Where can one find the biggest and most beautiful tourmalines in the world? For collectors this question is easy. Brazil, Pakistan, Namibia, Madagascar, maybe China …
About a year ago I got my hands on an old issue of the magazine Lapis with an article on Mozambique pegmatites. The article was accompanied by photos that took my breath away. The size, purity and unusual shapes of citrines, smoky quartz, but especially tourmalines of all colours truly surprised me and piqued my curiosity. Brazil, China, Namibia - the stones from these lands are beautiful, but they are all over, at every exchange market.
Mozambique. Who has seen it? Who has been digging there? Than I remembered. There were some samples in Tuscon from Alexander Dikov - geologist, collector and a mysterious, inconspicuous man, he collected in Mozambique! So I asked around, wrote a letter and lo, an invitation came: Come and see, it's worth it!
The land of Mozambique is geologically versatile - there are both ancient complexes of metamorphites and later volcanic and sedimentary rocks.
The oldest regionally metamorphosed rock of the so-called Mozambique belt are tied all over eastern Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique) to frequent occurrence and deposits of precious stones, typical for this area - wide colour varieties of corundum, garnet, tourmaline, spinel and countless other minerals. Terms such as tsavorite, tanzanite, rodolite or malaya are well known to today's lovers of precious stones and need no detailed interpretation. The most sought after and precious east-African gems - tsavorite or tanzanite - have not yet been found in Mozambique, although the geological conditions are very similar here to those of their occurrence sites, so it is not improbable that they will be found here as well sometime in the future.
I will not burden you with the rather complex logistics of organising our expedition. In short, on September 12th, 2004, we met at the airport, the we being Jiří Ruml, RNDr. Pavel Lhotský, Mgr. Luboš Thin and Ing. Jan Prokopec. The tickets said: Prague - Paris - Johannesburg - Maputo - Nampula. The ticket is intricate and the journey all the more so. We missed our plane in Paris and our luggage disappeared in a whirlwind. But all that is of no consequence, let us discuss the map now. Mozambique is located on the east coast of Africa, roughly between the tenth and twenty-fifth degree of south latitude. The capital is Maputo, at the bottom-most end by the tropic of Capricorn, and our destination - the town of Nampula - lies in the northern part of the land near the border with Tanzania.
Mozambique is renowned for gems tied not to metamorphites, but to complex pegmatites, just like in the not-so-distant Madagascar, especially colourful varieties of tourmaline (red rubellite, green verdelite and blue indigolite) and beryl (blue aquamarine, pink morganite and gold heliodore). The first to mine them were the Portuguese colonists, who also mined for niobium and tantalum ore, industrial beryl, mica and, in limited volume, other minerals (bismuth, kaolin, feldspar).
Collectors of minerals and lovers of pretty stones surely know what to imagine under "pegmatite". For the lay public, reading these lines, we shall elucidate that pegmatites is the name of coarse-grained rock shaped in dikes, lenses and irregular bodies that appeared during the last phases of formation of magmatic rock. Often they contain very large crystals of common and more precious minerals and cavities full of crystallised samples, sought after by collectors, of quartz, feldspar, mica, tourmalines, beryls, topases, apatites and dozens of other minerals.
The main occurrence localities of pegmatites in Mozambique are located in two provinces in the north of the lands Zambezia and Nampula in an area more than 400 km long and over 200 km wide, known to experts as the pegmatite field Alto Ligonha, named after the river of the same name, which winds through the area.
The local pegmatites were not discovered until the beginning of the 20th century, the first samples of gem-quality rubellite only reached Europe after the end of WWI. The rubellite crystals were found by Portuguese prospectors in the eluvial deposits on the northern slopes of the largest and most significant pegmatite Muiane, recognized and bought by a captain of a German trade vessel in the port of the island Mozambique.
We land in Maputo and experience mixed emotions. After all, a country whose state symbol is the "kalashnikov"! But it's OK, it works. The hotel's microbus is expecting us and the hotel itself on the shore of the Indian ocean bears its stars rightfully. We tread rather carefully, as always in every new land, but it seems that the kalashnikov remains only on the currency and the flags. We continue by a local airliner to Nampula. We are expected here by our friends from Alexander Dikov's Bulgarian group. We continue inland by jeep about a hundred and fifty kilometres, the last sixty of which are a dirt road covered in red laterite. The land changes, the bush-covered flatland is now speckled with groups of incredible granite and amphibiolite towers, suitable named "icebergs" in English. (photo no.1, photo no. 2) Rattled and dusty we get out under a snow-white mountain, glittering in the sun until the eyes hurt. Muiane! Amazing, gigantic pegmatite to the order of kilometres. This is where the Portuguese mined gems, mica and tantalum-niobium minerals and this is where the most amazing mineral samples come from. The licence for this locality is now owned by South-Africans, but the boss is Alexander's friend Jeremy and a visit along with collecting samples will be possible.
The accommodation in Alexander's camp is absolutely flawless. Neat, clean, water, disinfection and best of all - homemade meals from meat to dessert. The main focus of Alexander's company is the mining and processing of rose quartz. They operate 3 surface mines about thirty kilometres from base. We go there for a look. The mining is effective, order rules everywhere. Prepared blocks of rose quartz are several dozen square meters large and the quartz structure can be seen really well, individual zones in various shades of pink with opalescent cores of topmost quality. The borders of the rose quartz core have passages of pegmatite with various types of quartz and numerous black tourmalines. They are closed and sometimes several meters long!! I enjoy myself finding edge pieces of rose quartz with ingrown closed iron tourmaline. It seems impressive to me, although Alexander and Pavel laugh at me, saying it's "junk".
On our way back to the base we stop at another pegmatite locality, where the quartz is intergrown with verdelites, even gem quality ones. We have little time, so I pound the quartz like a madman, until the locals that accompany me to stop me from stepping on a poisonous snake or plant shake their heads in disbelief. But I did get a few samples! (photo no. 3, photo no. 4)
A Czech collector or geologist, well acquainted with Czech or Moravian pegmatites, must feel like in paradise in Alto Ligonha. Most "smaller" pegmatites - in this case we mean dikes thick about 10 m and less - are not verified at all and their presence is hinted at by plentiful fragments of quartz and feldspar, or the shiny foils of mica around the dirt roads through the bush, which are passable only when it's dry and you have a 4-wheel drive. It is more than probable that these dikes contain top mineral samples, in this context I cannot fail to mention a story from 1944, recorded by the geologist of the mining company, M.B.Dias: "During road work to the pegmatite Nahia the workers uncovered a "cemetery" of crystalline and citrine crystals, each weighing around 3 tons. The new owner of the mine donated them to the Geography Institute in Lisbon in the hope that it shall be forced to invest into finishing the access road in order to be able to collect the unique crystals for transportation. The road was actually being built, but halfway to the "treasure" the society ran out of funds to finish the rest of the road".
The crystals are probably still in the same place, where they were found by chance in 1944.
That finds of such quartz "giants" aren't rare in the Aolto Ligonha area was proven to me by the photos of my friend geologist, who was stationed in Mozambique in the nineties as a UN expert. I will never forget the picture of a gigantic, at least 3 m large druse, composed of citrine crystals. To demonstrate their size in the photo the heads of six natives are showing from behind the translucent, almost meter-sized quartz crystals. (photo no. 5, photo no. 6)