Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Ugly Cost of Gold

March 14-15
We took a little personal vaction together to some hot springs north of Puno. In the past we have brought our Taquile family here, so this time on our own. The water is wonderful, free flowing and hot; two different pools, one smaller and slightly more primitive, the water yellowish with minerals, the other clear blue water and a bit more polished.

On March 15, early morning at the smaller pool, we had just retired to the private bath pool when someone knocked on our door. I called out that we had just entered and our time could not be up yet but they persisted and said we should just get out for a minute. We did, to find several police people plus some suits. ¡¿WHAT?! We're at the pool; our documents are not with us; we're worried. But no, it's the local television station accompanied by the tourist police. Tourists are rare in Putina and they want to interview us. So they do. I'll post the link as soon as they send it to me.

One of our goals is to get to know the large Department of Puno (Departments are like U.S. States) and we were curious about the big mines high in the mountains above Putina. Posters show beautiful glaciated peaks above the mining town of Rinconada. This day was overcast, so our hopes for mountain views were weak, but this was our free day for the excursion. Turned out that the purpose of the tourist policewoman was to help us enjoy our visit. She helped us get on the right bus to Rinconada after a quick breakfast.

The bus ride was fine, full of helpful and friendly people. A pair of men generously gave up their forward seat so we wouldn't have to sit in the back.

Baby ¿talks? on cell phone on the bus
The early part of the bus ride went through rich green valley up the Rinconada River (need to check that river name). Saw a couple of fishermen, one with a pole and another with a net, higher altitudes had large herds of alpaca.

Then we came to the mining area.

Through the rain spattered window the beginnings of destruction.
Most of the mining appears to be hydrolic. Earth moving equipment shovels piles of earth on wooden structures. With huge pumps and long hoses, the earth is washed out, the gold collecting on the structure, placer mining style.
Overturned earth as far as the eye can see.
detail of what I am calling the sluice ladder
Acres and hecters and miles, as far as we could see, it was destroyed earth. Not even birds.
Then we came to the garbage dump.
20 minutes of rough road worth of garbage scenery
Then we came to the town of Rinconada.
Coal-black mud was everywhere.
It was snowing, a snow that mostly melted as it hit the black mud that covered everything onthe ground. At one point I it seemed that the road was paved with smashed plastic soda bottles. The worker housing was made up of row upon row of corrugated tin-walled and roofed structures about 10 x 15 feet (less that 5 meters square), windowless, uninsulated.
Snowing on the astroturf soccer field. The only green anywhere.
 We had our own drinking water, but were later warned that maybe even the soup broth was contaminated with mercury.
View from the restaurant
Not a tourist destination.

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