The Strange Working Arrangement In the Highest Permanently Settled Community in the World


High up in the Peruvian Andes, way above the tree line, lies the city of La Rinconada, some 16,732 feet above sea level and thus the highest permanent human settlement in the world. With temperatures over the year averaging 34ยบ F and frequent rain and snow, it's not the weather that keeps some 50,000 people living on these barren slopes. It’s the promise of work in one of the hundreds of mines in search of gold. Known as the “cachorreo system,” miners work for 30 days without pay, and on the 31st day they’re allowed to take as much ore as they can carry out of the mine. If they’re lucky, it will be worth at least a month’s pay, but many walk away with nothing. The lure of gold, however, keeps them coming back. Women are not allowed in the mines, but can scavenge the mine dumps for overlooked bits of gold. Despite efforts by the Peruvian government to regulate the gold mines in La Rinconada, prospecting for gold continues largely outside the legal channels.