Peru's new highway to the future
The Interoceanic Highway, which will connect Peru's Pacific coast to the shores of the Atlantic in Brazil, could revolutionize the region much as the transcontinental railroad did in the US in 1869.
Puerto Maldonado, Peru
Today, his house and workshop are on a paved road. “This was an animal trail in those days," he says.
For years, Assis was the end of the road. Traveling on through the Peruvian Amazon and over the Andes was an adventure on mud tracks. Asked how business is at his roadside mechanic's workshop, the Brazilian gives a thumbs-down. And the lack of a road didn't just hurt his business, but also cut billions of dollars in potential trade between Brazil and Peru.
That’s about to change. After decades of delay, Peru is on the verge of completing the $2.75 billion Interoceanic Highway connecting Mr. Pereira's house – and the rest of Brazil – to the west coast. Pereira, and millions more Brazilians and Peruvians, will see their lives change radically once they live along the continent’s first true transcontinental highway.
Traffic is already growing. Cesar Bonamigo, a diplomat at the Brazilian embassy in Lima, says 3,500 people crossed the border in 2006. As crews laid asphalt in 2009, he says, that rose 10-fold to 35,000.
The last major link in the Interoceanic Highway, a bridge over the Madre de Dios river 143 miles away, is set to open this month. The last rivet in the bridge will be like the golden spike which, in 1869, completed North America’s first transcontinental railroad. There is a road connecting Argentina to Chile, and a roundabout route through Bolivia. But this is the first two-lane, year-round highway across the continent's waist, from the Amazon directly to the Pacific.
From Sao Paulo, near the Atlantic, the highway traverses 2,439 miles of Brazil, crossing coastal hills, soy-farming plains, and the cattle pastures where Amazon rain forest once stood. At last, just beyond Pereira's home, it crosses the Acre River into Peru. The Christian Science Monitor traversed Peru's new road to glimpse its villages and landscapes before they change beyond recognition.
From the border, it's a two-hour drive south across rolling farmland to the tiny village of Triunfo. Scattered spindly trees by the highway are reminders of the rainforest, long since logged over. Miles to the right, where the forests remain more intact, indigenous groups live in voluntary isolation, avoiding industrial society.