Rio Pukiri
"When you see something that you feel might be gold, go get it, even if it is shaped like a snake, even if it is shaped like a locust — just go get it. If you are lucky, gold simply comes to you of its own accord."
Don Lauro
'Mustache', 53, from Junin

Don Lauro:
“We are equal here. We are one family. When we shake out the rugs, I can relax from all the working stress. The guys joke, we talk about different stuff and we are all together. And it's important that you work with pleasure and do things properly."
In the end of the day, gold particles accumulate in the rugs
After the working day, the miners shake out the rugs where the mud containing gold particles has accumulated — they call it "the moment of truth." Then they wash the mud to get the arenilla. Afterwards, quicksilver will be added to it to extract the gold.
Miners respect the hierarchy, even when they go for a drink in a bar. Normally, the workers don't get together with the concession owners. But when they shake out the carpets, this difference fades as the shared task unites them.
Miner's short, Madre de Dios region
The front-loader, where Felix was shot
Félix, 32, from Madre de Dios:
"It was exactly 11.45 p.m. and I was driving a front-loader when our camp was attacked by robbers. I drove towards the main building and they shot at me from different directions. I raised the front-loader's bucket to protect myself, but one of the bullets hit me, and my legs wouldn't move. The pain was unbearable. I pretended to be dead, otherwise they would have finished me off. I lay in the cabin, thought of my daughters and begged God not to let the robbers kill me... When I was working, we didn't lack for anything, everything was good. Now I'm really worried, because I can't work. What should I do? I am lost. The doctors tell me I will be in a wheelchair. It's a disaster. It's incredible what has happened."
Félix was transported to a hospital in Cuzco, but it is unclear whether he can walk again
Félix was shot in the spine, which paralysed his legs. His disability threatens his capacity to look after his family, though his former employer supports him at his own initiative. The mining camps often attract robbers on the lookout for easy gold. The remote locations and the law of the jungle turn miners into easy victims.
Juan works in the security service of a mine
Juan, 30, from Cusco:
"I'm a coca addict. Without coca I don't have any desire to work. I have chewed coca leaves since the age of 12. My parents used to grow coca."
Coca leaves in Juan's hands
Chewing coca leaves is traditional in the Andes, not only to suppress appetite and fight fatigue, but also to make a "payment to Mother Earth". The tradition was brought to Madre de Dios by people who came from the mountains.
Gun shell near the miners' home in Rio Pukiri region
Gold taken from a retort is being crashed before further purification with a burner
Don Lauro:
"When you see something that you feel might be gold, go get it, even if it is shaped like a snake, even if it is shaped like a locust — just go get it. If you are lucky, gold simply comes to you of its own accord."
Purified gold can be sold in a near-by place
Miners construct small holy shrines in the camps to donate things to "Pachamama" (Mother Earth) and other gods. It's done in a simple way, but not without grace, and the offerings to gods include alcohol and cigarettes.
Miners' offerings to gods in a clay bowl: sweets, rosewood and symbolic coal to burn it, Madre de Dios region
The golden hat is used for festivities in a mining camp
36, from Junin

"That day we were not working, as it had been raining for a long time. There was some problem with the engine too. So what do we do? We went to the pond, and I said to Rómulo: 'Look, that's not a dog there, is it?' And he said: 'I'll go get a rifle, that's a peccary.' I hid, but the peccary still noticed me and charged at me — they are very aggressive. I was wearing tall boots and kicked the animal as much as I could. At that moment our dog, Lobo, attacked the peccary and the fight began. Rómulo arrived too and shot three times, but didn't get it, and the peccary wounded the dog badly, as their tusks are long and sharp. But Rómulo managed to get closer and shot the peccary in the head. We took the beast away with us and had a great dinner."
Edu uses this fist-sized stone as a shooting target while training
"Nothing is sure with this job, anything can happen to you. You don't earn money easily here. To earn something you have to work 12 hours a day, till you practically drop. The more you give, the more you get, the less you give, the less you get. You do it so that you can afford something later."
A pick-up parked at a mining concession
48, from Ica

"Concession owners are called 'bulls' in local slang, and workers are called 'jackals.' 'Huaychulero' is the lowest position. These workers learn how to drive the machines, and then in their next camp they can present themselves as drivers. If you are a good driver, you don't let them lower your payment. A good driver speaks about 'his' production, as he can distinguish between gold-containing soil and useless mud. Otherwise, you just load the trucks for the sake of loading, but the soil you load contains no gold."
Manuel has been doing his work as mechanical engineer since over 20 years, repairing all kinds of machinery used in gold mining and processing.
Private petrol containers are built at large concessions
Inca Kola — famous peruvian soft drink and a very popular miners' drink, Madre de Dios region
The work continues at night, with shifts of up to 12 hours
Sometimes children help their parents to dig for gold
At large concessions, expensive machinery is used, whereas private persons use primitive engines
"For as long as we have no better technology, we'll just work in the only way we can afford to. That's why I say that we are orphans — nobody takes care of us. And that's how we'll stay as long as the state lacks the courage to bring together those who could influence it."
Street scene in a village, Rio Pukiri region
Doña Betty
52, from San Martin

Doña Betty:
"First the father of my children came here to open a business. His friends invited him. Why? Because there was money to be made here. It was the gold rush. I arrived in 1999 to look for my man, and I stayed here. At first I wondered what I would do in this village. I thought I would move back straight away, as I came from a city, and this is a no-man's village. It was a completely different life for me. But look, I'm still here today."
In the kitchen of Doña Betty's restaurant El Palmero in Huepetuhe
Doña Betty opened the restaurant El Palmero in Huepetuhe together with her sister and with the help of her children. She is also active in the sphere of human rights. Her children live with her for some of the time, and also get jobs in various places in Madre de Dios.
Luis, 11, from San Martin:
"This is not the biggest one, some are even bigger."
Luis composed his insect collection for a course in natural studies at Horacio Zeballos school in Huepetuhe
Made on