Back home in Urubamba it is a drizzly Friday morning and I sit with my mate to contemplate our recent adventure to the Amazon. I never thought I would be able to go to the Amazon again after my journey to the Ecuadorian Amazon when I studied during my semester abroad there in 2005. It seems like ages ago that me and my group of 11 companions walked along the brown carpeted floors of the forest with our lungs pulsating with more oxygen than ever before as we peered every so often up at the canopy completely protecting us overhead. Our guide, a local from that region, showed us spiders, fruit I had never heard of before, let alone bitten into, taught us the bird calls of the creatures that we mostly heard and never saw, and in general filled us with a spirit of awe and respect for this great expanse of nature before us.
Fifteen of us traveled a long way into the Amazon this time. We took a bus from Urubamba to Cusco, an overnight bus from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado, and in the morning were greeted by Robin and Ivonne at the bus station and drove almost directly to the river Las Piedras upon our hot and humid arrival to the urban heart of the Southern Peruvian Amazon. Once at the river we took a short 20-minute boat ride to Las Piedras Amazon Center or LPAC, a conservation center that aims to work with the Las Piedras river corridor to conserve the forest through research and eco-tourism. Once again I felt myself immersed in the sites, sounds, and smells of a place in nature that has no equal, that is the source of life for humanity, the lungs of planet Earth.
Our guide Robin, who called himself Robin Hood upon our encounter, was eager to tell us everything he knew about this region. He had grown up here and he has been leading groups, especially students, for the last decade and a half. He took us on a number of walks where we were able to appreciate the flora and fauna of the Las Piedras rivershed. During our time with Robin we were able to hear bird calls which he was not only able to imitate but also replicate, we saw screeching macaws at a salt lick on the banks of the river, we caught a quick glimpse of a dusty titi monkey, white-bellied caymans on one evening boat ride, a chicken tarantula, turtles napping on logs in the river, etc. Needless to say that our eyes and our ears were alive with life in the jungle.
At LPAC there are a number of biologists that are researching questions with the ultimate aim of aiding with the conservation of this region. We heard a couple presentations highlighting the iconic Anaconda and Jaguar. These data gathered on these particular animals and others will hopefully draw awareness and funds to help protect these creatures and the habitat they live in. This work is incredibly tedious and requires passion and a deep-felt respect for all things wild.
In the jungle, especially in eco-lodges as we were staying in at LPAC, one can sometimes forget about the tragedies happening in other parts of the forest. This is why it is important to have the facts and figures and stories of those that have lived through some of these constant misfortunes. As many of you probably know the Amazon rain-forest is being deforested at an incredible rate. According to the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project or MAAP found that 143,425 hectares was deforested in the Peruvian Amazon in 2017 alone. To put this into perspective this is about 200,000 soccer fields. This loss of primary forest (or forest that has not been altered by humans before) is largely due to illegal gold mining, logging, and general agriculture (anything from the production of palm oil, grassland for livestock, and crops such as cacao, papaya, and corn, among others). Specifically, illegal gold mining and agricultural practices require the clearing of the forest in order to cipher for gold and to plant crops or convert to grassland for livestock. (If you would like to see the satellite images you can appreciate this more). This is a depressing and debilitating reality both for the forest, the inhabitants (both human and wild), and the world as a whole. The Amazon rain-forest helps to suck carbon dioxide out of the air and also helps to cool the Earth so it stabilizes temperatures. With more and more of the forest disappearing it is less able to do these important jobs, let alone house the vast biodiversity and native cultures that call this area home.
I would like to share a story that Robin related to the group while at the foot of a Ceiba tree–one of the most respected of the jungle. This was Robin’s way of sharing his thoughts on what is happening currently in the Amazon.
One day the Ceiba tree, the queen of the jungle, was worried because it had heard that some men were coming to cut her down. All the animals of the forest gathered for a meeting in order to discuss what they could do. The jaguars, monkeys, turtles, snakes, toucans, macaws, anteaters, pumas, and frogs all put their heads together to conjure up a solution for the fate of the Ceiba tree, their mother. Finally the monkeys volunteered to go throw things from the tops of the trees at the men so that they would be scared away and they wouldn’t come close to the tree. The monkeys left jumping from branch to branch until they came to the men and they threw everything they could at the men but the men fought back with bullets and the monkeys had no chance. They fell to the ground or they fled. And so the animals tried to think in what other way they could defend the Ceiba tree. They decided that the snakes could go next led by the most powerful of them all, the Anaconda. The snakes slithered away and came close to the men and they surrounded them and tried to encircle them but the men pulled out their machetes and chopped the snakes to bits. At this point the men were nearing the Ceiba tree and the animals didn’t know what to do. They surrounded the tree and as the men put their chainsaw to the Ceiba’s trunk all the animals of the forest started gathering the Ceiba’s seeds so that they could scatter the forest with her fruit so that one day other seedlings could grow and become adult Ceibas. The animals were saddened by their fallen queen but they had hope for her seedlings and their respective futures. Meanwhile, the men took the ceiba trunk and cut it into fine planks and then bundled her up to transport her down the river. It was the rainy season so the river was high and they put the planks of the Ceiba on rafts and tied them down well and then they set sail down the river. The rain was falling hard and the river was rising high and the men were becoming nervous about their precious load. At one of the river’s bends that raft capsized and the ceiba planks plummeted to the bottom of the river, stuck in the mud. The men were also catapulted into the river and had to swim to shore to save themselves. The Ceiba stayed in the depths of the river, her new resting place.
Robin told the group that what is part of the jungle should always stay in the jungle. This is the law of the land but with so much human migration to the jungle and demand of products like gold, fine timber, palm oil, beef, papaya, cacao, corn, and other products that the deforested regions of the rain-forest provide, the rule of nature is slowly being drowned out by the rule of man.
Is what I have learned most during this trip to the Amazon. And I hope that we can keep cultivating respect through informing ourselves more and more and becoming more conscientious of each of our footprints. The students, I am sure, will have plenty of stories to share with you. Ask them for their perspective on the rain-forest, as I believe it will be richer than gold and will help us carry the baton of conservation ever forward. If you would like to read an informative article on deforestation in the Amazon you can read an article published in 2015 by WWF.