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Mineral memories Part two: Combining work with pleasure in Colombia

16 February 2012 No Comment

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I’m privileged to have been able to travel on behalf of Malvern over the years. 82 countries at the last count, including Singapore, Malaya (as it was then; Malaysia now of course), Hong Kong and Germany which I had previously visited as a child.  I even found myself in Singapore on the day it unilaterally declared independence from Malaysia, way back when! On that day, I remember swimming in the Gilman Barracks swimming pool and listening to the Rolling Stones, ‘Get off my Cloud’.

All this traveling has allowed me to build up my mineral collection, as well as my collection of Malvern postcards. I don’t even mind where the ‘Malvern’ is. I have postcards from the Malvern Hills (near Christchurch, NZ) and Malvern, TX (near the Davy Crockett National Park) to name but two. But I digress…

The salt cathedral of  Zipaquirá

I started making my first trips to South America as Export Sales Manager. I had all the interesting countries that others had rejected: South America, Africa, Middle East, Russia and the old Communist Bloc, NZ and Oz.  There was only one direction those countries could go in sales terms!

One weekend during a trip to Colombia (two O’s by the way; not the ‘Columbia’ as seen very often), I was taken to see the ‘Catedral de Sal de Zipaquirá’, the salt cathedral in  Zipaquirá, Cundinamarca, an underground Roman Catholic church built within the tunnels of a salt mine 200 meters underground in a halite (common salt/sodium chloride) mountain. Visiting this cathedral is an incredible experience.

According to Wikipedia, years before the underground church was built (around 1932), the miners had carved a sanctuary as a place for their daily prayers, asking for protection to the saints before starting to work.  I was told this story and grabbed a couple of pictures in the dim light inside:

How on earth did common salt, coal and iron pyrites come together?

Outside the entrance of the cathedral, people were selling various religious carvings and other interesting objects.  I was surprised to see carvings in fools’ gold (iron pyrites) and some were quite intricate and large – one piece was a carved cross around 12 inches in height.

While I have little interest in polished or carved minerals, I was able to buy an unworked piece of the local geology. This piece of mineral was embedded with common salt, coal and iron pyrites on it and is shown in the feature image of this blog. Now, this is an interesting one for the geologists:

Q: ‘How on earth did these three minerals (common salt, coal and iron pyrites) come together?”

In central Massachusetts, where I live now, there’s a high humidity in the house and I have to keep this specimen in a plastic bag to prevent the deliquescence (not one for Scrabble!) of the salt. Interestingly, I never had to do that in Malvern, England.

Combining work and pleasure

Of course, we did actually visit existing and prospective customers on working days.

Combining work with pleasure certainly makes those long trips much more exciting and it’s great that some of the distributors and agents shared my enthusiasm for minerals. We also enjoyed visiting the mines where Malvern’s particle size equipment was either in use in the laboratories…

…or about to be!

So my deepest thanks go to Malvern for the wonderful opportunities my traveling has given me.  I hope I’ve given something back.