Paolo Greer's life; Peru's Transoceanic Highway; Gold prospecting
Peru's Transoceanic Highway
Geography, mapping, and GPS
Red Junglefowl (Domestic type)
Gallus gallus (Domestic type)
1 Adult Male
Sight and Sound
NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
27 Jul 2000
Madre de Dios
- Puerto Maldonado
- -12.6 -69.1833333
- :04 - 1:38:02
- SONY TCD-D7
Decoded MS Stereo
NPR/NGS RADIO EXPEDITIONS
Log of DAT #: 6
Engineer: Leo del Aguila
Date: July 2000
ng= not good
g = good
vg = very good
JN: JOHN NIELSEN
AS: ANTON SElMON
PG: PAOLO GREER
LD: LEO DEL AGUILA
PS: PETER SMITH
VP: VICTOR HUGO PISANGO
:07 LD: ok here we are. We are in Peru, in PM, this is DAT 6. The same mic setup, we're at the hotel. And here we go. Name rank and serial number
PG: Paolo Greer. Live in Fairbanks, Alaska, been coming to Peru for 26 years.
This is my 8th trip, average 8-9 months per trip.
JN: and you always come to the same Place?
PG: well I didn't the first time. First time I came down and wandered down one coast to Tierra del Fuego and up the other and cut thru the Amazon and cut thru central America. On the second trip in 78 I'd already started researching the carabaya sandia in the states, and since then I've kinda been a monomaniac, I keep coming back to the same area.
PG: I like to research and I like to explore, and when I started researching ...most of my best research has been in the states. Library of congress, 7 trips, american archives, austin, texas, many others. And this legend of the carabaya kept coming up, and I had to figure out where it was. And when I found out I just kept coming back. It's the ancient gold fields of the inca, the spaniards took it over right after the conquest, and its kept gbusy ever since. The andes up and then the great range of the amazon slams into them. It's a soft bedrock and what you get is a precipitous topography of what they call "eyebrow of the jungle." And in that eyebrow of the jungle is the carabaya sandia. So ostensibly I prospect, but I don't care if! find gold. I like looking for it, its more like don quixote looking for the holy grail. It could be a gold mine, a jesuit mission, theres an old hermit I like to visit in the jungle I go and stay with. It doesn't pay a cent but it's a good way of trading my belly for a beard and just keepin my intellect working, my curiosity.
2:36 JN: you're a prospector for the history of gold in a way.
PG: prospector for the history of gold. I have found gold, actually a number of times. And when I have ...theres a difference between finding gold and finding gold that you can mine ...I've turned it over to the locals every time. When I've made maps out of my aerial photos, I've showed em how to get there. When I go down to the jungle I've used aerial photos extensively and so when we go off trail I'm the guide. Although those folks are tougher than I am, esp after these many years, I chew enuf coca leaf to keep a Budweiser horse in fodder, that helps. So I keep along as best I can, I say theres the gold and heres how you work it, they say thanks. They used to call me gringo, now they call me tio, uncle. And I don't know, maybe someday I'll file a claim, but I'll believe it when I see it.
JN: so when we were driving down that road, we were passing jungles that had amazing things inside them. Jungles that were the source or rainforests, excuse me. We were passing rainforests that are the stuff oflegend, or at least have drawn people who were looking (PHONE BEGINS RINGING LOUDLY) for legendary things. who knows whats out there.
3:56 PG: yeah it is, its quite a road. What we did is we drove down the old road to the jungle. They've just built a new one that intersects it right there kon that bridge. And uh-shall we answer that?
LD: lets wait for a second here ....back up.
JN: who knows whats out there. Stuff of legends. People have been coming here forever looking for ...
PG: they have. And one of my favorite legends, which we're leading up to ...the road we just came down was the marcapata-quincemil to the jungle. And at the new bridge that they just built over the inanbari a couple months ago, the otorongo .. .itjoins the newer road coming down the san gabon valley. But we came down from otorongo down to puerto maldnado where we are. But you kind of leap off the andes into the jungle. Its between marcapapta and quincemil. And in quincemil, 15 thousand was the name, was quite a gold mining area. And there was a fellow who I've inadvertently followed donw here, a very famous character from the klondike called Swiftwater Bill Gates. And he left alaska in 1905, my town of fairbanks alaska ...and he showed up here in 1910. And he mined in my carabaya sandia on the inanbari river until about 1935 when he went downriver to the quincemiil area. And there he died, he was shot. And I found his family...he had a daughter in the jungle, somewhere in the jungle, in 1918 or 1919, she's not sure. Great gal, she's in her 80s now. And she thought her father was shot for his gold. Which made a lot of sense because he did make a lot of gold. At one time his mining claim was THE carabaya sandia, from the president of Peru.
5:59 but I had found on one of my many trips to DC at the national archives, a recordd of his death from the state dept. and I found a witness at quince mil. Who I looked for yesterday but he was out in the jungle. And this guy saw swiftwater die in 1937, and his story coincided with what I found before. So it was an accident, he was shot by accident. By a kid with a gun he didn't know was loaded. They had a candle service, buried him in the jungle next day. I hired a guide in 89, went out to the jungle where he was shot. Theres nothing there, but just to be there. And I really cant find somebodys tomb in the jungle but I look for it.
In 89 I got two of his peruvian grandsons in the jungle. One was a doctor, a pathologist, he wanted me to show him where his grandfather was. I said load that backpack up with medicines and I drug him thru the jungle for a month. Bought all his food for him, he sewed up heads .. .it was kind ofa fascinating expedition actually.
But theres a lot characters that disappeared. And its not an accident that we came to the same spot because he did the same thing I did. He found out about the carabaya sandia. At the same time this guy who made big fortunes in dawson, nome and fairbanks, each time, never made it down here. For all his experience. But just too far gone, too far out there.
7:17 JN: so people have tried to conqueer the jungle in the past and its eaten a lot of them up. If I could ask a couple of road questions. There are people who think that the changes that could be brought about by something like a TOH, and alll the international trade that could come with it, would be beyond in magnitude anything that has ever happened here before. Do you share that belief?
PG: I'm not sure about the magnitude. A lot people don't think the road should happen, that the jungle shouldn't be opened up. Its kind of like when youre hitchhiking. Once you get picked up you really don't care about the other folks that are standing on the side of the road. We live in nice houses, we're lucky. In a first world country. Well this is not first world, and the folks down here need the road. Granted theres a lot of reservations about what they might or might not do with it, but they need the road for health. This road as its improved, you can see the houses improving. The education, theres more schools. And yeah, they can get their products to market. I'm very concerned about whats gonna happen to the forest as well. But its just not fair to say that the other people should stay quaint in the 14th century to sit your tourist fantasies. They need the road. We should help them develop the road better if we care.
Yesterday we saw hueypetue. One mile by 10 mile scar of mining. And I'm for mining, I'm not for the way they're doing it there. They're poisoning the jungle with mercury. They just .. .its not their fault, they don't know how. The best we might do is help them do it right, but we cant stop them from developing. That is their right. And this road is imperative for them I think.
9:26 JN: somebody else told me that there was some irony involved in the whole idea of an american coming down and telling and worrying about the impact of roads, given that the US is probably the most roaded place on earth.
PG: makes sense to me.
JN: that its ironic.
PG: well people aren't clear on the concept. They think that everything comes
from the grocery store. Being from alaska, I think if you cant farm it you gotta mine it. And we enjoy the benefits, we just realize they wanta enjoy the benefits too and they need to farm it or mine it. Then again we can help them do it right, but we can't stop them from doing it. Its their right to live better. And they need the roads and the farms and the mines to live better. _
10:18 JN: well how do we help them do it right?
PG: well that's no easy question. I'm just one guy, but what I looked at ~ yesterday, the mining thing, they were putting a lot of mercury in the water. An I'm for mining and absolutely against mercury in the water. And they don't need to do at. And if they do it they don't need to let it escape that way. We saw them heating the mercury out of the gold in the middle of town, and in that one place they were dumping that mercury fumes directly into into a cevicheria, a fish restaurant, outside where the people were eating fish tainted with mercury. And 20 yrs ago I was telling people about that and they thought I was nuts. And now they're aware of the problem.
JN: and there was that sign right there on the wall.
PG: that described how to do it right. Well that was the law and somewhere between the law and the reality people breathe the fumes.
JN: what do you do for hueypetue then? Are there technologies that allow people to do these things that arent exorbitantly expensive that can make them close to the same amount of money.
PG: it is , but the inertia of changing the process is beyond folks I think for the moment and somebody needs to come in with a pilot plant and just help people. Ive seen it done in alaska and without getting too technical what they're doing is .. .its not ancient stuff that they're using ....they're using somewhat new techniques but they're kinda doing it clumsily. And they're losing a lot of gold. So the way to appeal to their greed actually is to teach them how to keep more gold and not use mercury.
12:03 JN: and that can be done.
PG: and that can be done. Instead of using sluice boxes you use something called jigs. I've used them and worked with them myself and I know a fellow that can make them in Lima and sell them to them for a reasonable price. I just need to figure out who to talk to and how to get it started. Hopefully somebody would, the govt say, would pay him to set up an operation to show people how to do it right there. And maybe the ball will get rolling.
JN: so in a way what I think I'm hearing from you, it's a mistake to come down here and think that the real issue is, do you build a road or not build a road? You sort of have to build a road. The issue is how do you make sure it doesn't become an avenue of destruction environmentally. But you have build the road. You cant say I'm sorry but you cant develop cuz we're worried about what might happen.
PG: you can come down here and say that you disagree with the road and that's)
neither here nor there. Cuz yu're not gonna stop em from building the road. Youre not gonna stop em from mining. And yeah, they need the road. Its one thing to say I never kill a cow, but then you stop at macDonald's on the way home...well they need their cow down here and they need the road to get em to market, and they need their mines. And we should .. .if theres a way to shut em down from putting mercury in the water, that's different. Because that's insidious murder. We're far downstream now in PM, but the two big rivers come together that dump out of hueypetue and frankly I'm not eating any raw fish here, and neither should they. But they should mine.
13:56 JN: theres no reason why they shouldn't fix that now.
PG: well the reason they shouldn't fix it is ineptitude and its nobodys fault. I mean we've all got our idiosyncrasies and theirs is that they just don't have access to the information. Its wonderful to live in a country with technology at hand, but the technology doesn't even exist in their language right now. Again theres no simple answer how to fix that, but rather than say they should stay without a road, lets figure out how to fix that.
JN: you're just a goddamn interesting person and I wanta bring out some of that interesting part. You come down here packed with garlic, you bring it down, right? You bring down garlic salt, is that right?
PG: I wouldn't say I'm packed with garlic, but the only food I bring down .. .I go down to the jungle for 2-3 months at a time, I pack 2-300 pounds of food down, but I buy it all local. And theres fabulous foods here, and I buy far more than I need because I share it with people. They don't feed their kids right. You get down in the jungle and they eat corn and rice and beans, and that doesn't cut it. And its very important, especially for younger people, to have the ..
JN: why do you bring the garlic?
PG: I bring the garlic because well one I like garlic (PHONE RINGS LOUDLY) and vampires tend to chew on everybody else but me.
JN: we're talking about vampire bats here.
PG: vampire bats yes. (LAUGHS) god I hope so. I was sleeping down in the
jungle a couple years ago and there were 6 of us, and myself and the hermit did ok. We wrapped up pretty well. Everybody else just had blood on their pillow in the morning. And its kind of hit and miss, because depending on where they bite you, they bite you in the head you could wake up a month later fidgeting a month later, and all of a sudden you get hydrophobia, and its real, people die of it. I had a friend die of it. That's when I got my [rabies?] shots.
16:00 JN: garlic helps.
LD: could I take a 2-minute break?
16:22 JN: we're in the lobby of the hotel. We're at the end of the trip. Whats changed since the last time yiou came down thru there, and in relation to the highway, what do you thinks gonna happen?
PG: I haven't been this far. I flew into PM, but I drove the road to quincemil 11 yrs ago. I was in for a month verifying an old spanish mine to see ifit was workable, and looking for the death place of swiftwater bill gates. And when I went out from the old hacienda where the screaming ghost kept me awake the one night, I went down road, gave everybody a hug goodbye and sat there for five days waiting fr a truck to come by, because that was the nature of the road back then. Truck went in a pothole that was bigger than the truck and it took em five days to pull it out in pieces. Among other things I'd say that athe road is tremendous now. And that just has to do with opening up the jungle. And the road we were on, the marcapata-quincemil road, was opened up, it was the alternate to the new trans-andean-san gabon road. And the san gabon road-and they just put in the bridge a couple ofmonths ago-but they alsoput in a large hydroelectric project. And that road is frankly astounding. Much better than the panamerican highway was, probably is. No, at least it was until recently itself. So great roads. What is gonna change in the future is hard to tell. I imagine that given technology, given that peru is eager and ripe for it, that the new generations and along this road will live lives that their grandparents cant imagine. So it took long in tht states cuz we were on the verge of it. But here, we're not going from the stone age, but we're going from a rather primitive . subsistance in a lot ofplaces to modem life in a lot ofways. And I hope they find their piece of mind along the way and leave tradition tand their lives intact. Its hard to say. I guess I hope for the best, but they do need the road, things will change tremendously and ask me again in ten years I guess.
18:53 JN: what is the worst non lethal bug bite you ever got?
PG: the worst non lethal bug bite, well, it wasn't lethal yeah. It was down in quincemil actually in '89 and I got bit by a wasp. I thought I skewered myself on some bamboo cuz it hurt so much. And I've been sewn up without anesthetics a couple times, and that was so so ...but this critter was big enough that blood was running down my finger, I couldn't knock him off, all the fellows with me were doing the backstroke thru the forest. And he finally flew away, and my finger doubled in size in about 5 minutes...
JN: what kind of wasp was this?
PG: I think it was the kind of a wasp that paralyzes tarantulas and uses them to keep their larva. I'm not sure. Thank god it was the only wasp I've ever seen like that. Oddly enough I had a weird solution for it. I'd read about using a stun gun for snake bite, and I thought it was just about the most ridiculous thing I'd ever heard. But I traced it down to the british medical magazine lancet, and it said this works we don't know why. And I have a brother that's allergic to bees. I bought one for him and three for myself and I brought them down tot he jungle to test em out. I eventually bought like 8 more. And I gave them away. They cost 50-60 bucks apiece, but I was trying to get the idea to people for snake bites. So this was the first opportunity to use one on myself. So I went from the worst pain I ever had ...
JN: you electrocuted yourself.
PG: no, not quite. If you use house current you will electrocute yourself. If you use a real stun gun you're gonna knock yourself out. What I did was I found a really low voltage-not that low a voltage, 25 thousand volts-but negligible amps stun gun. And its annoying, it is, but it doesn't hurt. Nothing hurts as much as that dam jurassic bug was that bit me. So I shocked myself five times and within five minutes the pain was gone and I've done this for scorpion and snakebite, tarantula, and some other things. It did take a couple hours for the swelling to go down.
There was another time I was going into a river tht none of the locals would go into, they called it devil river. And I ws kinda like wiley road runner, trying to get ot this place for about a decade. And I was in the jungle, I had some new aerial photographs, I could find no locals that went anywhere near this place. And I'd been to the mouth of it, it was like 50 foot waterfalls, one after the other. So what I did is I didn't have a stereo viewer, I was down in the village and I found a can and I flattened it and cut holes in it and took the lenses out of my binoculars and I made a stereo viewer. And with two aerial photos I found a low pass from the river I could get to to the river I watned to get to. And I went up there with my hermit friend and two younger fellas. we found good gold and started a gold rush. But as we were getting in there, and climbing down the walls over these literally hundred and hundred fifty foot waterfalls, I was with one fellow who suddenly started getting very excited and throwing his clothes off, and he got his shirt off and there was a bunch of legs sticking out of it and he crushed it and it was a tarantula that had fallen into his shirt and bit him five or six times in the armpit. Big tarantula. So here we are, hanging from a cliff in a a torrential downpour and he's going into shock. So I had this little contraption with me, a snake shocker I call it, and I took it out, and we're yelling at one another in spanish, and I just said I'm gonna fry that bug bite with this thing and I'm going otra vez again, and shockin him. I shocked him nine times, he holds the record. 15 minutes later, no pain, no swelling, it was like it never happened, and we just kinda went on and kept doing what we were doing. Course the next night we had the jaguars that almost got us but that's another story.
JN: please don't try this at home.
JN: the jaguars almost got you? It's a serious subject, people die from things, but my god.
22:42 PG: they die from jaguars, that's why nobody went back there. The last time anybody had been in was about 40 years before, a couple of quinine bark hunters I think. Jaguar broke one of 'ems neck in his sleep and the other two got out and didn't go back. But that night we were breaking branches and putting our plastic over to sleep, and the two younger guys who werent afraid of jaguars-and the old hermit and I were definitely afraid of jaguars, and all we had was rusty machetes anyway-they started throwing a bunch of grass on a little lean to, throwing a bunch ofgrass down by the entrance. I said what are you guys doing they said we want ot make a comfortable place to sleep, yeah right. So I tried to get a bonfire going but in the jungle the wood's wet and that didn't work. So I spent the night awake cuz something was out there (PHONE RINGS). And in the morning we found the tracks. And I cant hear, but they heard the cat up on the rocks screamin a couple times. And we just kept going down river. So...
23:32 JN: who's this hermit?
PG: this hermit is victor (?). he's about as old as my folks, been around the jungle forever. He's of course Peruvian, he's from the local area, but he's not gringo, he's not peruvian, he's just himself. And he's just a sweet old guy who's lived out in the jungle forever. And it usually takes me two or three days when I get there for him to quit calling me padron and senor and all that nonsense. And he's just a phenomenon unto himself. He's just a great guy and I usually go down with a bunch of food or tools or something for him.
JN: what do you talk about? Who won the superbowl or what?
PG: no its funny. He's just in a whole different, we just talk about food (PHONE RINGS)...he's a very clever guy and he grows a lot of food. He doesn't care about the gold, altho he gets gold because he ...he'll get gold and walk a half a day to buy a pound of salt or something because he just needs it.
JN: whats he look like? PG: he's kind ofa skinny guy. JN: hair to his feet. If you say hair to his feet I'm leaving. Going home.
PG: no, not hair to his feet. He's actually, he dresses well, he's very creative. I traded him the governor, my good compass, to help him get a dog because his dog was killed by a snake a few days before I got in there. And the governor kept the compass, didn't get the dog, but when I got back down I found out he had another (?). When I went down last year I told the people I was---course I was working for free, they didn't have much to say about it-I said before we do anything, I'm going up river kto see this old hermit. And they said the geologists and the raft are waiting, and I said have a good trip. But lets be clear about this. I'm not asking, I'm going up the river to see the old hermit. And I walked out into the jungle, and that usually cost me a couple toenails and whatever, and I was just limping hard. But I limped up the river, and they ended up following me up the river with a raft to take me back down. And unfortunately I just got to spend a couple hours with him. But I go to see Victoriana before I do anything else.
25:31 JN: here's my last question. Tell me the legend of wild bill gates or whatever it
was, what's his name?
PG: swiftwater bill gates. Down here they call him gringo gates.
JN: start up in alaska. Tell me the legend of swiftwater bill gates and his untimely demise.
PG: well swiftwater went to ...he was actually washing dishes or something in circle city when the klondike was discovered. So he went up to the klondike and he and a few other fellas got a lay on claim number 13 el dorado cuz it was considered unlucky. And they dug a bunch of holes, and everybody bailed out, and he had one partner left, and they struck it. And they kind of kept it down, and then he ended up making hundreds of thousands of dollars...
JN: this is when?
PG: this is in 1897. He moved on, he blew it all. He never was one to hold onto his money. He moved on to nome, did the same thing, moved onto fairbanks, did the same thing. Had a city named after him, called cleary city afater he left in 1905, but it was gates city before that. He disappeared, but a fellow he was working with, worked for him, was called boyle. W s kind of the big mining magnate in canada and the yukon after that. But swiftwater came down to peru, showed up here in 1910, and rumor is that he showed up with 600 thousand dollars. I don't knkow ifthat's true, but he did pretty well. But he managed to lose it, and pretty much stayed poor after that. And I been kinda following him around inadvertently.
JN: what happened to him?
27:07 PG: well, it was a Sunday morning, and the crew was all boys, they couldn't find men. And he had a partner that was wealthier than he ws at the time. They were just sitting around in the shack, he was on the steps leading to the second story where he lived. And one of the yoounger fellas, I think his name was eduardo gonzales, ws cleaning the padrones winchester. And he pointed the gun at swiftwaters head and said one day I'm gonna kill that gringo and pulled the trigger. And the kid was known as mata gates-gates killer, after that. Another funny aside is the family found out that microsoft bill gates' great grandfather was in alaska and his name was bill gates. And my god, they followed me around for3ever. The only thing that stood between them and beaucoups millions ofdollars was convincing their cousin that they were related. My friend tony woods that I mentioned, I was at his house in lima. And his stepfather called from seattle many years ago. And he was a well to do lawyer. Old fella, he's dead now, great guy, robt st louis. And tony says its robert and I said put robett on the phone. I got on the phone, and I realized that microsoft bill gates father was an old lawyer in seattle. And I said robert you know microsoft bill gates father? And he said sure I do. I said would yu ask him a question for me? And the answer was he'd been asked many times because...and that's confused me in my research, two guys same name bill gates. But not the same guys. So swiftwater bill gates was not related to ...although you can look on the net and find it, he wasn't related to microsoft bill gates.
JN: but as far as you're concerned when people talk about THE bill gates, its swiftwater. PG: theres only one, but this other guy really messes up my research, because I , I cant find anything else.
JN: yeah, you type those key words into the computer.
PG: I'm a macintosh guy anyway.
JN: oh jesus. There goes our big grant.
JN: anything else you wanta say before I dump you unceremoniously and go after anton?
PG: the jungle has a lot of tremendous possibilities. It's a real pharmacy and I think if people would get away from their prejudices and ...the gold is the cure for cancer and its lying out in the jungle. We need to take a greater look at that. Its something that I should be doing, but I'm just too simple. I just look for gold in the jungle and visit hermits. But theres a tremendous wealth out there and perhaps thru that sort of ecotourism we can help these people live better because they will have the road, so lets find out whats there and help folks along the way ifwe can.
29:58 JN: well, I look up to guys like you. PG: thank yu very much.
30:01-30:33 AMB OF THAT SCENE
31 :09 JN: we're pretty much done with our part of the trip. We've just come down this big road, you've been down it pretty recently, what's changed since the last time you were here?
AS: the road seems to be broader, more ofit is in a state of pre pavement where it looks like all they'll have to do is put a layer of asphalt down. The initial part leaving mazuko for example was pretty rough, but, slow, not really bad ...and there was a road maintenance crew maintaining it, but for quite a long stetch coming into PM we were travelling at 50 MPH, no problem, sometimes 60. So yeah, it looks like development continues.
JN: is that good news or bad news to you?
AS: I'm sort of resigned to the fact that the road will be built and it will happen. Its sort of lets get the best road possible to serve the people. At the same time I'd like to see, if that is to happen, equal attention placed to planning and safeguarding
environments and livelihoods and things like that. I'm not confident that that aspect is being taken care of.
JN: I would imagine some of that lack ofconfidence comes from the I wouldn't say secretive, but the way this road has sort ofbeen put together completely out of the spotlight. What's the story ofthis road ifwe can take it from the Rio earth summit on.
AS: I'll summarize a complicated story. What you have is basically what was a unified proiject suddenly became a political hot potato. And unpalatable. The money disappeared, the formal money that was funding the road disappeared, and supposedly it lay dormant in pieces. However the motivations for building the road have not changed, they remain and there are some very powerful economic interests that want to tsee it built. And the net result is that it is being built in a hodgepodge fashion but it will be finished I'm quite confident, probably in the near future, in the next say 2 to 4 years or so.
What we have is instead ofasingle unified project called the TOH yiou now have a piecemeal project comprised often subprojects. Locally here in PM the stretch ofroad that we're on is being built by the NDAY, which is the national institute kof development. Its called the special project of the madre de dios. Part of the special project is a plan that they're going to buiild the road that goes from primavera to inapari. Primavera's about 50 miles west ofhere, inapari's the brazilian border to the north. Along that route they've made a nice wide road, we drove on it today very fast, some parts ofit are asphalted, itll all be asphalted eventually. They've constructed bridges that have 35 ton capacity. They I can take large heavy trucks, these are big steel bridges, quite comfortable, basically like any highway bridge back home.
34:20 that's just this section. The major bridge over the otorongo which has been so pivotal, kind of the missing link to this pioint, has just been completed. That was planned and talked about for years. They started to build in in 93 and the money ran out and the materials basically rusted. They're still there you'll see them rusting. However, what the provincial govt for the department ofpuno was able to do was divert money from el nino disaster relief. Big el nino 1997. And they came up with the 6 million that was required to build this bridge. And 10 and behold the bridge is now finished. Where did that disaster relief money come from and how was it authorized, that's another question. Kind ofinteresting, cuz 6 millions not a small figure.
And so we find that various stretches ofroad are being financed thru various means, all sort of casually independent. But the net result is that we're gonna have a completed TOH. We're gonna have a completed one though no one really seems to know that its coming. And we're gonna wake up to the reality ofa completed road, and the consequences are that that will follow. So that'll put the environmental community into a very reactive pose rather than a proactive stance, which is where we could be right now.
35:42 JN: so in your view the first step is to tell people its happening.
AS: yes. Bring attention to it. And do so in a responsible manner. I think using a chicken little approach and saying the end is coming and the rain forest is gone because you guys werent looking, that doesn't do anything. I think at the same time pointing fingers of blame doesn't do anything. Lets look at it thru the lens of simple economics. Laws of supply and demand. We've got resources here, resources are coveted and desired. And those ofus in the west especially, we love to condemn things like the chopping down of rainforests, might do well to look at our own lifestyles and see our own role and culpability in why this road is being built.
36:22 JN: do you think theres some irony involved in americans coming down and telling people be careful with their roads?
AS: yeah sure. I'm extremely sensitive to that, one of the reasons I don't preach to anyone, in fact this is the first time I've talked to any media at all about it. But as a reseearcher trying to sort kof maintain neutrality, and as an individual who feels very much a guest in a very beautiful country that's been very hospitable to me. I want to see whats best for peruvians and the land ofperu in this case. I'm not a peruvian I don't plan to live here, my life or anything like that., but I've developed a great affection for this place and I care what happens to it. The people ofperu, especially in the highlands, have been dealt a very cruel hand in history, and I cant blame them for wanting a better piece ofth pie. You've got all these kworkers in hueypetue destroying a rainforest and its not because they rapaciously crave gold its because they're desperately poor. It's a, you must separate these things and be careful who you condemn and why you condemn.
My research project here with NG and the carabaya region has very deliberately sought out the involvement ofas many peruvian scientists as we can. Almost half our team was peruvian. From vaious locations I peru. There are many reasons for having peruvians aboard, other than being very good scientists and just as competent as any back home, they also are more likely to have continuity with the region. We can raise our bluster and get all excited and wave and scream and then go home. They don't, this is the bed they sleep in. and I'm very much aware of that.
38:19 JN: what happens to the report that you prepare at the end ofthis process. Where does it go, who reads it, what dif does it make?
AS: no idea, I've never done anything like this before. The idea is to make a report that is readable to all groups with interest in what goes on in this part of the country. That would include the peruvian govt, state and local govts, multinational corporations, certainly indigenous people, nongovt organizations, environmental groups ofall types which are sort ofcovered in NGOs, and certainly we'll have this as a resource on the internet (FIRECRACKERS POPPING OUTSIDE). And basically this is a report that we'll try to retain our neutrality as best as possible. We're trying to speak from a position of strength, strength being knowledge. This is why I've had scientists come down, to work in a sort ofan activist role. We're scientists doing science, but we're also sort ofproducing a product which i think would be very useful hopefully for formulating that better plan. The great crime of the TOH is not the building of the road, it's the building of the road without an adequate management plan surrounding it.
39:45 JN: you see no sign of an adequate mgmt plan.
AS: not that I know of. And as long as the project doesn't officially exist and refuses to be recognized as such, yes, theres no need to have a mgmt kplan and no ones attention will be steered this way. Theres a parallel with a the gold works (PHONE RINGS)...tell me when you're ready to go ....
Yeah, theres a parallel with the goldworks at hueypetue.
41 :01 AS: theres a parallel with the gold works at hueypetue. In that case, you had all the economic reasons for a gold rush, but no mgmt ofit, and now about ten years later we can see the incredible destruction the environmental degradation and the very unfortunate human situation as well that has has happened there that has affected thousands of people. The TOH in some ways, again there are parallels between these two things, one
going on on a small scale and one a very large scale, which is the TOH. TOH seems destined to repeat the mistakes ofa hueypetue where we're sort ofcreating a monster without building a cage around it. That really sort of sums up the type kof situation you have. It doesn't look like a monster right now cuz its ten little subprojects and each of them independently is not a threat. You put them all together and suddenly bandg you realize we've got an enormous threat, we've got something very very serious going on. And it's a bit late to try to be effective in controlling it.
JN: in a way this is a battle that a lot of environmentalists might have thought they won ten years ago at the earth summit in Rio when they talked japan into pulling all their money for this (?).
AS: exactly. Amazon watch, an outstanding group based in malibu california, prepared a report on infrastructure projects in the amazon basin a couple years ago. And they identified projects in order of priority ofwhats being worked on, whats the state of development, whats in planning, and this is one of the projects that was mentioned. They said yes as of 1995 work had been suspended and it may be resumed but not for years to come. It sort ofseemed to be a relatively low priority. And that actually was the official story. And this publication was from I think april 97. In august kof 97 three months later I was down in this very area and saw massive road building activity and said how can this be? And that's the kind ofthing here. People are looking the other way, and I understand why they're looking the other way. Unless you see this thing actually happening, you've got to do quite a bit of research to put it together. You would think that the transoceanic project didn't exist anymore.
43:17 JN: give me some examples, one or two. Of-you can look around the world and see what roads can do to forests when you build them thru. What are some of the worst cases?
AS: I havenat studied this extensively in other regions. Theres a very rich literature but. ..
JN: just tell me about the one in the amazon then.
AS: the transamazon highway's legendary, esp some ofits subsidiary roads. The route that goes thru rondonia state in southwest brazil is legendary. The numbers are smething ofthis order: the road was completed in earlay 1980s and within 5 years 20% of the rainforest ofrondonia had disappeared. People migrated into the zone at thye rate of3000 per day. And 3000 people all seeking their piece ofland, (?) from the brazilian military govt back then to occupy and colonize and promises your 40 acres and a mule type ofdream. And ofcourse brazil has an enormous population ofpoor people in its cities and its slums and this is one way the govt thot was a convenient way ofgetting rid of that urban problem, was to make the rainforest a convenient dumping ground. It only took about 5 yrs to take out about 20% of the rainforest there.
JN: is there a road thru a rainforest that you consider benign?
AS: um...well yes. Certainly you've got your national park situations, probably in costa rica theres a nice shining example. But for every one of those there are probably a hundred examples to the contrary. A national park implies a very heavy duty mgmt plan doesn't it? And outside the natinal parks you don't have that kind ofthing. As long as rainforests are valued for things like their timber or whats in their subsoil, we have a problem. Cuz roads are all about access and getting goods to market and moving people around. They make it possible to get at those resourcs. If a rainforest howver is valued as a rainforest in its existing state then we have a very dif situation indeed. Then we can afford to be much more optimistic. I'd like to sort of see more things like that. In peru theres a avery sad example of the rainforest, the alexander vonhumboldt forest near the city ofpiculpa in central peru, east of lima. And the von humboldt forest was very well managed and they did all sorts of studies ofsustainable lkogging there ... and meanwhile this was all going on, the forest all around the vonhumboldt forest was all being logged by people who had all come to squat on the land and take the resources. Eventually they simply engulfed the protected forest as well and it doesn't exist anymore.
46:21 JN: I oly have 2 other questions. The first is AS: yes I'm single. JN: whats the image that sticks in your mind from this particuar trip? AS: I saw an incredible image this very evening. I'll recount this one cuz its freshest. Watching a very Gauginesque kind ofsky as a truck ws ferried across the rio madre de dios. A big volvo truck carrying a cargo probably oftimber aagainst this increbdibly beautiful setting, a setting made even more beautiful by the smoke ofburning vegetation. In the distance you could see a wall ofgreat forest, but in the foreground there was denuded landscapes, and the whole thing was sort oftaking place in a very surreal manner. That's pretty much etched in my memory, its part of what goes on.
JN: while you ate ice cream.
AS: id dint eat ice cream. I had a burger, but ....i'd like to think ofanother image.
LD: hId on I'd like to rearrange my hand here. Lemme just ID this.
AS: another dramatic scene ws yesterday when I revisited hueypetue. My 4th visit there. I ws there just 8 months ago with peter zahler. And the center of activity 8 months ago was the barriochino which is the socalled chinese neigborhood named for the amount of fighting and shootings that used to go on there (PHONE RINGS)
LD: hold that thought for a sec
48:46 AS: named for the amount offightings and shootings that used to go on there all rthe time. And the barrio chino is no more. In the 8 months that have passed since I was there a flood came down the river and bought so much sand and silt that it submerged half of the area and those buildings are all derelict now and athe towns moved a couple hundred yards away. And its just, this community should not exist. Nature knows it, the \ govt knows it, but there it is. And thousands ofpeople live there in terrible squalor and chaos and its just so dramatic to see a snapshot ofa place in december and its very active and all these stores and people doing things and then just 8 months later its gone.
JN: I remember that, buildings out in the...silt, halfburied, covred with vultures, signs saying don't throw garbage. AS: unbelievable.
49:43 JN: whats the message you wnt to send out, what do you want us to say?
AS: it's a good question, somewhat difficult. I was approached-well, by coincidence, NPR overheard a conversation about me doing this and they said ok we're interested tell us more, and I saw a great opportunity to get the word out in a responsible manner (PHONE) ...
50:30 AS: talk about getting the message out in a aresponsibe manner, and I try to think well what exactly does that mean? So there are media outlets that are more respectable than others, and certanly NPR is about the pinnacle, NGS way up there as well. Great integrity and not just a sound bite.
JN: oh please go on.
AS: but its more like I think about who listens to NPR. Well quite frankly your audience are a bunch ofgood sierra club people who also happen to run corporations, all right.
JN: whatdya wanta say to the target audience?
AS: itd be a combination kfthings. You cant ...ignore what goes on abroad. You cannot decouple it from your life back in your incredibly consumptive western lifestyle. Its not enufto belong to the sierra club and pay yur dues and call yourself an environmentalist. You actually have to change yur lifestyle. And what we're talking about here is busisness of, this road is being built to fuel big corporate powers and multinational corporations in basically our countries. Maybe asia's the ultimate destination for a lot of the resources, but asia's producing a lot of the stuff for our consumption. And everyone bad.e B6m.e plays a role ultimately in places like themadre de dios rainforest. Plays a role in maybe also explaining why some oftheose people in the peruvian highlands are so poor and why they are holding chainsaws right now and mixing mercury with their hands. We need to be more accountable for our own actions. That's on that side. On this side, yeah, try to get these people in these places better protected from the ravages ofmodernizing, globalizing economic forces.
52:46-53:00 AMB OF THAT SCENE
53:17 LD: ok this is ambience right here where we have conducting interviews in the hotel lobby. The cicadas for some reason are gone but I'm sure they'll come back.
53:24-56:00 AMB: HOTEL LOBBY
55:25 FX: PEOPLE WALK BY
57:00 PS: my name is peter smith. I'm along on this trip as a mapper and a climber, a
JN: and you have your computer open.
PS: yeah, so we have our computer running. What we're looking at now,
yesterday we were in hueypetue looking at the gold mining operation. Right now on the computer we have images that show athe gold mining area in hueypetue at two different times. Looking at the upper one ...
JN: those are the mountains in red and that kind of green appendectomy scar, that's hueypetue. PS: right that's hueypetue. What we're looking at are two satellite images taken at two dif times. And one ws taken in the 80s and one is taken from 1997.
JN: and one is very small and one is very big.
PS: one's very small, and very big. The mining, its so dramatic, the extent of the mining. The one from 1986 you can barely see, or you see a few patches oferosion. And the one from 1997 is what's indicative of what we saw yesterday.
JN: where do these photos come from?
PS: these are from the Landsat satellite series. That series ofsatellites have been up since the 70s. in fact for this trip I put together images, one from the 70s one from the 80s one from the 90s to do a comparison of the change in the ecology or the change in the landscape over that time frame.
JN: what do they show?
PS: well they show on a very simplistic level they show where things once were forested and now are not forested. Say for example here obviously this was forested before the mining became real active and now its all deforested. One could look at more like vegetation classes, and atell ifthe land is cloud forest or rain forest or tundra. Some of the things we're gonna be looking at with thesee images are the extents of the mining and we're also gonna loook at where the road traces thru. And we'll be able to see, to look at the extent ofdeforewstation that exists along this road.
JN: what do you on the ground? I know that you put together the images from the landsat satellite, but when yiou're out there on the ground, how do ya ...
PS: well, once you're on the ground, we call it ground truthing, you need to ...we want to sort of see that what you're looking at on the image, figure out what it is on the ground. So oftentimes on the ground, we're looking to sort ofsee .. .like for example in this area near hueypetue, to see if its cloud forest, rain forest or so on. We have a pretty good idea ofwhats what, but along the ground we go and look at ...
JN: so that's why we were driving around with that little gizmo?
PS: right, in the car today. What I'm gonna do, I'm using a GPS and we're ...
1:00:24 JN: GPS?
PS: that's a global positioning system. And it's a series of satellites that are up in space, and its really revolutionized a lot ofthings in the last few years. And with these handheld receivers one can pick out your location to within, anywhere from 5 to 10 meters or even better ifyou have a higher quality unit. But what we're gonna do is we're gonna, what're we're doing on this drive on the way back, is we're gonna map the exact location of the road, and then we'll go ahead and overlay that onto these images.
JN: and how do these maps, now that I understand how they're put together, sort ofadvance what we know or what we know about what we wanta do, about roads? How does it fit intot he puzzle.
PS: well I guess it helps .. .in a sense its gonna tell us whats there and whats been there and maybe whats gonna come in the future. Like for example, we can only guess or estimate that with the road going in theres gonna be more encroachment and deforestation, more chopping down of the cloud forest (?), but its difficult to quantify. With the imagery, like say for example we hae this one image from 1997, and ones from
the 80s, we can say OK in the 90s or in the 80s theres this level of clearing around the road. And in two years from now or five years we'll get another image and we can say ok now the level ofdeforestation has doubled or tripled or its gone up by so much. Or we can see that it hasn't.
JN: among other things if somebody says no it hasn't led to more deforestation you can say yeah it has. And they say no it hasn't and you say yeah it has here's a picture.
PS: yeah heres some pictures and it shows it. So its helpful in that. And so often you cant get into places, or people, they ....peru or any govt only republishes their maps at certain intervals. And here with this imagery we can come in on an annual basis or whatever kind of a basis, and see for ourselves where things are at.
JN: how much does a GPS cost?
PS: its gotten incredibly cheap. A couple ofyears ago it might have cost a few thousand dollars for a high end unit. Right now they're down to a hundred dollars, or two hundred dollars. And one thing that's really good-in fact it happened right before we came on this trip-was the govt used to introduce a scrambling signal or a noise signal that wouuld degrade the accuracy of the GPS. The whole program was initially, or is, a military program that has quite a few civilian uses. Just before we came on this trip the dept ofdefense went and removed the noise degradation symbol, so now we can get our accuracy with a single that costs a hundred dollars, we can get our accuracy to within five to 15 meters. Which for the work we're doing is greater.
JN: so its not just soldiers in the gulf war anymore.
JN: its basically everybody wants to go hikng.
PS: yeah. And they've really extended their market for those. And they use them for anything from surveyors to moving more into like say for aircraft, or casual users like hikers, and also professionals like us who, when we take our field surveys we use GPS.
JN: basically it's a technology that makes it possible to answer questions that were impossible to answer before. Or prove points that were impossible to prove.
PS: yeah. It makes things easier to say the least. When people have been surveyors, I have a lot of respect for the old times who would go out and ...
JN: the only other question I have is when's the last time you got lost?
(LAUGHTER AND CONVERSATION ABOUT PS GETTING LOST)
1 :05:56 JN: what about that heroic crossing over the mountain range?
PS: tim and I , our other partner, we walked between our two camps where we did our work. It was a high mountain traverse that was very interesting. We were probably above ...well for the whole trip we were above 15 thousand feet for 3 weeks and on the traverse we were probably above 17 thousand feet for a solid week when we walked in between. So we crossed a bunch ofhigh glacial passes, just strikingly beautiful when you could see ...
JN: I'll bet that was beautiful in a horrifying way. PS: I didn't get lost up there. We have to have more respect for the cloud forest. put me on a glacier or high mountain passes and things go better, but in some kind of, if theres tons ofundergrowth and vines and steep hilsides and embankments and things, its nasty out there.
1:07:02-1:08:26 AMB OF THAT LOCATION
1 :08:45 LD: ok we're still on tape 6 about an hour 9 minutes and I'm running a little ambience. Same set up.
1:08:52-1:12:27 AMB OF CHIROPRACTOR'S OFFICE, MUSIC IN BKGRND
1 :09: 17 FX: ROOSTER CROWS
1:10:51 FX: DOOR SLAMS
1: 11 :06 FX: CHIROPRACTOR TALKING IN SPANISH, WOMAN LEAVING THE OFFICE,ETC
1:12:36 LD: what is your name?
VP: victor hugo pisango.
JN: you're a doctor? VP: IN SPANISH LD: a (something) as well as a chiropractor.
JN: you have lived here all your life.
LD: (AFTER VP SPEAKS) he was born here.
JN: well. We are here doing a story about roads, and the importance ofroads. I
just wanted to say that.
LD: TRANSLATES QUESTION
1:13:51 JN: well tell me about the clientele. What kinds ofpeople do you see.
VP. IN SP ANSH
JN: you probably see a lot ofpeople whose backs are wrecked from driving on
those terrible roads.
1:15:02 LD; he sees different people, and yes, you are correct, he says road related accidents. Many people come to see him because of that but he also deals with people with broken bones and he's able to heal that also.
JN: over the years how has the clientele changed? Are there difkinds ofpeople
here than there used to be?
1: 16:13 LD: I do see locals but a lot ofmy clientele comes from elsewhere. As a matter offact the person I was just seeing comes from mazuko. Obviously she's using the road to get here, so I think that's the implication.
JN: would it improve your business if the roads were better? LD: VP:
1: 17:21 LD: yes. When the roads are good, business is good. And there are some times when they want to take me away, I need to travel to difparts of the country. And ifthe roads are not in good shape I'm not gonna get thru. Not only that but the possible potential clients will not be able to make ity here ifthe road is not in good condition. But when it is in good conditioon things are good.
JN: I was talking to this guy up in the restaurant, I asked him whether the roads should be improved. He said yes they should be improved and one reason why is they have lots ofgood roads in peru but they're on the coast. They go from lima, they go to cuzco, but we deserve good roads too. Does he agree with that?
1:19:07 LD: ofcourse. I mean the govt always says that things are gonna get better that they will asphalt our roads here but they don't seems to actually have the job taken care of even though this president is in his third term in office, things have not really materialized in that regard. Ifthe road were in better shape I could actually go to Cuzco, I have a lot ofpatients there. But because its so unstable I just cannot afford to acttually have the unpredictability of a bad road. But yes, roads should be in good shape for me to actually practice properly.
JN: ifI were to walk up and down this street and ask everybody I met, do you
need better roads do you want better roads, how many people would say yes? LD: VP:
1:21 :01 LD: if you were to ask every one ofmy neighbors, but not only my neighbors, all ofpuerto maldonado, ifthey want better roads, they would ofcourse say yes. The reason why is our life and the structure ofour life is totally depending on it. Commerce, goods, many times we don't have the proper vegetables or the supplies we need to just have our life comfortable. And it's the only option we people have. We can afford a car transport vs air transport which is incredibly expensve for us. So if you were to ask my neighbors and the rest ofPM they would say that yes we want good roads as well as everything that connects them, like bridges.
JN: when you get the roads, if you get the roads, when they are improved, do you worry that that might bring the problems of the world to you. The crime from bigger cities, the people who want to cut ALL of the forests down, more of the bad mines. Do you worry that better roads will bring more social and environmental problems?
1:23:53 LD: yeah. We already observe an increase in crime. Things you would not hear ofa few years back you hear now. Like crimes being committed, even kidnapping being perpetrated, and yeah I've observed that.
Lemme follow up the question to see how would he ...(CONTINUESTHE QUESTION IN SPANISH) VP:
1 :25 :31 LD: there are some good things that also have taken place here. And that is that there is more awareness ofconservation. And I know, not from first hand experience, but I do know that animals are a little closer in than they used to be as a matter offact. As a matter offact there are more jaguar sightings in the area, and they are not as scared ofus as they were before. I'm paraphrasing. And I think it's a smart thing to be ecologically aware. And hopefully we'll move in that direction.
JN: ok. This is my last question and its something I've asked a lot ofpeople. (IN SPANISH P ARTIALL Y): in the US, people think they have a right to move around, to good roads. Is it the same here?
1 :27:22 LD: ofcourse. I would love to have roads. Forever the govt has been promising that, the govt has been, that they will actually provide us with good reliable roadways, but it hasn't really happened. They always come, patch little things, they keep us sort oflike, traffic moving ...however they have never really in a way given us the proper land transportation means. You know as it is now because of the poor maintenance it takes us forever to get places but not only that the pounding the vehicles take also is added to the economic picture.
JN: muchas gracias.
VP: muy bien.
LD: muchas gracias. I can actually record him working on you.
LD: let's take care of this. Go in there. Do you have clients? VP: no.
1:29:48-1 :30:20 AMB: THE DOC CRACKS JN
1 :29:56 FX: ROOSTER CROWS
1 :30:20 JN: I am a new man.
1:30:21-1:34:37 AMB: VP EXAMINES AND CONVERSES WITH ANOTHER PATIENT
1:33:36 FX: ROOSTER
1 :34:59 JN: Day 5. We're in the city of PM near the end our trip. About 30 thousand people live here. A lot of logging, a lot ofpeople moving down from the highlands here. I happen to be standing in front of the chiropractor's office, where I plan to get some work done on my aching back.
1 :35: 19 FX: FOOTSTEPS WALKING AWAY, RADIO VOICE IN BKGRND
1:35:52 FX: FOOTSTEPS
1:36:00 JN: I feel wonderful.
1:36:01-1 :36:25 AMB: RADIO VOICE, A FEW FOOTSTEPS, DOOR TO THE VAN OPENS, PEOPLE GET IN
1:36:25 FX: MOTORCYCLE STARTS AND DRIVES OFF
1 :36:33 FX: VAN DOOR CLOSES
1 :36:36 FX: VAN STARTS, IDLES
1 :36:46 FX: MOTORCYCLE DRIVES BY
1:37:15--1:37:37 FX: MOTOR REVS, VAN DRIVES AWAY
1:38:01 END OF DAT