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Eldorado do Juma is Brazil's newest boom town which since December has been the destination for thousands of fortune seekers hoping to strike it rich in the heart of the Amazon jungle.
All around them are newly dug pits, felled trees, misery and tales of striking it rich. This is Eldorado do Juma, scene of Brazil's biggest gold rush in more than 20 years. Drawn by a Brazilian math teacher's Web site descriptions of miners scooping up thousands of dollars in gold, between 3, and 10, people have poured in since December, cutting down huge trees, diverting streams and digging ever-deeper wildcat mines, in an area that only months ago was pristine rain forest.
Hundreds of mud-covered men with picks and shovels hack at the earth, marking their tiny plots with tree branches and string. Others feed dirt into wooden troughs and the residue into pans.
Even the cooks, cleaners and porters serving the new industry are making about six times the minimum wage. It's reminiscent of Serra Pelada, a mountain that became a gargantuan hole in the jungle floor after a gold rush in the early s, immortalized in Sebastiao Salgado's photos of what looked like a hellish human anthill. I've been mining all around the Amazon since and this is the best I've ever seen," said Joao Leandro de Azedo, 70, overlooking his stake from a hammock.
Half the proceeds went to the man who staked out his plot, and 8 percent more to Jose Ferreira da Silva Filho, who claims to own the entire "garimpo," or wildcat mine. Already, too many people are chasing too little gold and there isn't enough space for all the miners at the eight main digging sites. It already has bars, restaurants, barbershops, bakeries, equipment shops and jewelry stores, most of them constructed out of tree branches and tarps.