I have been up in the sierra on field work. It was an interesting and somewhat dramatic trip, for various reasons, and has left me with a lot to think about.
We came back yesterday: 8 hours on the bus between Huancayo and Lima. It was the first time I’ve made the trip up through the western side of the Andes in daylight. I’ve always been on the overnight buses previously. This time I was wide awake as we passed through the extensive mining concessions up in the high mountains.
Mining is dragging Peru out of poverty at the same time as it is destroying the natural wealth of the country. Mountainsides are pulverised and catchments are contaminated as the industry chews up the landscape with shocking speed. Legal and illegal mines alike take huge bites from the earth in the rush to consume its riches.
The mines are high: many over 5 000 mASL. It’s freezing cold, inhospitable country, and yet there are people, working in dangerous conditions in the hope of dragging themselves and their families out of poverty. As well as the miners themselves, there are the others hoping to make a little money from the business mining brings: men wrapped up in layers against the sub-zero temperatures trying to sell snacks to the passing vehicles; roadside restaurants in unlikely places offering a simple hot meal to cold workers.
Towns cluster around the processing plants, lower in the valley but still well over 3 000 mASL. Cold, inhospitable, treeless places where people live in earthen houses (the wealthier have concrete buildings) and signs advertise hot showers available for a handful of change. The women try to dry laundry in the cold, wet weather and kids play in the dust.
Around the bigger plants, established towns have grown up with proper infrastructure and the children wear smart school uniforms and the streets are paved and tidy. Peru’s mineral economic miracle is providing, and people trade beauty, warmth and the environment for a dream of a better future.
It’s a hard life, one that I can barely imagine, and it makes me think long and hard.
I get back to Lima, to an excited housemate who tells me she’s put in an offer to buy an apartment of her own, on a quiet street one suburb over. The place is beautiful and modern, with ocean views, and more than I could ever afford in Australia. She tells me how good the price is and shows me the room that would be mine if the offer goes through.
How do you even begin to reconcile such things? Oh Peru, Peru, Peru…
(photos taken through the bus window)