ML 148410


Interview 16:53 - 42:25 Play 16:53 - More
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Paolo Greer  







Huaypetue gold mining description  

Interview 45:07 - 50:36 Play 45:07 - More
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Anton Seimon  







Huaypetue gold mining description  

Interview 55:21 - 1:07:48 Play 55:21 - More
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Tim Currie  







translating; Huaypetue gold miners  

Interview 1:08:44 - 1:36:51 Play 1:08:44 - More
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Teofilo Gongora Sanchez  







translated by Tim Currie; Huaypetue mining, community and environment  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
26 Jul 2000

  • Peru
    Cuzco [Cusco]
  • Huaypetue
  • -13.02312   -70.53188
  • Stereo
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
    Equipment Note
  • Stereo=1; Decoded MS stereo

Show: Peru
Log of DAT #: 4
Engineer: Leo del Aguila
Date: July 2000

ng= not good
ok= okay
g = good
vg = very good




3:23 FX: HORN






7:30 LD: gonna record a little bit of sound back here


7:55 LD: that's a little bit of a water runoff ... 7:58-15:23 AMB: WATER RUNOFF THRU SIEVE





15:23 JN: let's ask Paolo how it works ...


16:52 JN: we're on the moon. Tell me how this works.

PG: ok, what we've got here is a very crude gold operation, which is very interesting to see cuz we're also looking at a satellite disk under that hut over there. What they do is they find the gold, apparently not on bedrock, they're loading these dump trucks with these front end loaders, the dump trucks are putting up above the operation here. What the operation is, we've got a double grisley, he's washing the fine gold ...

JN: A double grisley ...

PG: a double grisley being, you see that metal net there?

JN: yes

PG: and what it is is ...

JN: a big old grate.

PG: a big old grate. They're washing the muck thru there, not washing it very well. You need to actually clean off the rocks a lot better. It's going down over that grisley grate and underneath that, laterally coming out perpendicular, we have a kind of a rough rug underneath, in a trough. And that's where the fine gold is settling out. But because they don't have a very long grisley grate, because the gold is so fine, what we're doing here is basically blowing away 40- 50% of our gold. Its hard to say what they're getting. And yet they're doing quite well. So there must be a lot of gold here. I wonder how many operations there are like this?

18:17 JN: lemme make sure I got it right. They bring the front loader up to the edge...

PG: they fill a dump truck with that loader, the dump trucks are going up on top,
they're dumping the gravel

JN: down the hill

PG: where they've got the operation set up. Right on the edge of the hill. And as they do it, the fellow up there with a the water is washing the muck, the gravel, the gold, the rocks, the mud, thru this grisley, this metal with the holes in it. The gold, cuz its so heavy - gold is about twice as heavy as lead, not quite-say 1 1/2 times- so the gold is very forgiving. As the material washes over the grate, the gold settles between the holes and falls into the sluice box.


19:46 JN: so they dump the riverbed over the top, they hit it with those fire hoses, it goes down the grate, and the gold settles thru the grate.

PG: the gold goes thru the grate and it enters into the sluice box. And because the gold is so fine here they don't actually have riffles, like a traditional sluice box would be. They just have a kind of a rough weave rug, and the gold settles out. You probably get about 80% of your gold in the first I imagine third of that sluice box. What we just had come down was about a two yard bucket front end loader and its taking away the gravel that has been, most of the gold has been washed out of. One of the hardest things in an operation like this is where to get the water and I'm sure theres a lot of politics involved with getting enuf water and pumping it thru here and where to put your tailings that you

JN: your leftovers

PG: the leftovers that you take away. Somebodys gonna come thru here years from now and mine these leftovers a lot more efficiently. Not using this kind of operation they're probably gonna jigs. And I could actually tell em how to do a lot of that, but ...

20:43 JN: as far as mining technologies go, this is pretty much stone age?

PG: well, yes and no. I've spent 25 yrs prospecting on the upper Inanbari, and there they mine worse than the incas mined 500 yrs ago. This is actually kinda modem mining, but its crude modem mining. There are people in alaska mining like this. They shoudn't be, they know better, they have have access to more technology. But this is sophisticated; it just could be a lot better. If they use something else like jigs, for example, they wouldn't have to use the mercury, because they've probably got mercury traps, and they might not, but I imagine if we go up there and look at that sluice box, you'll see somewhere where they have puddles of mercury to catch the fine gold that goes down to the river. If they used jigs, they'd recover 98% of the gold and use no mercury.

JN: so its not efficient at all, and yet you look around and see many signs even though im gonna ask you to repeat some of what you just said.

PG: sure. Its not a very efficient operation, however gold is very forgiving, so the gold will settle out. You really have to make an effort to blow it out. But because this gold is so fine-gold is very malleable. So what happens is this fine gold gets flattened into flakes. And because its such small flakes it sometimes is hard for it to break the surface tension of the water. The water might be dirty, it might be contaminated with fuel, so it just kind of flutters along the surface and gets blown away. If you've got a lot of clay in here, if you don't wash the clay well, which they certainly are not doing here, it will go. Now the gold will like to settle down in this ancient river bed and it settles down til it gets to the impermeable layer, the clay. So you will find it in the top of the layer of clay a lot of times. Yeah this is primitive. However, look at that town. That town just had everything for sale. It's amazing, it's a rich town.

JN: and the satellite dish...

PG: and the satellite dish. These guys are...I've seen a lot of brand new pickups around here...


26:50 JN: ok now we're out in the middle of the mining operation on what maybe 5, 10, 15 years ago was primordial lowland rain forest. And it doesn't like that now, it looks like the moon. We are looking at one of the gold mining operations, you've already described that. .. this is stuff that washes down out of the mountains, that's what we're looking for, yeah?

LD: take it from the very top again.

JN: Now we're out on the mining grounds themselves on what 5,10, 15 years ago was primordial lowland rainforest, and now it's a bomb crater, or a series of bomb craters. A lot of, well, fairly primitive mining operations going on, big trucks basically dumping loads of earth onto the hill where they're sprayed with water from two fire hoses, and they're flushed over a kind of a grill and the gold falls thru the grill, to put it in overly simplistic terms. Have you ever seen anything like this? Are there places like this around the world?

PG: there are places like this around the world. This is a kind of amazing anomaly though. We flew over this about a month and a half ago. I would guess that it is probably a mile wide by 10 miles long. The village we were just in this morning was
probably a thousand to 2000 people, there's probably 5-6000 people mining here, and not just miners, there're families, there're a lot ofkids, there're schools. I notice in town that there was lot of concrete foundations and yet the second story was wood cuz they realize they've got a few years left here and theres no reason to build the second story out of concrete cuz theyre gonna be gone.

28:47 JN: some of those concrete foundations are out in the middle of the river, which is expanding.

PG: what is happening is the gold is deep here so they've gotta dig deep for a lot of it. That's why we've got such large hills around. A lot of them are manmade and when they wash the stuff away its gotta go somewhere, and people tend to build near the water. You'll find old communities, not necessarily here but similar, where the tip of the church steeple is sticking out of tailings cuz the old town just got buried. And they keep moving up and moving along. The town we were in this morning, as sophisticated as look, will be moving along in a few years.


30:43 JN: tell me your name so we have it on here?

PG: Paolo Greer. The area just upriver from here is the carabaya sandia and I've researched and explored them for about 25 years. So I'm a researcher /historian /explorer, and mostly of this area. I haven't come down here before cuz there's no history for me here. I look for history I prospect for history. This is a new mine, but it's a very large one. I've seen a lot of very interesting things and this is probably this is one of the most interesting things I've seen down here. I had no idea of the scale and the affluence of what we're looking at, despite the ancient sort of process they're using to win the gold.

JN: so is it safe for me to ID you by saying PG is a researcher and historian who divides his time between this part of Peru and Alaska?

PG: well Alaska's my home, so yeah. Ostensibly I'm a prospector but its more like don quixote looking for the holy grail and so I prospect and explore the carabaya sandia northern Puna. And we're just down river from that, seeing what happens.

JN: I was gonna ask you, where's this gold come from?

PG: this gold is probably from the ancient inanbari river, far upstream. It goes thru the carabaya sandia. It kinda took a shot over here, and it settled out. Something stopped it, maybe this was lowlands, maybe it was a low depression. This hueypetue field is actually two tributaries with a pass in between. And it goes in both directions. But I don't know if we're talking a hundred thousand or a million years ago or how long, but this gold is fine gold that came from the coarse gold in the carabaya. Theres a lot of people mining much coarser gold upstream, but not so many people are mining this field down here.

JN: this is different from the mining that a lot of people have maybe heard about. Pulling it out of the veins, this is just sifting it out of the river.

PG: gold comes in hard rock,


32:43 JN: I'll tell you something right now I'm gonna be glad when day 3 is over.

PG: yeah, guy in town, the one with the gold teeth I don't know if you noticed, but that's a kind of a braziilian goanapinero prospector, when they find a bunch of gold they plate their teeth gold, and he had the bottom of his teeth plated gold. He was telling tim that when you get here? He said today, he said tomorrow you'll be sick from mercury.

JN: oh great. I will definitely be glad when..

PG: maybe you'll be glad when day four is over. Over here what they're doing is they're cleaning up the gold from the sluice box. Might wanta check im out and see, I'll show you some gold over here. I think anton's learning how to pan.


34:45 JN: this is the old way.

PG: this is kinda the old new way. What we're looking at here is a sluice box that's about 40 feet long and 5-6 feet wide, this fine gold, you can see, its just got coarse mats in it, the fine gold's settling out. At the end of the sluice box we have a fellow that's making a cleanup. And what he's done is he's taking the concentrates from the sluice box out, and he's got a large wooden bataya, gold pan, but he's mixing ....

LD: gonna ask you to repeat it in a second.


36:54 PG: behind us we have a fellow that is ...he's cleaning up the concentrates from this crude sluice box and he has a 5 gallon bucket that he puts the concentrates in. Looks like they got a lot of magnetite in them ...and he puts mercury in there. And the fine gold sticks to the mercury. He was mixing it up by hand. Now if you get water in your gasoline you can strain it out thru chamois. You can do the same thing with mercury when you have gold. You squeeze the gold and the mercury together, and the mercury goes thru the pores in the chamois. The problem is, your hands, your skin, are chamois. So when you do what he's doing, the mercury gets thru the pores into his body. It is bioaccumulative, it does not go out. It stays in your body and you start having the effects of loose hair, bad eyesight, loose teeth, mad as a hatter, and so a lot of people in this village in effect are mad as a hatter from the mercury. Its mercury poisoning.



38:47 JN: OK now we're out in the mining fields.

PG: let's take a look at what he's doing. We should see the gold. This fellow is either the owner or somebody very well trusted by the owner cuz he's cleaning up the concentrates.


39:17-39:53 AS: JN SPANISH

39:57 JN: Now we're out in the mining fields themselves. 5, 10, 15 years ago this was primordial lowland rain forest and now it is a series of bomb craters. And in the middle of one of them we're watching an old man bent over with his feet and something that resembles a very flat pounded wok, sifting for gold in a horrible orange puddle of water.

PG: that wok is a bataya, a wooden gold pan, a very large one, very well made. It probably cost him about 2 or 3 grams of gold here, a gram of gold probably be worth about $10 each. He's very good at what he's doing. There's a lot of minerals in the concentrate that they've taken out of the sluice box with a the gold. I didn't see a lot of gold in the pan, which kind of surprised me. I did see a lot of tungsten, sheelite, I did see a lot of magnetite which you can actually remove with a magnet later. I notice they're dumping what he's panning-as good as he is, what they actually should do is take these concentrates and process them too. They're losing a lot of gold just from the concentrates they're taking out, as well as losing a lot of gold from the sluice box because they wash it on thru. So originally I thought 30%, I think they're losing 40-50% of their gold, its hard to say. Theres different things they could do to catch it. I'd like to see them change it more so than just to catch the gold is to avoid the use of mercury at all, cuz this fellow, what he's doing, what a lot of these people are doing in effect are drinking poison. Cuz theres just a lot of mercury in this water, right now as I'm speaking he's mixing the mercury in the bucket by his hand, it gets into your body, its bioaccumulative, theres no smoking gun, it doesn't happen right away but over the years your teeth fall out, you get more headaches, you lose your eyesight, you lose your hair, and you get a little nuts. Mad as a hatter. That comes from using mercury. These people seem pretty good and pretty healthy, but I imagine we should find a hospital in town and talk to the medical people just to see what we're dealing with. Here he's squirting more mercury into his hand from a bottle, you can see that liquid metal coming out, its going into his hand and he's going to dump it into the bucket.



44:56 JN: basically this guy is killing himself.

AS: ok right now he's pouring the solution containing mercury and slurry, you can see the sediment in the bottom of the bucket here, into his panning dish, his bataya and he just keeps filtering it. His whole day looks like this I guess, just a matter of sort of sorting and sedimenting, continually mixing mercury in with the mix. All by hand. He says he's been here for one year, he's up from near cusco, he came here for economic opportunity. Very very placid, doesn't seem to mind at all that we're here watching him. At the same time, t is is his job and this is his life right now, and it's rather dreadful to see.

45:57--46:16 FX: WATER SPLASHING

46:17 LD: what are we looking at?

AS: this is just the sediment he keeps sifting and sorting all day long. Keeps mixing more and more mercury in. the gold sticks to the mercury, so you look for these little clusters. He'll show you and he's got sort of finished with this session'll see these little flakes of mostly silver looking stuff which is the mercury, and the gold has adhered to that. Now he's doing the process of washing it that final stage, washing off all the remaining sand to hopefully leave a residue of gold and mercury. So this entire operation, these huge front end loaders, dump trucks, water pumps, everything, comes down to this laborious operation of very delicately trying to extract a few flakes of gold. I'm not sure what the ratio is of the amount of gold extracted from a truckload, but its probably on the order of a million ot one kind of thing, ten million to one.


47:40 LD: how much will this guy make or does he get to keep whatever he finds. AS: ASKS QUESTIONS JN SPANISH

49:02 AS: so he says that at the end of a week he'll have 3 or 4 grams of gold. He works for himself he says. 3 or 4 grams of gold, the going rate right now being about 30 sols per gram, which is 8 or 9 dollars, so you can see how much he's earning here, less than $40 a week. And he's working all day stooped over here pouring mercury into his hands and its getting into his body, very difficult. He's (ASKS HIM HOW OLD HE IS)


52:10-53:43 FX: LD RELIEF

53:46 LD: life is good

53:58 LD: ok we're still here at the mines and it's the end of the day they're bringing the stuff, kind of a gold count, I'm going into a little hut where I guess the gold is being measured, I don't know. Here we go.


54:41 LD: I take that back, this is the dining area, cuz we're dying of sun. a little shade is really nice

55:24 GUY JN SPANISH. LD: he's been working here for a year.

JN: is it good work? You making money?

TIM CURRIE TRANSLATES TC: he says it's really tiring, theres not a lot going on. Has to work 7 days a week.

TC: there's no break, just 7 days a week for as long as you can go.

TC: working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, he makes about 800 soles a month, which translates roughly to about 250 US dollars at current exchange. Sometimes they don't get paid, sometimes they get paid, kinda sad.

JN: where's he from?

TC: he's from Cuzco.

LD: 1st person. If you could remember the first person. Just be the first person.
'I'm from Cuzco.' Just in case we need to. Otra vez. TC: I'm from cuzco. LD: wait for the truck.

57:45 TC: I'm from cuzco.

JN; what did you do before you were in the mines? What'd you do in cuzco?

TC: I worked as a driver. Same as here.

JN: I would like to know if he would describe exactly what the work is. He picks the rocks up, moves them, what part of the process is it? So I know where he fits into the machinery in all this.

TC: I bring material from the rock piles. TC: I work as a driver, bringing material in for processing, and pour it down the chute. That's it, every day.

JN: did we cover why he came here? Was it to seek his fortune, was it for a better life, what drew him here? Did he read something about there was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, what was it? And then my follow up question, did he find what he was looking for?

TC: I came because theres a little bit of work here. TC: its like I thought it would be.

JN: it's a living. TC: it's a living, that's it.


1 :00:58 LD: hey john theres a kid who's really good inside, we were talking to him. We should interview him. He's different, these guys are very basic. Lets go and grab him. You want him, or Anton translating. ETC

1:01:33 LD: 1,2,3 we are recording. Como te llamas? MANUEL: Manuel. TIM CURRIE TRANSLATES TC: I've been working here for about a month.

TC: I came here out of need. There's no work in Arequipa. TC: I've been here for one month, like I told you. I came here out of need. There's no work in the city. The work there is is only for people that know someone, for cousins, for nephews, for sons and daughters.

TC: I planned to be here for 3 months. Normally people come here for 3 months. And then leave. My plan is to work for 3 months, save some money, and return to the city. Maybe look for work, maybe open a little business.

TC: I'm the person that sprays water on the rock to wash it down onto the carpets that catches all the gold dust.

TC: I don't make a lot of money, my payment is basically subsistence living. Ifl want to make more money, its nearly impossible. Its impossible to save, a lot of the products here just cost so much money.

TC: in reality I don't like this work. But like I told you, I need to work. I came here out of need and this is what I have to do.

1:05:17-1:05:42 FX: TRUCK RUMBLES PAST

TC: I don't like the work because there's no security. Sometimes you get 2 months' work, you cant reach your three. As well because the conditions. Things are terrible. The weather, the food that's provided, the water, the working conditions are just atrocious.

1 :06:58 TC: your question was do you have fear of sickness? LD: exactly TC: yes, the climate here is terrible. Nothings stable. One day its cold, one day its hot, there's a lot of sun, plus disease. Things like yellow fever. I also mentioned the working conditions, the food and the water that we have to eat and drink.

TC: theres also diseases here, like yellow fever and malaria. And as I mentioned, other things like the living conditions, the food, the water, that we have to eat and drink.



AS: we met 8 months ago in december. Peter and I had spent a day walking around here in hueypetue with teo. He's a representative of the community. He's a shop owner and a civic organizer who's been trying to get hueypetue recognized by the govt. very interesting cuz he's not a miner, he's a shop owner, his boutique sellls clothing, but he's very cognizant of what s going on here and issues with the enviroment, issues with human rights, as well as the lack of interest from the govt for many years now. He moved here in 1984, he's seen hueypetue go from a very small place to a very larage one, seen everything that's happened in the interim. I'm gonna ask Tim Currie to conduct the interview and to translate cuz he's very good, but as before, fire off questions that you may have. I might have an occasional question but again I'll defer to Tim in most matters

JN; that's fine. I want to address ...

LD: name rank and serial number.

TS: Teofilo Gongora Sanchez.

JN: it looks to me as if the river is eating the town. I keep seeing portions of buildings disappearing off that way. Why is that, whats happening?

1:12:30 TC: (TRANSLATING QAND A): before the (?) with very clean waters and there was just a few people that lived here. The people that were originally here by and large, even in the work, took care of the area, they cared about what was going on. They cared about the place that they lived in, kept it clean. There was fish in the river, you could fish here. The (?) was smaller with a river in it, now as we can see, it's a desert, a big wash plain. People use to be able to live from the river. Take the bounty, what they needed to survive, fish, things were green, the devastation ws small, well there was no devastation, people cared about where they were living and took care of it. When the miners came things really started to change. People really took advantage of nature and just worked over the land and the result is what we see here now.

JN: does he remember when the mining began, was he here then? And I'd like to have him describe how it grew over the years. I gather that it was a rapid spectacular change.

1: 15: 1 0 TC: when the mining started the area was inhabited by native people, by people indigenous to the area who practiced (?) mining, which is very rustic compared to what there is today. There were no machines, no loaders, no dump trucks. People had pick and shovel, gold pan, very rustic type approach to mining operations.

1 :16:59 TC: it was thought that a lot of the gold was in the valleys, in the (?) that used to be the area that's now just wash plain. The idea was that in order to increase production, that if more machinery ws bought more gold would be extracted. You increase the number of loaders, you increase the yield. But in reality it turned out to be false. More people came, more machinery, the operation blew thru the roof, but in reality the same quantity of mineral was being extracted. This process continued over time. It was kind of like a great pain, a real shame or sadness for the community, as the original community that really cared for the zone and practiced mining in a different way, as they watched one hill be fell and another one grown that's now a till pile. Trees were destroyed, the area was converted from virgin forest to just a lunar wasteland.

JN: are there ways that the kind of mining, or something approaching the volume of mining that's being done here now, could be done in something approaching an environmentally sound manner? Are there ways this could be done to make it better?

1 :20:03 TC: it would be easy to conduct operations in a more environmental aspect. There are alternatives that exist. Miners that are here could have good lives, mining, extracting gold, without having such a harsh impact on nature. One of the problems is that theres no interest, theres no care. I mean things cant start unless people really want to protect the area, and that's not whats going on. Other problems that exist are, no one knows if theres any tax, if theres any pool of funds that's being generated to actually go into reforestation projects, or anything that might protect or safeguard this zone. The problem in a lot of ways lies with the people.

JN: why do you stay?
1:22:37 TC: I came here to have a good life, to start something. One of the reasons I cant leave is theres any investment I've made here, I've invested time, invested energy and money in the area. Before when things were more lucrative it was easy to make a living. Things were moving, there was money to be made, there was a life to be had for the family. Now things are much harder. The cost of goods and earnings have fallen substantially and its tough to survive. This actually might be my last few days here. I may be leaving shortly, but if so, I'll be leaving with a sadness. I've watched progress happen, I've watched the rise and fall of an area and theres a lot of factors that may lead to my decision to leave. Poor health. I've also seen a process, an education, a moral , a sense of a process that's gone thru the community. But in the end, the health of the area, the health of the people. You know theres many contaminants, radioactivity maybe, or problems with mercury, that lead to decisions to leave. JN: does he have family here? Wife, children. TC: yes, I have wife and I have a young daughter. AS: CONVERSES JN SPANISH

1:26:45 AS: OK. I apologize, I didn't let Tim have a chance to translate. You wanta
paraphrase? TC: one question, do you need it? LD: no we can get it later.

1:27:04 END OF SCENE



1:30:28 TC (TRANSLATES ANSWER): 5 years ago the area

1:30:36-1 :30:50 DISTORTED AUDIO

1 :30:50 TC: ...the area was free. Now everythings controlled, theres a real struggle to move around and occupy the areas. Before there were hills there were fish there were animals, everything was beautiful and plentiful. Now theres nothing, the geography's completely changed to what we see now. Theres not a lot left from what hueypetue was 5 yrs ago during the boom. There were lots of cases of contraband and delinquency. Crime was high.


TC: (TRANSLATING) it continues. Until now this is a zone ofmoney. People continue to think that the gold ofhueypetue is the best gold in the world. And people keep coming, theres a constant influx ofpeople that come to the area. Theres prostitution, theres delinquency, crime, sometimes we throw them out, sometimes we clear the area, but more come. Its almost impossible to keep control ofwhats going on and impossible for us to change. Especially without protection of the govt, without official recognization or control.


1:35:25 TC: this community started informally and was not recognized when it first started out. Now it is. It was only one month ago that the documents arrived to officially formalize and recognize this area. With this, I think more control may come. Logical control. Control on things like taxes on machinery, gas, petroleum, products that come into the area. Just normal personal tax in the zone. Another problem we face is that thers no police help here. It seems like recognition is given only at times of key political importance, like when theres a congress or theres a presidential election coming up. Or as we have just seen past. We're only remembered for politics. We don't have a medical post. Things are difficult in that way. Theres also no police, or a very small police contingent stationed here. But even they are stationed outside, far away.



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