In 2006, rumors of fabulous finds of gold in the Brazilian Amazon jungle have often surfaced, attracting a rush of people desperate to make their fortune.
The latest El Dorado is a spot on the banks of the River Juma, 450km (280 miles) from the Amazonas state capital of Manaus. More than 4,000 people are said to have been attracted by the promise of easy money since last year. These small-scale miners or “garimpeiros” come from all over Brazil. There was a time when the only women found in such gold mines were prostitutes. In Eldorado do Juma, there are around 100 women some working in the sex trade but others working as merchants and “housekeepers” looking after miners tents. It is a tough life at the mine. During the day, there is the harsh sun at night, lots of mosquitoes. There is no infrastructure. Sanitary conditions are poor and there is limited drinking water. As news of ElDorado do Jumaís gold has spread, more and more people have arrived. The concern is growing over the impact on the environment that Juma will end up like the Serra Pelada illegal goldmine that left a scarred wasteland in the Amazon in the 1980s. The prospectors work their plots, cutting down trees and digging out the earth. They then pan the soil, washing the mud away, keenly looking out for nuggets of gold.
Groups of miners work for an owner of a hole a “barranco” or they are partners in business.
When the mining there began, extracting the gold was easy but as the mine has become more crowded, the work has got harder. Another consequence of the mineís rapid growth is that basic goods such as rice, beans, and chicken, which have never been cheap in the area, have become even more expensive. Drinks like Coca-Cola are luxury goods, costing some $6, compared with $1.50 in Sao Paulo. One way to make money tough but not as back-breaking as mining is to provide goods and services for the miners. There are about 50 shops. Here gold is common currency.