Riding a bike in the Amazonian jungle isn’t so different than riding anywhere else, until you get your nose out of cycling and look around. We rode out of Puerto Maldonado at 7:00 am. There are 3000 miles at my back, through Brazil to the Atlantic coast; a thousand miles to my right through Bolivia and Colombia to the Caribbean. To my left I’m not sure where it ends. We’re riding the one paved road that crosses Andes; generous shoulders, beautiful pavement and very little traffic. Mostly trucks and busses; and motorcycles and moto-tricycles carrying cargo and people to destinations unknown. Drivers are very considerate, accustomed to slow traffic, and we cruised at an easy 30kph; no overdoing it! A lot of suffering, and exhilaration, lay in store.
One of the major occupations in this part of Peru is gypsy gold mining. Miners use mercury to titrate the gold from river sediments. A gauge of the size of this trade: imports of Mercury to Peru have increased by 400% in the past five years, with a dramatic cost to both the environment and the health of the miners. And to everyone’s children, as mercury, vastly poisonous, concentrates in plants, then moves up the food chain.
La Pampa, 65 miles into the day, and the lunch stop, is the epicenter of this trade. The first sign of the town was the massive piles of household garbage lining both sides of the road for a couple of kilometers entering town. In the streets we dodged people and dogs and motorcycles and motorized rickshaws and trucks and even some cars. Commerce was loud and intense, housed in buildings that had a temporary feel, often corrugated tin nailed over a wood framework. There was a vast profusion of products—it felt like you could get anything there. Strip clubs and prostitution were evident; illegal mining is a line of work for single men. It felt like the Wild West.
Leaving La Pampa the terrain began to change, as we entered the foothills of the Andes on our way to Mazuco, fifty miles down the road. Definitely a city, loud, hot, commercial—we stayed right on the downtown strip. The room was too hot to be comfortable; and the roosters started at 3 am. While the economy of this town is more diverse; it’s a transportation center, as well as a market center for the local region, evidence of illegal mining was everywhere. Brent Huntsman, a rider who’s a geologist, saw a shop with several brand new dredging pumps. Those don’t help with subsistence farming.
Lothar & Bob relaxing in their hot and tiny room in Mazuco.
This video:http://www.markgunther.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/IMG_2228.mov shows men working at night on a roof and the insects that are attracted to the light. Definitely the jungle!