first night we settled down in the lovely country style Arc Hotel nearby the mountain range to which we would travel the next day. The local Tanzanian staff at all the hotels that we visited was extremely friendly and helpful. English was widely spoken and we tried our best to learn some basic Swahili, to the joy of our newly found friends.
Negotiating the purchase
On day two we departed from the relatively smooth highway and ventured on a bumpy, dusty, winding road into the nearby mountainside. Our first stop was close to the mining region; a very small village of thatched roofed houses, dirt floors and charcoal burning cooking hearths. There we were met by the local village “Chief” along with a throng of curious children. Hubert had arranged for us to meet with local dealers who offered up a variety of rou
gh gemstones for us to choose from. This afternoon’s interaction with the locals was one that I most cherished, sorting through the rough yellow danburite crystals, tourmalines and blue onyx, while bartering with the village chief.
After finalizing our gemstone purchases we bid farewell to the villagers and departed by bus for the tourmaline mine. I use the term “mine” rather loosely as our destination appeared to be more like a giant gopher field. Active artisanal mining had ceased some time ago, so we were free to dig through the tailings and explore the many large holes in the ground. Although ruby had been sourced from this area the only stones we collected ere black tourmaline crystals. The beautiful hike through the weathered marble karsk landscape of this countryside was the highlight of this part of the trip. My only regret was that my camera’s SD card was damaged before I was able to remove the photographs taken here. For those interested in the geology of this area and of Tanzania in general, there is an interesting article posted by the G.I.A., entitled “Gem Wealth of Tanzania”, Gems & Gemology, Vol. 28, No.2, pp. 80-102, available online.
We spent our final night with Hubert and the group at the Arc hotel enjoying a well prepared dinner while chatting over the day’s events.
The following day we had a short visit with a local gem dealer before meeting up with our Gosheni tour guide. After bidding farewell to the group, we started out on a new adventure, the wildlife safari of Mikumi National Park