Ever imagined living 16,732 feet from sea-level? Well then you might find yourself at home in La Rinconada, Peru. High in the Peruvian Andes, La Rinconada is the highest recognised city in the world, meaning there is no larger permanent settlement anywhere in the world that is higher than it. Living in a place so high with such a harsh climate is a difficult way to live, but for the residents of La Rinconada there’s no other way to make a living in a place that many have lived for generations.
Yet it is not the height of La Rinconada that makes it so interesting but the work that most of the people there do. La Rinconada is mainly supported by the employment of a nearby gold mine, which provides most adults with their jobs. It’s not an easy life, but when it comes to employment options they don’t have many other options. But the harsh conditions of the mine are not why the places fascinates the outside world: what shocks most is the method of payment. The gold mine at La Rinconada operates under the ancient system of cachorreo. What that means is that the miners do not receive a paycheck or even cash for their work. Instead, for thirty days the miners work for free and then on the thirty-first day they have 4 hours to go into the mine and carry out as much ore as they can to sell for wages. The cycle then repeats.
The system is a game of chances for the miners: the ore that they carry out on their shoulders can contain a small fortune but more often than not it can also have practically no value. The lottery may be painful for the miners when their luck zeroes out, but it is also an agreement that they seemly do not wish to change. Cachorreo means that they the miners (and their bosses) can avoid certain taxes, which is why it is an arrangement that seeming both parties agree to. It is also mental – the chance of having a big payout around the corner can be a motivator in mines that often contain the dangers of death around every corner. Getting an even wage would mean economic security and many complain that the mining company treats the miners badly with the system, but even so cachorreo continues. Even though the smaller payouts from ore are more common, the need to believe in something bigger than yourself can often be more inspirational than the safety of a regular paycheck. When facing the dangers that the miners face, the prospect of maybe making it out at the end of the months with a small fortune rather than a pitiful paycheck keeps them going.
In fact according to numbers obtained by National Geographic, more people have been flocking to La Rinconada because the high price of gold has made cachorreo seem like an even better prospect. Yet even though the system has it’s faults, it keeps many going to join the people of La Rinconada on the hunt for payment in gold.