La Rinconada: The Devil’s Paradise

La Rinconada, 5,000 to 5,400m above sea level, corrugated iron shacks, glued to the hills of the surrounding mountains, home to some 50,000 to 70,000 mining inhabitants and competing mafia mobs that control them.  La Rinconada, in the Peruvian Andes, the world’s highest, chaotic, poisonous and illegal goldmines, some 210 km northeast of Puno, a 4-hour drive by car over partially paved, albeit potholed roads. La Rinconada, near the just barely more civilized mining town of Ananea (about 4,700 m above sea level), is also considered one of the most horrific places on earth: a crime gang-run city, spreading through a valley and up the surrounding hills, no running water, no sewerage, no electricity grid. La Rinconada looks and smells like a wide-open garbage dump, infested by a slowly meandering yellowish-brownish mercury-contaminated brew – tailings from illegal goldmining – what used to be a pristine mountain lake.

The thin, oxygen-poor air is loaded with mercury vapor that slowly penetrates people’s lungs, affecting over time the nervous system, memory, body motor, leading often to paralysis and early death. Average life expectancy of a mine worker is 30-35 years, about half of Peruvian’s average life expectancy.

Life has no value. People are killed for carrying a rock that may contain some tiny veins of gold. Bodies are often just thrown on to garbage heaps to rot. Occasionally a body is found and then buried right on the garbage dump. It’s not…

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