Gold Fever

articles Living, Working, Retiring

Larry Landwehr

Back when we did our house hunting, Mary and I carted 160 pounds of books and a metal detector down to Guadalajara. I didn’t know if metal detectors were legal in Mexico, so I didn’t declare it as we went through customs. The light there turned green instead of red, so my smuggling operation was a success.

Nevertheless, I was afraid to use the detector in the local parks because I didn’t know if the cops would confiscate the detector, or even worse, if they would throw me in the hoosegow. So my metal detector languished in our spare room until one day when I decided to search our tiny outdoor patio. In a space of about 25 feet by 20 feet I found twenty-two coins! The only problem was that they were all old peso coins from before the last devaluation, and that made them worthless except for the value of the metal itself.

But still, it was fun just finding something.

I asked around on the Internet about the legality of metal detectors in Mexico, but nobody knew what their status was. One person stated that Mexican law limited tourist activity to only those actions that were normally done by tourists. Since I’ve never seen anyone, Mexican or tourist, using a metal detector, it seemed that I was forbidden from using it.

One day, Mary and I were waiting at a mall for some pictures to be developed when we wandered into a Radio Shack. I stood transfixed by the sight of two metal detectors that were for sale. Mary questioned the two clerks in the store and they assured us that metal detecting was indeed legal in Mexico. I had Mary ask them if any license or permit was needed. They assured us that it was not. We specifically asked if it was ok to dig in the parks. They said, “Yes.” Needless to say, I left that store a very happy camper, and here’s why:

  • Guadalajara was settled only fifty years after Columbus discovered the Americas. That’s four hundred and fifty years of lost coins in the ground! US cities can’t come close to that.
  • Up until fifty years ago, Mexican coinage was gold or silver. So we’re talking 400 years of gold and silver coins lying in the ground! That’s a lot of coins.
  • Mexico’s turbulent history of wars and revolutions means there are lots of secret hoards just waiting to be discovered. And not hoards of worthless paper money either.
  • Some of Mexico’s lost coins must go back to conquistador times. The numismatic value of these rare coins would make them even more valuable. We’re talking hundreds and maybe even thousands of dollars per coin.
  • Nobody seems to be hunting for all this loot. US parks have all been vacuumed with detectors years ago, but most Mexicans can’t afford to buy a metal detector. Mexico is virgin treasure hunting territory!
  • In the northern US, winter puts an end to coin hunting. In Mexico, however, one can hunt year around! It is a coin hunter’s paradise.

The only fly in the ointment is the fifty years of junk coins in the ground. I thought it was bad enough in the US, what with old fashioned pull tabs, bottle caps, nails, and aluminum foil, but junk coins add a whole new dimension. Modern detectors have discrimination circuitry that tells whether buried metal is aluminum or iron. They can filter out a lot a junk before you dig it up. But I didn’t know if detectors were available that could filter out the junk coins, so a couple of days ago Mary and I looked at the Guadalajara yellow pages and located a store selling metal detectors.

The proprietor was busy with some other customers, so when her husband walked into the store, he started talking with us in English. He demonstrated a couple of detectors to us. He showed us that one of them could easily ignore a regular Mexican coin and yet still detect a silver coin. In addition, it could detect a large mass of metal from a meter and a half away. I was impressed. But the asking price was more than 13,000 pesos (more than $1,300 dollars)! He was a nice guy and told us flat out that the detector was much cheaper in the US. Since I was flying back to the US for other business in three days, I decided I would order one by telephone later on.

Meantime, the husband told us more about treasure hunting in Mexico. One thing he said was that Mexicans do not bother to hunt in parks. They’re more interested in going after big scores in abandoned houses and in churches. He explained that people with special access to churches, like caretakers, buy or rent a detector and hunt for hidden gold or silver relics.

He told us of one customer that rented a cheap detector three times. The first two times he found nothing. On the third occasion, the customer scanned a tree for some reason and got a positive signal. It turned out the tree was hollow and somebody had apparently thrown silver coins in there along with a gold baby shoe.

I like stories like this, but Mary had an urgent call of nature and wanted to return home. The husband was just getting warmed up after an hour and a half of talking, and suggested that there was a restaurant next door that had a bathroom. Mary just wanted to leave, though, so she turned down the offer.

I decided to buy a book on Mexican coins because I needed it, and to reward the husband for spending so much time with us even after it became obvious that we weren’t going to buy anything. While we were in the process of doing this, the husband revealed that he was originally from Switzerland and spoke three languages. He was quite an interesting person.

Later that day I called a metal detector company in the US and bought a detector. They promised to ship it to Mary’s next-door neighbor back in the US. Tomorrow I fly to the US. One way or another, I intend to find my share of Mexican gold!

Published or Updated on: January 1, 2001 by Larry Landwehr © 2008
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1 thought on “Gold Fever

  1. I enjoy your stories immensely. Thank you. I recently retired and I’m heading to Mexico, in a van with my dog. And thats all I know. Thanks for the fun ride along with your days

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