The railroad tracks are just another footpath to follow. There haven’t been trains here for decades. Handmade carts piled with sacs of charcoal move along their rails, barefoot runners pushing towards town from behind. Junot and I walk together, shouting greetings to people as we pass.
The land here is pockmarked in manmade holes deeper than I stand tall and the river the railroad follows is filled with silt. Desperation and rising gold prices compel my neighbors to spend their days working waist deep in mud. During the last years, shanty settlements along the tracks popped up like mushrooms on a log in spring, and I expect as the gold rush subsides they will wither just the same.
We pause to sip coffee from tiny metal cups at a storefront within a lean-to made from thatched leaves. Instant noodle wrappers and plastic bags blow by like tumbleweeds. The woman who served us squats next to a fire, and she gossips about a kid who fell into one of the holes last week and died. Junot lights a cigarette. When my cup is drained and his butt is flicked into the fire, we continue on.
The rest of the team is waiting for us when we arrive to village. The fog of the morning has cleared, and from the edge of the dozen or so houses I can see the entirety of the land before us, massive and green. We discuss the plan one more time at the school house, a barn-sized building with the horned skull of a zebu bull mounted on its face, and then we hike into the rainforest.
It’s cool inside. The trees are small and the canopy dense. My steps crunch leaf litter, my beard eats thorns. When I finish the survey I meet the others and we review what we found. A new hole dug by miners. Several felled trees, illegal lumber now waiting for secret transport to market in the night.
We fill in the hole. We mark the felled trees. Junot and I walk the railroad tracks back to town.