Man finds new meaning in life as he mines for gold

While walking around with my metal detector, I spotted something tiny sparkling in the distance. I stopped abruptly and focused on it. I went over to pick up and I discovered it was a piece of gold. It felt unreal.

  • 1 year ago
  • February 17, 2023
5 min read
Sergio Zurbarán on one of his adventures mining for gold. He explores old mines with his metal detector, and washes the dirt off in the streams nearby. This process is called panning. | Photo courtesy of Sergio Zurbarán
Sergio Zurbarán is 54 years old. He has been a gold prospector for four years after working as a barber in the Argentine province of Entre Ríos for 33 years.
The California gold rush was a social phenomenon that occurred in the United States between 1848 and 1855, characterized by the large number of immigrants who arrived in the vicinity of San Francisco, California, in search of the metal. The first gold prospectors, called forty-niners (those of 49; having arrived in California in 1849), traveled to California by ship through the Cape Horn route or in caravans across the continent, facing a journey very hard most of the time. Most of the immigrants were Americans, but the gold rush also drew tens of thousands of people from Latin America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. Some of these fortune seekers became millionaires, but most were left with little more than the assets they had when the fever began.

ENTRE RIOS, Argentina — One day, I went to the river with my son in a town called Mina de Los Corrales to hunt for gold. We found an old mine and worked along the streams that surrounded it. While walking with my metal detector, I spotted something tiny, sparkling in the distance. I stopped abruptly and focused on it. When I went over to pick up, I discovered a piece of gold. It felt unreal, and I could barely believe my eyes. My son and I looked at each other in disbelief and shouted from the top of our lungs, jumping up and down. 

Euphoria tingled in my chest when I found hidden pieces of gold

I worked for 33 years as a barber and my life lacked excitement. I needed something to revive me. Four years ago, I watched a documentary on the gold rush and soon found out people mine for gold in my province, so I jumped at the opportunity. With little training available, I slowly taught myself the trade, watching YouTube videos and endlessly searching the internet.

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Once I felt confident enough, I went out for the first time, and it ended in utter failure. I searched and searched, only to find stones and an old lightbulb, but held my disappointment at bay. I knew I needed patience; I had to keep trying.

By broadening my search, I explored places I never went to before. I began each day by straining gallons of water from streams for hours. Along the banks, I ran a metal detector until I heard beeping sounds. It alerted me to something buried there. My hands shook with excitement as I uncovered the object beneath my feet. Even when I find something other than gold, it felt like my own personal treasure.

When I first started to mine for gold, I considered it a hobby. Then, every time I set out on a search; I experienced a rush. The process felt like looking for a needle in a haystack. Euphoria tingled in my chest every time I found a small hidden piece of gold. When I finally discovered the biggest piece of gold I ever saw, it quickly turned into a passion.

The biggest piece of gold I ever found weighted heavily in my hands

After four years of gold mining, I learned the areas where I have a high chance of finding something. I memorized the best places and learned to spot signs of potential gold hidden underneath the earth. Eventually, I branched out to locations outside my province and sought popular mines around the country.

One day, as I took a walk around an old mine, my metal detector began to ring. Shovel in hand, I dug a small hole underneath the spot it pointed to. Not far below the surface, I found a 10-gram piece of gold. [According to current estimations, one gram of 10-karat gold is worth about $24.98 so 10 grams would be worth about $249.80.]

Pieces of gold being washed in the stream near the old mines. | Photo courtesy of Sergio Zurbarán

I felt its weight in my hand, barely containing my excitement. It looked bigger than anything I ever found before. It felt overwhelming, like time suddenly stopped.

I found another location in San Luis which has proven to be a literal gold mine. I travel to a private field with a colleague from Córdoba, and every time, we find gold. Of course, I will keep the location to myself!

Gold mining helped me find a missing piece of my soul

When I look for gold, I forget about everything: phones, social media, and even the bad news we hear from around the world. Everything goes quiet as I focus on the stream, the landscape, and the sound of the wind. The connection I experience with the earth and nature feels very pleasant. You can place no price tag on the passion one feels for this hobby, and I share it with others. In the gold mining community, I have met incredible people who share their stories.

One of the tools needed for gold searching. It allows the water to pass through, collecting potential nuggets. | Photo courtesy of Sergio Zurbarán

On a physical level, it can feel exhausting, and sometimes forces you to sell everything you find at half price due to the high cost of living. Still, whether in the freezing cold or during heat waves, the journey feels rewarding all the same.

The search becomes a sort of ceremony with friends. We talk with our feet in the water, enjoying the moment while we strain the water to reveal our finds. Seeing gold in my strainer only makes it more thrilling. Gold mining changed my life in so many ways. It gave me a sense of freedom and adventure, and it helped me connect with strangers who seek the same excitement as me.

The journey slowly turned into a lifestyle for me and all my new friends. I feel like I found a piece of my soul that had been missing.

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