La Rinconada – a town that “glitters like a cruel oasis” as the night falls
La Rinconada sits some 5 kilometers (or 3.1 miles) above sea level, by that, this city is the highest human settlement in the world. The inhabitants of this most unusual place on Earth are largely miners and they do face several other challenges apart from doing their difficult job, be it the dizzying altitude of the place or the shortage of running water. Still, La Rinconada makes the home to some 50,000 people. The gold mines that keep this place alive are situated just beneath the gigantic La Bella Durimiente glacier (translates to The Sleeping Beauty) lurking above the town.
Gold has anyway shaped the history of South America, starting from the Aztecs who would kill for it, or the Inca who controlled entire population for it. When the Spaniards arrived here, they were not much different, and were quick to commission legions to search the continent up and down in a quest to find more gold. Peru was never the exception of these blood-thirsty quests for the mythical El Dorado, for the much desired treasures and power, and perhaps this fever has nowhere been so heated than in this town sitting in the embrace of a glacier.
It is certain that La Rinconada is a destination reserved only for the most fearless and adventurous ones. This place has never been anything like a hot tourist spot either way. Despite housing 50,000 people, the town’s infrastructure is considerably below Peruvian standards, but bear in mind that La Rinconada was never supposed to be a town in the first place.
Originally founded as a remote gold mining operation, La Rinconada’s architectures did not consider this to be a permanent place for living, in any case not for so many thousand people. The initial construction set here were only temporary, with no permanent infrastructure or city service whatsoever. Unexpedtedly, the city is extending itself on the permanently-frozen glacier.
There aren’t any hotels in the area, neither some mesmerizing sights to leave you breathless. In fact, it is only the altitude that can leave you breathless. Absence of sewage system, paved roads and sanitation are every-day reality at La Rinconada. It is just the wilderness as it is: ice, rock, and the might-boggling height of the Peruvian Andes.
The mine shafts dot the surface of the mountain above the town. The dwellings of people are not looking much more beautiful either: huts in tin, built at quite some precarious angles, with nothing strong in particular to keep out the glacial wind nor to create warmth properly. The town is still well supplied with electricity, so that the grinding machinery always hungry for some gold ore can work at ease. As the night time comes, La Rinconada glitters like a cruel oasis.
The livelihood conditions of La Rinconada might sound miserable to the majority of us, but they are secondary thought for the tens of thousands of workers who come and work in the gold mines. Their focus is to earn some money. A job at the nearby mines can be settled by using a rather uncommon system called Cachorreo and reportedly, employees start working for 30 days without any payment. After this period of time, on the 31s day, they are allowed to take as much ore from the mine as they can possibly take. Whatever the miners are able to extract from that ore belongs to them.
It may sound out of this world how payment is done in the case of the miners, but the entire description of the place sounds out of this world too. The fact and figures speak for themselves anyway: the population of La Rinconada has skyrocketed over 230% in the last decade alone.
To further depict how high La Rinconada really is, just think in terms that it is higher than any point in England, France, Spain, Switzerland or Germany. The tip of the highest peak in the Alps range, that would be Mont Blanc is just about 300 meters (1,000 feet) lower than the position of this city in Peru.
We also thought to remind you of Nuuk, the most northernmost capital city in the world.