City of Broken Dreams

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The chaos sits at the foot of a glacier in southeastern Peru, between 5,000 and 5,400 (16,400-17,200 feet) meters above sea level. There, 50,000 people dig their way into the mountain side looking for their fortune in gold. Rinconada is a brutal place, devoid of sanitation, law, proper sewage and recourse. Alcoholism and accidents are commonplace. Doctors and lawyers are among those so desperate to find the precious metal in the mountain, they abandoned their practices.

Rinconada sits at the top of a massive watershed for all of southeastern Peru. Miners use mercury to separate the gold from earth and then pour the overflow straight into the ground and eventually, the water table. It is an ecological disaster. The miners say that the glacier, once white and pristine, is now gray and receding quickly. They say it rarely snows now, the machines and human presence has raised the temperature to the point where it is sleet and rain that drenches the barren slopes.