Farty's Fortunes

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Diamond Drive Part 1


This was going to be a post about our 20th wedding anniversary trip around South Africa, but given that we almost certainly won't be going back there (Eldest Daughter is now moving to New Zealand), I've decided to expand it a bit and throw in bits from other holidays. If you don't like to see other people's holiday pictures, look away now.

Mrs Farty and I had been married for twenty years and felt that we deserved a wee holiday (no, not from each other). Eldest Daughter and Son-in-Law had been begging us to pay them a visit, so we gave Little Miss Farty some money for crisps, packed our bags and flew off to Darkest sunny South Africa.

Wild CoastWe landed, eventually, in a little place known as East London. It sits right on the Wild Coast, about halfway between Port Elizabeth and Durban. That'll be a big help to ya, right? Well, just wait till 2010, when the Football World Cup arrives in SA. Then you'll pick it up quickly enough.

ED and SiL had taken some time off too, so we wasted no time in driving up to SiL's birthplace, Kimberly, right in the heart of the country and hot as hell. The air-cond in the car was, of course, knackered, so we drove fast with the windows down. Kimberly is where the fabulous Great Star of Africa was found, so SiL took us to the very hill where the discovery was made.

The Big HoleWell, that find had sparked a bit of excitement diamond rush. People looked for, and found, more diamonds, so they dug down. And down. And down. Now all that's left is a big hole, imaginatively named The Big Hole. It's still there, but that pretty green liquid covering the bottom is highly acidic, and the very air around it is toxic. Nice.

Driving the trainHowever, there are plenty of other places in the vicinity where diamond prospecting is still worthwhile, so we bought our Official Prospecting Licences and caught the steam train to King Solomon's Mine. Possibly.

Crushing gravel

Looking for diamondsThe big rocks from the mine are mechanically broken down into gravel, then it's a matter of crushing the gravel, spreading it out on a handy table and sifting through it by hand until you find yourself a diamond. This may take some time, so bring plenty of sandwiches and soda. (One of these people is an accredited diamond sorter - can you guess which one?)

Harry Oppenheimer House - stock photoOnce you've discovered your diamond, you have to get it cut, polished and graded. As luck would have it, there's a diamond sorting facility, Harry Oppenheimer House (HOH), right in the middle of Kimberly, so we had a wander round inside.


Oh. Right. They confiscated our cameras, then we were issued with temporary passes, escorted by armed guards, and led through a series of locked doors while we were X-rayed, and thence into the key-operated lifts. All under the ever-watchful gaze of the CCTV security cameras. Think Big Brother for real. Sheesh, you'd think they were worried someone might want to steal their jools or sumfink!

And then we saw them. A long, long line of stools. Perched on each stool, a stern-faced individual wearing a white coat and thin latex gloves. Stacked before each person, a little heap of stones. The leftmost heap was the largest. These ones were jet black industrial diamonds. As we walked along, the heaps grew smaller while the colours lightened through brown and yellow, until the smallest, rightmost heap was composed of pure, clear, glittery gems. Each heap was worth a cool million US dollars. Each sorter had three cameras trained on their every move. I'd hate to have an itchy bum in that room.

SiL's sister works there, so she graded Mrs Farty's diamond personally. As you do.

After seeing the end-to-end process of washing - in boiling nitric acid - drying, sorting, grading and that, we were given a lovely cup of Earl Grey tea and shown some excellent copies of famous diamonds. And a very few real, uncut ones, still embedded in the rock. Then we were X-rayed again, just to be sure, given back our cameras and allowed back outside. I like HOH. Mrs Farty wants to live there.

Next stop: Cape Town, via Cango Caves.


Liz said...

I love posts like this - they enable me to travel the world without leaving my chair.

Looking forward to the next installment.

Will you be visiting ED once she has moved to NZ? And will you need another big anniversary to justify the trip?

Sewmouse said...

And if you DID have to scratch your bum - would they then have done the full body cavity search?

And to think I am irritated by the "we assume you are a terrah-ist" attitude of the TSA folks at the airport!

john.g. said...

If you had scratched your bum, would you have become a "diamond geezer"?

BOSSY said...

That was such a good movie, Bossy is buying another ticket and going in again.

Mr Farty said...

Liz - The same reason I love science fiction - you can visit the stars and experience alien cultures while making only enough effort to turn the pages.

We're planing to visit NZ in Sept- I mean Oct- make that November. Or possibly December, it depends how the holiday schedules mesh.

It's a very big anniversary - Beethoven's birthday is December 16th. That'll do nicely.

Sew - I don't doubt it.

John - Oh, fer cryssake!

Is BOSSY looking for ideas on what to do on her Road Trip when she runs out of wine and bowling alleys?

Jahooni said...

Happy Days to you both...

apositivepessimist said...

I once knew a Big Hole.

Her name was Sue.

Hellooh Farts!

Mr Farty said...

J - Thanks.

Shanon - I might have known a post about bum-scratching would have tempted you out from your nest in Kinfucky. Welcome back!