100 Words: Photographers Speak

100 Words: On Peru's Interoceanic Highway

In 2010, I began documenting life along Peru's Interoceanic Highway, a new route crossing the spectacular terrain from the Pacific Coast, over the Andes Mountains, through the Amazon Basin to the Brazilian border.

The highway is an apt metaphor for "development" in today's globalized world: It's bringing opportunity, while at the same time enabling activities that threaten some of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet and the survival of indigenous cultures.

In creating this portrait of a part of the world on the cusp of profound change, I'm also trying to understand where roads like this one are taking all of us.

  • A snow-covered Andean peak near the Interoceanic Highway's highest point outside Ocongate looms over a young Quechua llama herder. The highway is having a profound impact on migration, bringing an estimated 200 to 300 people daily from the Andean highlands to the Amazon Basin, most of whom will work in the mining sector.
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    A snow-covered Andean peak near the Interoceanic Highway's highest point outside Ocongate looms over a young Quechua llama herder. The highway is having a profound impact on migration, bringing an estimated 200 to 300 people daily from the Andean highlands to the Amazon Basin, most of whom will work in the mining sector.
    Robert Guerra
  • Carlos Apasa (in smoke) and his family tend to their traditional oven as they fire handmade roofing tiles in the village of Pinipampa. The village supplies tiles for construction projects throughout the Cusco department, and the highway has made transport much faster and easier.
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    Carlos Apasa (in smoke) and his family tend to their traditional oven as they fire handmade roofing tiles in the village of Pinipampa. The village supplies tiles for construction projects throughout the Cusco department, and the highway has made transport much faster and easier.
    Robert Guerra
  • Portrait of a Quechua woman in traditional dress in the Andean town of Ocongate
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    Portrait of a Quechua woman in traditional dress in the Andean town of Ocongate
    Robert Guerra
  • Teenage brothers Fredy and Saman Mamani (center) huddle together to stay warm as they travel atop a gas truck from the Andean crossroads town of Urcos, down into the Amazon Basin where they work in an informal gold mining camp.
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    Teenage brothers Fredy and Saman Mamani (center) huddle together to stay warm as they travel atop a gas truck from the Andean crossroads town of Urcos, down into the Amazon Basin where they work in an informal gold mining camp.
    Robert Guerra
  • With the price of gold reaching an all-time high on the international market in recent years, there has been a surge of illegal mining in the resource-rich Amazon Basin in Peru. In Madre de Dios province, near Peru's border with Brazil and Bolivia, unregulated mining is spreading into the jungle at an alarming rate.
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    With the price of gold reaching an all-time high on the international market in recent years, there has been a surge of illegal mining in the resource-rich Amazon Basin in Peru. In Madre de Dios province, near Peru's border with Brazil and Bolivia, unregulated mining is spreading into the jungle at an alarming rate.
    Robert Guerra
  • After 12 hours of dredging and another hour separating the gold particles from the sediment, a young miner pours the gold amalgam — a mix of liquid mercury and gold particles — into a container, which will then be taken to a gold shop where the mercury is burned off, leaving raw gold.
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    After 12 hours of dredging and another hour separating the gold particles from the sediment, a young miner pours the gold amalgam — a mix of liquid mercury and gold particles — into a container, which will then be taken to a gold shop where the mercury is burned off, leaving raw gold.
    Robert Guerra
  • Children play in a mining camp along the Interoceanic Highway. Though most miners are single men from the Andean highlands (and increasingly from Brazil), some also bring their families to these temporary mining camps. Though the camps will often have restaurants, stores, repair shops and internet cafes, as well as bars and prostitutes, they don't have schools, regular health care or clean water.
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    Children play in a mining camp along the Interoceanic Highway. Though most miners are single men from the Andean highlands (and increasingly from Brazil), some also bring their families to these temporary mining camps. Though the camps will often have restaurants, stores, repair shops and internet cafes, as well as bars and prostitutes, they don't have schools, regular health care or clean water.
    Robert Guerra
  • Police line the streets during a miners protest against regulation in April 2010.
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    Police line the streets during a miners protest against regulation in April 2010.
    Robert Guerra
  • Thousands of miners took over Madre de Dios province's largest city, Puerto Maldonado, in April 2010 to protest government plans to regulate the informal gold mining sector.
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    Thousands of miners took over Madre de Dios province's largest city, Puerto Maldonado, in April 2010 to protest government plans to regulate the informal gold mining sector.
    Robert Guerra
  • Luis and Carlos Apasa are traditional clay tile craftsmen who live along the Interoceanic Highway in the Andean community of Pinipampa, Peru.
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    Luis and Carlos Apasa are traditional clay tile craftsmen who live along the Interoceanic Highway in the Andean community of Pinipampa, Peru.
    Robert Guerra
  • As his parents clear trees in the jungle so they can build a new home, a child plays in the smoke of burning brush and trees. In addition to the deforestation taking place from the actual gold mining process, migrant mining families who want to settle in the region and live outside of camps are also clearing swaths of the jungle as they establish new communities.
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    As his parents clear trees in the jungle so they can build a new home, a child plays in the smoke of burning brush and trees. In addition to the deforestation taking place from the actual gold mining process, migrant mining families who want to settle in the region and live outside of camps are also clearing swaths of the jungle as they establish new communities.
    Robert Guerra
  • Young students anxiously wait for the school day to end in Marcapata, a village that dates to the late 16th century. With its potential for increasing tourism, the Interoceanic Highway is seen as a great opportunity for some of the historic villages along its route.
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    Young students anxiously wait for the school day to end in Marcapata, a village that dates to the late 16th century. With its potential for increasing tourism, the Interoceanic Highway is seen as a great opportunity for some of the historic villages along its route.
    Robert Guerra
  • An older indigenous couple shop at Plaza Vea, the first large grocery and department store in Juliaca, Peru.
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    An older indigenous couple shop at Plaza Vea, the first large grocery and department store in Juliaca, Peru.
    Robert Guerra
  • In the indigenous Shipibo-Conibo community of El Pilar, Manuel Saavedra surveys the devastation left behind by miners that invaded his property, where his family had planned to plant bananas.
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    In the indigenous Shipibo-Conibo community of El Pilar, Manuel Saavedra surveys the devastation left behind by miners that invaded his property, where his family had planned to plant bananas.
    Robert Guerra
  • A man crosses the Interoceanic Highway near the Peru-Brazil border.
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    A man crosses the Interoceanic Highway near the Peru-Brazil border.
    Robert Guerra

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Roberto (Bear) Guerra is a photographer who focuses on humanitarian, environmental and social justice issues in the United States and Latin America. His work has been published and exhibited widely. You can see more on his website and on FotoVisura.


100 Words is a series in which photographers describe their work, in their own words. Curated by Graham Letorney.

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