January 31 2011
Landed in Lima. The man parading my name up and down the concourse could have been there all night had my brother Dave not deciphered what was written on his plaque: SPEPHEN WEBFPER. So close.
We rendezvoused with the folks who included our guide, driver, translators and experts in the field of sustainable gold mining and processing.
Our long road trip to the mining area was to be made in a Hyundai minibus which, with seven adults and luggage, was leaning more towards the mini than the bus. We drove south out of Lima on a brand new highway. The road out of Lima followed the coast on one side and the sprawling slums on the other. Once out of the city, the landscape changed every few miles, the two consistent elements being the Pacific to the right of us and the Andes to the left; stuck in the middle, we headed south. Soon, apart from irrigated areas, the terrain became desert. Miles and miles of moonscape-like desert.
Destination Chala. Chala is the Wild West. Sin City on the Pacific south coast of Peru that, since the new gold rush, has enjoyed a population explosion. Predominantly the newcomers are migrants hoping that the surrounding barren mountains will be, if not paved with gold, then at least made of gold. Needless to say, by night, when the gangs of men rock up by the truckload drinking Pisco till they’re banjoed, business is brisk in the endless parades of whorehouses which are Chala. Chala, by the way, in Quechua (the indigenous language here), means the bit you don’t eat of a corn husk once the corn has gone.
The Hotel Tourista would be our base for the next four nights; our days spent on excursions into the surrounding mining areas. From what I’ve seen in town, small-scale gold mining in Peru is not a career option for the metrosexual. I wondered if they sang while digging.
On February 9 an announcement will be made about the significance of our trip and some of our experiences in the mines; see the Stephen Webster website to follow the story.