La Rinconada, Peru: The Highest City in the World

bella durmiente la rinconada

Wednesdays are my big days in Guadalajara. I give two Spanish classes in the morning to a man who works at the US Consulate and his wife, then go to the US Consulate to give two classes there (which I’ll be doing today for the first time and am excited about mostly because I like being a part of things that feel “official”), and then give an English class from 7-9pm (though that might only be this week). So since Wednesdays are my big day I’ve decided to recycle some material from whereswetzler.com and possibly other blogs like markdoesthecamino.blogspot.com, since there’s plenty material to choose from.

Today’s post is from a trip I took two years ago to La Rinconada, Peru, the highest permanent settlement on earth at around 16,800 feet. Stop a moment to imagine that. Imagine a city built 2,000 feet higher than the top of Mount Rainier. Imagine the weather, the temperature, the way the air would feel when you breathed it, the way the sun would feel on your skin. La Rinconada was a unique place, but not necessarily in a good way. Hopefully these pictures give at least a little insight as to why.

la rinconada, peru

This was the view from my hotel room.  It cost 30 soles a night (about 9 bucks USD).  There was only a urinal.  If you wanted to go number two you had to go down to the street and use the public bathrooms.

Every street in La Rinconada has at least a small stream of raw sewage running through it.  Dogs drinks from this water.  The smell is overpowering.  It gets on your shoes and follows you everywhere you go.

A lonely miner eats lunch.

Food at the top of the world.  This is chicharron with salad and potatoes. It was good, but silverware would’ve been nice. The miner pictured above was eating with his hands, so I did, too.

La Rinconada is surrounded on all sides by trash.

This is another town below La Rinconada.  It looks like Mordor.  Notice the soccer field on the left, though, the tiny patch of green amidst a sea of gray trash and zinc roofs.  La Rinconada has several soccer fields.

Two miners make their way towards the center of town.  When I started to go down this path a woman said, “Don’t go down there, it’s dangerous.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because it’s dangerous.”

“Why is it dangerous?”

“Because anything could happen…”

la rinconada, peru

La Bella Durmiente, or, Sleeping Beauty.  She presides over all of La Rinconada.  Coming into town you see a glacier, and below that a grey smudge.  The grey smudge is the town.  You think to yourself, “No one should be living here.”

I wanted to get a photo of the town with the mountain in the background, but when I tried to walk out was blocked by sewage. I only stayed one night in La Rinconada, and the next day was happy to leave.

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