Colombia's Wealth Of Gold, Sex & Vintage Medellin Scene
By May 21, 2012– Published in on
But hey, how about those prepagos?
Thom @ Large In Antioquia
By Thom Calandra
MEDELLIN, Colombia – Underground treasure is surfacing in this nation of 50 million; in some cases, it is coming out of the gabinete.
We’re talking gold. We’re talking shopping malls, pretty/pretty girls, vintage rum and $500 hotel rooms.
This is Colombia, whose peso since 2008 is among Latin America’s strongest.
-- Whose intake of gringo investor cash is among the world’s growth leaders.
-- Whose applications for mining concessions quadrupled in less than five years.
-- Whose women are asserting their right to do … to do whatever the mundo they please, señores.
[caption id="attachment_1917" align="alignleft" width="179" caption="Medellin Party Spot"][/caption]
The USA-Colombia free trade pact started this week and was headline news. The agreement, displayed USA TODAY style with cartoons, newspaper graphics and catchy quotes, upstaged kidnappings, corruption arrests, Mexico decapitations up norte and murder probes of a village priest. (Canada put a trade pact in place in 2011.)
At La Bolsa Bar in the Andean city of Medellín, patrons arrive suited up from that other bolsa downtown. Customers are as likely discussing economics, sipping their Ron Medellín Añejo over ice cubes, as they are chatting about sex-tourism, the price of a Toyota pick-up truck or breast-and-bum cosmetic implants.
Other topics of conversation on this, my 17th or 18th visit to the equatorial city: Madonna coming to provincial Medellin in November instead of sprawling rival Bogota; cheap property taxes in suburban Envigado; sex and 30-something prepagos; the new Santa Fe shopping mall; gold mining; Botox®.
Medellín is cosmetic surgery capital of Latin America: cheap, easy and pretty. Girls get their implants as birthday candy while still in their teens. The city of eternal spring, as Medellin is called, is also the center of Antioquia, which regards itself as the 24-by-7 beating heart of relentless gold mining and exploration.
I am here not for the pre-paids, as women in search of extra income are called. I am here for the metal. Antioquia’s tropical forest, hills and valleys have plenty of it: millions of ounces of measured, indicated and inferred gold and copper. One day, likely in four years, those millions will approach 50 million or more ounces.
“Even the historic hotels have gold as part of their fabric,” says Miller O’Prey, an Irishman who heads publicly traded Solvista Gold (SVV). Mr. O’Prey, who lives fulltime in Antioquia, tells me the walls of the Fredonia hotel I stayed at after viewing one gold project are 7-gram-per-tonne gold from the nearby Titiribi mill.
Colombia is jacked. Its currency, the peso, is one of the best gainers against the USA dollar since I began returning to Medellín, capital of Antioquia, in 2007 or so.
There are so many applications for mining concessions in this country, government officials say they are sorting through 6,000 at present. "It could be more or less, we can't pin it down," says Jim Felton, chief operating officer of Colombia's largest owner of mineral concessions, Grupo de Bullet. "A heck of a lot of them are right here in the department of Antioquia."
When last I was in this city of 4 million, seven months ago, the Feria Minera trade show for miners and prospectors was notching its best showing ever: 8,000 attendees.
This time around, for the first time in my memory, the faux-pas Poblado roundhouse, a multi-use building that looks like a miniature Roman Colosseum and was financed decades ago by drug-runner Pablo Escobar, is lit up. (Photo above: Statue in front of roundhouse – Thom Calandra photo)
I ate dinner at La Bolsa Bar there with the gang from Colombia Crest (CLB in Canada), a gold prospector headed by CEO and Montana geologist Hans Rasmussen. A good dozen restaurants and nightclubs in the building were mostly packed with party-goers, executives, even curious grand-moms and dads. And hey, those pre-pagos, maybe half of them clean-living ladies and divorcees who are fit as fiddles and searching for North American husbands.
The retail treasures – cuisine, cafes, salsa dancing -- are above ground, just across from my favorite Medellin Royal hotel and the world-class Santa Fe shopping mall.
For subterranean treasure, you have to go to the hamlets and villages that surround Medellin in all directions. All of them have undiscovered minerals. All of them have Canada and USA and Australian prospectors racing to build the first new gold mine in decades.
In the hunt for title of first new commercial gold mine in Antioquia in decades: Continental Gold at Buriticá (CNL in Canada); Sunward Resources (SWD) at Titiribi. One or two long shots, too.
It's still tough here in paradise. Colombians love their landscapes and might be loath to allow open-pit mining in some jurisdictions favored by owners of second homes in the countryside, be they true lovers of countryside and modest weekend getaways or massively successful industrialists, brewery owners, cement kings and possibly narco entrepreneurs living in lush locales such as Titiribi, Santa Fe and Cisneros. Thank the heavens, Continental's Buriticá is underground and crazy, simply insanely high grade and has the inside track on going forward. Continental Gold will be taken over by a larger company, possibly Brazilian, and at a 130 percent premium to its current stock price, in less than 9 months' time. Believe it. I know the principals but have no advance information. (I own zero shares.)
[caption id="attachment_1920" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Bellhaven's Patrick Highsmith"][/caption]
As for producers, one company producing gold and some silver in Antioquia and in neighboring Caldas, Gran Colombia Gold (GCM), is embroiled in disputes at Frontino Mine and at El Marmato, a three-hour drive from Medellin. The company is mentioned frequently in western media in the probe of a murdered village priest near El Marmato. The site of El Marmato, a mountainside I first visited in 2007 when Jeff Brooks was VP of Exploration there, is still, five years later, a tangle of toxics, illegal miners and landslides. (Jeff is now VP of Exploration for Solvista and has become a Middle Cauca porphyry ringer; he is quite good at his geology craft.)
Even amidst rising property prices, affluence and relative relief from political and drug terrorism, most of the publicly traded prospectors and even the miner-producers Mineros S.A. and Gran Colombia have seen their treasured equity go underground, or underwater … or up in stock market smoke.
“We’re no different than anywhere else in the world right now, even with a stable government and some of the richest undiscovered mineral deposits in the world,” said Mr. O’Prey, the Irish geologist and CEO from Solvista Gold. Mr. O’Prey, age 35, and his team shuttle three hours north of Medellín to develop one project, Guadalupe, which I just visited, and three hours south of town to explore another, a porphyry of gold and copper called Caramanta.
The Caramanta one is getting Medellín buzz: that is defined as a tableful of Antioquia geologists, trained in Medellín and the sons and daughters of local geologists, 30-somethings with the names Pedro y Hector y Jaime, talking stream sediments and soil geochem about the property with expressions such as ¡eso es! … or muy potente … or cogida santa de la cogida! (Holy x$&*@! of x$&*@!s!) Personally, I went ape-doo over the rock at Guadalupe, and will discuss later. I bought Solvista shares last week.
At a gold-copper project called La Mina, in the same Middle Cauca Belt of minerals that hosts at least 10 Canadian junior prospectors (including Caramanta and Sunward’s Titiribi and Colombia Crest’s La Arabia), another company's base camp sits 500 meters from a working-class village and once-thriving mining town.
CEO Patrick Highsmith of Bellhaven Copper & Gold (BHV) is well on his way toward rivaling in resource what majestic Sunward Resources (SWD) has just up the road in picture-perfect Titiribi. (Photo above: Patrick Highsmith on site at La Mina this past week – TC photo)
I am fresh off my third visit to La Mina, and my second to the mine project upon which I stake my reputation and retirement: Bellhaven Copper & Gold. (I own 2.2 million shares, all purchased in the open market in the past three-plus years. Ergo, I am “hablar mi propio libro.”)
Note: P.s., I do not get paid to write about BHV and never have received a dime from the company under CEO Patrick Highsmith, board member Patrick Abraham, President and founder Julio Benedetti or Paul Zweng, a family friend, an asset manager, former interim CEO and a doctor of geology. My BHV research, volumes of it, appears across several venues (Cambridge House, GATA.org, 321gold.com, The Gold Report, BabyBulls.com and Stockhouse.com for starters). Some 40 Ticker Trax and Thom Calandra reports about BHV in the past three-plus years have been released to paying and non-paying investors, including to the Bellhaven web site when Paul Zweng was CEO. BHV is a client of Torrey Hills Capital in the San Diego, California, area. I am a partner. I have received nothing from Torrey Hills in exchange for that contractual relationship and I have made (let's count them) zero promises to anyone except my wife, to whom I have said repeatedly, “This is the company that is our coup de grace.” She prefers to believe I am a border-line fanatic gold zonker and a lover of most things Colombian.)
[caption id="attachment_1921" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Millie Paredes and Brad Yonaka at La Mina"][/caption]
Both Sunward Resources and Bellhaven Copper & Gold (BHV) are revising their compliant resource statements as you read this. Sunward’s revised resource comes any day. The number of ounces in all categories, gold equivalent, my cadre of Medellin and Antioquia geologists, analysts and mine execs is hearing on Sunward is 13.5 million, up from 11.4 million ounces in all categories.
Bellhaven’s revision will include a freshly drilled zone, the so-called Middle Zone, and will come in by June 30. BHV’s team is building upon a resource of 1.6 million gold-equivalent ounces, all in the inferred category. (Photo here: Brad Yonaka, VP exploration, and Millie Paredes, COO, at La Mina this week – TC)
The main difference between these two Colombia prospectors, both run efficiently by their Canada, Colombia and USA geologists, engineers and execs, is Sunward launched its efforts (under Phil O’Neill in Canada and Georges Juillandin Medellin) two years before Bellhaven got the Colombia bug.
[caption id="attachment_1930" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Miller O'Prey: Solvista Outcrop at Guadalupe"][/caption]
I asked about the revised resource under way and supervised by a Denver firm. Current Bellhaven CEO Patrick Highsmith, as we viewed the project’s current drill targets this week in dry conditions during a traditional rainy month, said we might see some inferred ounces in the original La Cantera zone and in the Middle Zone drilling move up to the measured and indicated category.
If that happens, it is because of Dr. Zweng’s decision to do early metallurgical work on La Cantera rock. Also because Patrick Highsmith’s second round of drilling in the Middle Zone has several targets that required multiple holes situated within a meter or two of one another. Yes, that close, and on the same platform. “Steep terrain can prevent us from situating rigs,” says Mr. Highsmith, a Denver geologist, age 44, who spent many years with Newmont Mining and recently Lithium One.
I could go on forever about Colombia, about Antioquia and Medellin and about La Mina (and Solvista’s Guadalupe.) So I shall. Only not here and now. How about manana?
For my notes on BHV and SVV and CLB, please visit www.babybulls.com later this week. I will report why the Panama government’s delay in approving Bellhaven’s two concession permits soon will dissolve and, according to one analyst, will send BHV shares up more than 200 percent in one day.
Other notes to come Tuesday or Wednesday from La Mina, which was overflowing with bank analysts and writers from Canada, Colombia and Germany, will tick off why a border porphyry target called La Garrucha and controlled by a giant gold company starting with the letter A could contribute to BHV’s return to what I track as a 90-cent Canadian fair value level, based on 121 million outstanding shares. (Think tightly clustered porphyrys.) The shares, traded in Canada and available in the USA (BHVCF), are about a third that amount. (Photo here: Fresh core from Middle Zone, Hole 74, with pale-rose hue of potassic feldspar – TC)
My Colombia notes also will include developments at Gold Standard Ventures (GV) in Nevada, which is set to release another round of assay results from its Railroad Gold (and silver) project just outside Elko. GV is getting closer to the feeder zone that likely will point to an 8 million-ounce-plus deposit (that will take some time), if I read Railroad correctly, which I do NOT always. As in, read next paragraph piacere.
For example: I will include a partial explanation about how I was SO WRONG about Canaco’s Magambazi prospect at its Handeni project in Tanzania, which I visited a year ago (as did other bank analysts). Personally, I want to thank Brent Cook of Exploration Insights for being SO RIGHT about Magambazi, which came up severely short of gold grade and continuity of mineralization in a key zone. Mr. Cook, a California writer and geologist, said in March that the prospect lacked continuity in at least one central zone. I got distracted (Colombia, Cambodia, Ghana, Nevada, New Mexico and Guyana) in the following months as the Canaco shares went lower and lower … and I did nothing in my portfolio. (I talked to a lot of people and remained confident in CAN.) I sold zero shares in last week’s CAN bloodbath and have yet to understand how Andy Smith, Jeff Heidema and Aussie consultant David Groves could have drilled more than 100,000 meters on a project that yielded in its first compliant resource just 1 million middling ounces at half the grade they were expecting.
The CAN shares and my own portfolio got hammered again last week and trade at 30 cents Canadian; I understand Canaco has 50 cents of cash and a large position in its 2011 spinoff, Tigray of Ethiopia (TIG). I've seen Tigray's properties in Ethiopia and own shares, and they have been blasted to smithereens, too. (I own between 55,000 and 75,000 Canaco shares; the reason for the broad estimate is because I am afraid to count them right now, a week after that disastrous NI 43-101 hit the market on a Monday afternoon.) So shame on cogida de cogida me. On the glass half-full (of H2O anyway), Mr. Smith at Canaco, the CEO and a geologist, says he will be purchasing CAN shares at this low level. At this point, I'll take the ride down to zero or back up to $6. But I can't sell at this cogida santa price.
That's all for now. I will be speaking at Joe Martin's Cambridge House resources conference in June. “Picking Up The Pieces All Over The Freaking Place” Sunday June 3 at 5 p.m.
Conferences are a tough sell in this garbage metals equities market (likely reversed course May 17 after 15 voodoo months). The Cambridge June show, like its twin edition in January and Mr. Martin's Silver Summit in the autumn, is free, or practically free, and worth the flights.
See: Thom’s Latest at BabyBulls.com
Thom Calandra is a lifelong journalist, broadcaster and investor who writes for www.babybulls.com, Cambridge House Cafe, The Gold Report & other select providers of investment news. He is a principal of Torrey Hills Capital in Del Mar, California. Comments also can be seen on Twitter in the categories of @thomcalandra and @babybulls. He supports the Gold Antitrust Action Committee (www.gata.org)