Excerpt from National Geogrpahic
Like many of his Inca ancestors, Juan Apaza is possessed by gold. Descending into an icy tunnel 17,000 feet up in the Peruvian Andes, the 44-year-old miner stuffs a wad of coca leaves into his mouth to brace himself for the inevitable hunger and fatigue. For 30 days each month Apaza toils, without pay, deep inside this mine dug down under a glacier above the world’s highest town, La Rinconada. For 30 days he faces the dangers that have killed many of his fellow miners—explosives, toxic gases, tunnel collapses—to extract the gold that the world demands. Apaza does all this, without pay, so that he can make it to today, the 31st day, when he and his fellow miners are given a single shift, four hours or maybe a little more, to haul out and keep as much rock as their weary shoulders can bear. Under the ancient lottery system that still prevails in the high Andes, known as the cachorreo, this is what passes for a paycheck: a sack of rocks that may contain a small fortune in gold or, far more often, very little at all.
Apaza is still waiting for a stroke of luck. “Maybe today will be the big one,” he says, flashing a smile that reveals a single gold tooth. To improve his odds, the miner has already made his “payment to the Earth”: a bottle of pisco, the local liquor, placed near the mouth of the mine; a few coca leaves slipped under a rock; and, several months back, a rooster sacrificed by a shaman on the sacred mountaintop. Now, heading into the tunnel, he mumbles a prayer in his native Quechua language to the deity who rules the mountain and all the gold within.
The history of gold mining has been well-documented for thousands of years. And with the demand for this most precious of metals going nearly as far back as human history, miners have ventured to just about every corner of the planet in their quest to find it. Yet unlike the miners of yore that were commanded by kings, today’s miners are commanded by profits. With price of gold so high, the Human greed is easily manipulated. The poor always dream big, tend to gamble with their hard earned savings and often submit themselves to “freelance oppression.”
Two reasons to dislike Gold:
- Gold is the currency of drug and weapons traffickers and Dubai is the favorite hub in the global bullion trade.
- To extract each ounce of gold, it takes two or three ounces of mercury, which fouls waterways after being poured into rivers from the mining sites.
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