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“Red Diamonds Grey Gold” Tells of Juan Plaza’s Experiences of the Gold Rush in the Amazon rainforest

The Rickie Report has written about Juan Plaza’s extraordinary artistry as “Dr. Wiggls”.  Now we share his experiences as a young surveyor in the gold and diamond open-pit mines in the Amazon Rainforest.  From early reviews, “Red Diamonds, Grey Gold” is about Juan’s adventures as well as a stark reminder of what gold mining with mercury pollution is doing to one of the last pristine environments on the planet.  OSGS, where Juan exhibits and sells his pointillist drawings, is hosting a Public Reception/ Lecture on Saturday, November 16th.  Juan will be selling his book at this Book Release at a discount and will also be signing his book!  Details are in this article.





Ortiz-Smykla | Gallery Studio




Juan Plaza


Public Reception/Book Release


“Red Diamonds, Grey  Gold”


Saturday, November 16th

4 – 6 pm

500 Northwood Road   W. Palm Beach, FL



Juan the Surveyor is a chronological narration of Juan B. Plaza’s adventures as a young surveyor in a gold and diamond open pit mine in the Amazon rainforest during the area gold rush of the early 80’s.


Book Context

The events take place in an area where the government of Venezuela was offering mining concessions to companies and/or individuals interested in exploring and exploiting gold and diamond concerns in the undeveloped southern portion of the country. Geologically speaking gold and diamonds have a very similar weight and in alluvium conditions tend to deposit in close proximity. This is why the purpose of mining in this area is to extract both minerals at the same time.


Red Diamonds, Grey Gold Cover-1


This region of the Amazon is inhabited mainly by the Pemon Indians, but in this particular sub-region some Yanomami men and women have established themselves attracted by the mining activity. Juan was assigned two members of the tribe as his guides, companions, translators and eventually invaluable teachers in the ways of the jungle.



“As it happened, one of my formal teachers at the university was tired of teaching and urban life and had decided to apply for one of these available concessions and therefore needed a surveyor to complete the legal delimitation. In a matter of weeks I was squarely in the middle of nowhere, confronted with a completely different world; a world of unlimited possibilities and countless dangers. My then recently acquired engineering knowledge and skills were quickly put to the test in an area where building materials and skilled labor were easily accessible but radically different from those I learned in college. Using only what was available in the jungle, my Yanomami assistants and I combined our knowledge and skills to design and build contraptions needed to carry out our work”, Juan shares.


Juan B. Plaza at the Mine Site

Juan B. Plaza at the Mine Site


The cover of National Geographic Magazine issue of August, 2003 is dedicated to the Hidden Tribes of the Amazon. For months, Juan lived with one of the largest tribes, the Yanomami while performing his surveying work, geological exploration and sampling.  More than once the Yanomami saved his life and once he was able to return the favor!



Juan tells us, “This book is about my adventures in a hostile environment, at 100% humidity for weeks on end; surrounded by unimaginable wealth, reflected in the thousands of raw diamonds and the pounds of gold that I was exposed to during my tenure in the mining areas.” (See Chapter 3, Gomes and the Concept of Honesty)



This book is also about the rudimentary techniques that miners are still using in this once pristine environment and how these techniques are not only polluting the Amazon but how they are slowly poisoning the Yanomami, the Pemones and the miners themselves.


Toribio Diver

Toribio Diver

Juan explains, “The techniques involving mercury used in the early 80’s have been “upgraded” by fly-by-night miners who are now using modern machinery to process even more quantities of material (sand) and therefore increasing exponentially the pollution. The current political climate in Venezuela has not helped the situation either. Confusion and corruption are contributing to less inspection and more informal mining than before.”


The situation is dire and a book raising awareness to this ever growing problem should be well received.


Early Reviews


Behind Plaza’s storyline you’re likely to find three traits merging into a compelling fusion:



First, you’ll run into the practical, resourceful and ingenious insights from his field engineering background. Then, a deep love and commitment toward the stewardship of earth’s environment; and lastly, the stimulating sense of adventure that has always been his trademark in life.


“Red Diamonds, Grey Gold” will transport you, with the realism of the true story it is, to the core of the day-to-day struggle of people forever adapting to the challenges of the unforgiving Amazon jungle, while at the same time facing the unscrupulous pillage and exploitation of this rich but vulnerable place.


Aviator, writer, explorer, astronomer, surfer, craftsman, photographer, cook, brewer, artist, child prodigy, and the list goes on. Juan Bautista Plaza has, since his youngest years, been receiving the admiring attention of world renowned intellectuals, astronauts, historians, billionaires, craftsmen, musicians, among many others in his multi-faceted life.  Juan has been called more than once a “21st Century Renaissance man”, by people who, like me, have had the luck of sharing in his always inspiring life.

Pablo K. Ramos, British Petroleum, Houston 2013



“Red Diamonds, Grey Gold” is a book about the adventures of a young surveyor in the Amazon rainforest of Venezuela but it is also a stark reminder of what gold mining with mercury pollution is doing to one of the last pristine environments on the planet.


Unfortunately since Juan was at the Amazon in the early 80s the situation has deteriorated significantly in this region, particularly due to rampant illegal mining, but also through the industrialization of what was then a rudimentary and artisanal process.


Today hundreds of professional grade barges continually pollute the rivers at an alarming rate under the apathetical eye of the authorities. Not only is mercury pollution an issue of great concern, but habitat destruction and excessively high water turbidity are a serious threat to the local ecology and the livelihood of indigenous people “.


Dr. Rudolf Jaffe,  George Barley Professor of Environmental Chemistry, Florida International University



Although his friends knew-and enjoyed- the extraordinary abilities of Juan Bautista Plaza as an artist, cook, craft and aircraft pilot, what we have discovered later is his second-to-none skills in the art of written narrative. In this first work, Juan Bautista delights us with his true stories in the inhospitable and savage Venezuelan Amazon, an exotic land whose everyday life is full of characters and situations that seem to emerge from a novel by García Márquez  “2.0.”. A fascinating read!

 Juan F Misle,  NASA Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center (JSC)




For more information contact Juan at:   or



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