By Jorge Silva
We are just north of the Amazon Basin, riding a boat on the Ikabaru River. The passengers are people who buy gold and diamonds. They stop at each of the illegal mines that appear as craters on the river’s edge. They carry small weighing scales that seem very accurate, magnifying loupes, burners to melt the gold and separate the mercury, and some large spoons to collect it.
They are also carrying bags full of cash.
We are very close to the porous and at times imperceptible triple border between Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana. The area is remote and hard to access. Getting here takes a day of navigating along the river, or flying in one of the small planes that land on makeshift dirt landing strips. There are no roads.
To get here days before, we flew on a small Cessna over the area where the immense savanna and its table-top mountains meet the jungle.
The first landing was on a strip where a group of people were preparing a robust Antonov An-2 Soviet-era plane to carry supplies to the area of the mines.
There I spent a good portion of the morning talking to the pilot and waiting for the clouds to clear. He talked to me about the perils of having a plane with a carburetor, and the problems brought by constantly needing buckets of oil. His worries include the risks of landing in short, muddy landing strips carrying the 8+ tons weight of the plane when it is loaded with its cargo of gasoline barrels.