Cali Meteorite Arrives
On July 6, 2007, a rock was orbiting the sun as it had done for countless millions of years. This day, however, a blue orb was in its path, and this rock was about to change the lives of some of that orb’s inhabitants forever.
It was 4:33 pm and a clear day in the dense, jungle-filled, mountainous region of South America — an average day for the residents of Columbia. High in the Andes Mountains, people were tending to their daily chores, washing clothes and preparing dinner for their families. Children played in the streets while old men drank beer over never-ending games of dominos.
Suddenly the serene atmosphere was shattered as a great fireball descended from above them and exploded into two pieces, creating a huge ball of fire and dust. As the monster fireball passed over them and headed to the south towards the Cauca Valley, a deafening sonic boom came upon them, shaking homes to the foundations and shattering windows along the ground path. Moments later, people living in the Cauca Valley would soon experience a different type of terror: the Cali Columbia meteorite had announced it’s arrival.
Shortly thereafter, I received a call from my hunting partner Mike Farmer regarding an event in South America. Mike said he had a friend in Columbia that had contacted him about a large fireball that had been witnessed by thousands of Colombians. It was not long before Mike had found newspaper reports of stones being found and we had tickets to Cali-Aragon International Airport.
Upon arriving in Columbia, we met Andres Osorio, a Colombian friend of Mike’s. We then took a taxi into Cali, checked into our hotel and rested while anticipating the day to come.
The Hunt Begins
The following morning we went to the newspaper office and met with the reporter that was handling the story. She informed us that there were multiple pieces reported that had penetrated roofs of homes. She interviewed Mike and me for an article detailing our endeavor to recover meteorites from this event, and gave us the contact information for a local astronomer who was working on the fall. We met with him and had the chance to examine several small stones he had in his possession. The astronomer then took us to the home of Yuly Melecio. A stone had penetrated her roof and dented the linoleum floor breaking the stone into several pieces. We photographed the hole in the roof and, with some reluctance, were allowed to handle the meteorite fragments that she had recovered from her hallway. A price could not be reached for the purchase of the 76.6 grams of pieces, so we turned our attention towards hunting in the area in an attempt to find meteorites ourselves.
It soon became apparent that this was a risky venture. The area was the slums on the edge of Cali known as the barrios, a poverty and disease-infested area consisting of small, often multi-level, mud and wood structures with thin clad roofs. The thin tin used to make roofs there actually saved some of the meteorites from breaking upon impact. Locals warned us regularly of the possibility of robbery, or worse: the Colombian pastime of kidnapping sponsored by the FARC, Colombian cocaine gorillas. They claim to be liberators of the people, which bodes well with the poor residents of the barrios where the FARC enjoys strong recruitment.
After a short period of talking to people on the streets and posting flyers offering to buy meteorites on telephone poles, we headed back to our hotel for lunch. I found a wonderful Colombian dish called “Sancocho de Gallina y Cola,” a favorite among the Cauca region and a very flavorful, filling soup containing oxtail and plantains, a type of green banana.
After lunch we headed to the home of the Noguera Rico family; the newspaper had informed us that a stone had reportedly penetrated their roof. After some difficulty we finally found the residence. The family led us to a shower room, pointing out a hole in the zinc roof and a large chip in the tile of the shower pan where the stone had hit and shattered. They had contacted a friend of theirs who was a police officer and had given him a large part of the fragments. After later learning of their value, the family contacted him to get the pieces back, but he claimed to have lost them. We examined the remaining meteorite fragments and came to an agreeable price, thus purchasing the pieces. Mike made arrangements to have them remove the section of the zinc roof that had been punctured by the meteorite. Returning to the hotel for the night, we were pleased to have pieces in our possession.
The next day we met with a local astronomy group and hunted several areas where they had found three small stones. Unfortunately, the streets are swept once a week, which most likely would have removed any stones from the pavement or sidewalks. So we had to focus on areas such as parks and school yards.
After hours of fruitless searching, we received word that the newspaper had learned of another stone that had penetrated a roof. We located the residence of the Garcia family and were shown an intact, 37.9-gram stone. Their son was in the living room of the home when he heard a loud crash very close to him. After walking a few feet down the hall, he noticed a black stone on the ground in the pantry, bent down and picked it up, then immediately dropped it as it was extremely cold to the touch. When the mother heard the bolide she had gone onto the back porch to investigate; when she subsequently heard the loud bang in the house she came back through the door and found her son examining the alien, black stone. Finding no connection in her mind for this homely object with the strange events that had just transpired, she decided to throw the stone away. Thanks to her daughter’s observant eye, the stone was saved as the girl convinced her mother that this stone was very unusual.
We learned that the stone had penetrated the zinc roof, bounced off the top of a refrigerator and leaving a dent in it, and then striking the ceiling again before coming to rest on the concrete floor. Even though our offer was more than a year’s salary for them, we could not come to an agreeable price. She was worried about “getting too little.” I found this humorous, considering she refused over a considerable amount of cash for something that she once intended to throw away! She insisted that her husband, who was still at work, would need to be there for any decision, so we returned to the Yuly Melecio home for another attempt to purchase their fragments.
It quickly became clear that the family was avoiding us, and we spent the rest of the day searching in vacant lots and alleys and speaking with people hoping to spur some interest in locals to hunt for pieces themselves. The promise of hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars to the finder of one of these black stones was not enough to get even one person away from there game of dominos to look for meteorites.
The following day we met with a news crew to shoot some footage for the evening news. We drove with them to the local landfill after having heard some strange stories about the people that live in the landfill from around the time of the fall. These people are referred to as “the recyclers,” and according to people in the barrios, something happened in recyclers’ camps around the time of the fall. We hoped to find information leading to more stones, as this landfill was in the center of the flight path on the end where larger pieces should be found. We began talking to some people just leaving the landfill road, and while Mike was talking to several recyclers I noticed a person walking by with a large bundle of plastic over his shoulder. As he passed us, I saw human feet sticking out of this bundle. I turned to point this out to Mike, and at the same time he was turning to tell me that these people warned us to leave now — that we should not be here for we would be robbed and probably killed.
After Mike saw the feet, he and I were both believers in the recyclers’ warning not to enter their camps. We drove several kilometers into the landfill with the news crew and spoke with he landfill staff at an office. They had heard nothing and told us to leave immediately, saying they would inquire with the recyclers as to these rumors.
We returned to the Garcia residence and spoke with the husband as well as the rest of the family; again no price could be agreed upon, so we returned to the hotel somewhat shaken by the sights and smells of the day. The next morning Mike received a call from the Garcias indicating they wanted to sell us the stone. Apparently their neighbors knew that they had this stone by then, and that it was worth a great deal of money. Fearing that they would be robbed, they therefore had decided to sell the stone immediately. We drove to their residence in two taxis for extra security, and upon our arrival could find no sign of the Garcias.
Mike wanted to go back to the city center and eat lunch at a restaurant he had spotted the day before. He departed in the front taxi, and my driver and I followed. We had not travelled more than a few blocks when, over the radio, the driver of Mike’s taxi began frantically yelling. My driver began to panic, speeding up and changing routes. I soon learned that a gunman had attempted to kidnap Mike at gunpoint.
Arriving at the restaurant I found a very bleached Mike sitting at a table with his mouth hanging open, the story he then told me explained his disposition: “We were driving down the alley and my driver and the passenger (extra security) suddenly laid down as lowly as they could. I looked around, and just outside my window a man was running towards me with a sub-machine gun pointed at my head.” He further explained that the driver hit the gas and sped blindly down the alley. Rounding a corner onto a main street, they happened to drive in front of four soldiers. The taxi driver shouted to soldiers that there was a gunman in the alley, and they pulled the chamber blocks from there Israeli-made Galil AR automatic rifles, chambered a round and disappeared around the corner towards the gunman.
A Successful Conclusion
We decided to change hotels in favor of a hotel near the city center that had armed security. During our move to the new hotel, we received a call from the woman we had been working with at the newspaper. She said she had found another person with a stone, but Mike informed her of the earlier incident and said we would not be going back to the barrios. She said, “I have the stone on my desk!” We took a hotel taxi to the newspaper office and met with the owner of the stone, Roberto Timote. Mike purchased the 111 gram stone, and Mr. Timote assured us his neighborhood was safe to visit, as it was not in the barrios. So we accompanied him to inspect and photograph the damage to his roof.
We received a call that night from the Garcias. We told them about the attempted kidnapping and let them know we were leaving soon, so they agreed to come to our hotel. We once again reminded them that the meteorite had to be accompanied by the section of zinc roofing with the meteorite’s impact hole in it. Several hours later they arrived, and I handed them thousands of dollars for the small stone and the piece of their roof with a hole in it. The stern look on the woman’s face softened for the first time as she told of her plans to use the money to purchase an ice cream cart and start a new family business. The 37.9 gram Garcia Stone now graces the Iron from the Sky Collection beside the roof section from the Garcia house.
TOTAL KNOWN WEIGHT OF THE TEN STONES RECOVERED IS 478 GRAMS
|Location:||Santiago de Cali, Columbia|
|Date & Time:||Fell July 6, 2007 21:33 UTC|