Photographers' Blog

Brazil’s Highway of Death

By Nacho Doce

As Marcondes walked to his truck, his wife and mother said goodbye with the words, “Be careful and may God be with you.” I knew why they talked that way; the highway that he was going to take from Rondonopolis to Sorriso in the fertile state of Mato Grosso is nicknamed the “Highway of Death.”

GALLERY: BRAZIL’S TRUCKING LIFELINE

Marcondes and his father, also a truck driver, know it very well. It’s the highway famous for frequent accidents, where drivers pay little attention to the law and the narrow single lanes mean that trucks nearly touch as they pass each other in opposite directions.

This road that bisects unending plantations of cereal grain is full of potholes caused by thousands of fully loaded trucks a day, each weighing nearly 70 tons.

It was a Brazilian movie that sparked my interest in the lives of truck drivers here, and I wanted to see if they were really as portrayed. Shortly after seeing it, a Reuters journalist coincidentally proposed a cross country trip by truck to report on the cost of transporting Brazil’s riches – soybeans and corn – from the grain belt to the biggest seaport, Santos, on the Atlantic coast.

It was the latest of my dream trips – 5,000 kilometers and 10 days spent inside a truck, waiting as they loaded and unloaded grain cargo, sleeping in the top bunk inside the cabin, showering and eating in the same places as the truckers, and using the occasional stops to photograph different aspects of the journey.

Catching gold fever

For the past 15 years Boonchu Tiengtan has been digging for gold in Panompa, a small village in Thailand’s Phichit province. His bare hands, a hammer and a shovel are his only tools.

Boonchu Tiengtan carries a load of stones to break at a primitive gold mine in Panompa near Phichin February 17, 2011.  REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Boonchy’s spouse sits in the shade of netting and patiently breaks rock into small stones with her little mallet. They seem to be a happy couple, laughing and joking when talking about what they do. We call it a hard job and primitive gold digging; they call it the only life they know.

A woman breaks stones at a primitive gold mine in Panompa near Phichin February 17, 2011.  REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

With gold prices skyrocketing and investors finding safe haven in precious metal, Boonchu and his wife make $30 dollars a day. That is more than what an average rural Thai family makes in the agriculture industry or with livestock.