Few words can describe the emotional impact of coming across a clear cut field in the middle of a dense, lush, green jungle. Astonishment, bewilderment, and intense sadness were just some of the things we felt as we crossed the stream at the edge of Hoja Nueva’s property and the formerly forested hills came into view. Row upon row of neatly planted, yellow-green corn stalks jutted from the landscape, reflecting the brutal rays of the Amazon sun back into our eyes. It was so different from the soft green and blue light that filters through the thick forest canopy that we’d become so accustomed to. Beneath our feet, the grey dust of the soil and the charred skeletons of 400-year-old trees crunched and snapped.
It was difficult to see these once noble giants of the forest felled and dry – and for what purpose? To plant the same species of the same crop over and over again. These crops will then produce for only a few years, depleting the soil of essential nutrients in the process and leaving it barren and open to the harsh sun so that no new life can sprout up.
The Community Team spent three days learning about how environmental and sociopolitical issues within Peru affect ARCAmazon and Lucerna. Both during that time and outside of it, they had the pleasure of expanding their knowledge and vocabulary, sometimes while interacting with dangerous critters. They each chose something that stuck out to them to share with all their lovely readers.
Swim Calmly Luke
“I’m going to place it on the bank and it’s going to calmly swim into the water,” said Harry Turner, our intrepid badass wildlife expert as he clutched onto a hissing caiman. The caiman, a small crocodilian creature with razor sharp teeth and a snapping bite that could easily take off a human finger or hand, had scales so hard the only thing my imagination could compare it to was dragons I had seen in video games or movies.
On a steaming hot day in the middle jungle, our enthusiastic Eco-tourism group ventured three hours up the winding Las Piedras River to Lake Soledad. Our mission: to see and document the famous six foot river otters in their natural habitat. When we arrived at the Amazon River Conservation Center (ARCC) we were overwhelmed by the lavish accommodations and overwhelming natural beauty of this luxury tourist destination.
After a brief lunch of chicken fried rice, we boarded a rickety catamaran and paddled out onto the lake. We were greeted by different species of birds and turtles, who curiously watched our make-shift boat float by.
When entering the Las Piedras, I was unsure of what to expect from the experience. In a location teeming with biodiversity and mystery, I felt like I should expect exquisite sights and sounds and stories—especially since my focus was on the wildlife.
Walking out of the rainforest, there is an important lesson that I am taking away with me: the definition of impressive. Honestly, I never saw a jaguar or an ocelot or a speckled caiman. I’m not disappointed by this; the sights I saw were by pure luck, and I am appreciative of that. I saw two species of monkeys, scarlet macaws, at least 15 species of butterfly, mammoth grasshoppers, numerous frogs, too many arachnids to handle, and endless amounts of other animals. Each experience with each species was like a personal milestone, marking a moment in which the window to the world was cracked open a little wider, letting in a little more light into my life.
In Peru, it seems like the sport that the culture centralizes is ‘futbol’ or soccer. During our stay in Cusco and even during some of the bus rides we have seen many soccer fields with lots of athletes, families, and kids playing. I think sports can provide hope for a lot of young people. It brings people together, gives people purpose, builds character, and community. This I speak from experience, and as a result has become a large and important part of my life.
One of the questions I had for myself for going on this “eco mission” trip was how I was going to hold myself accountable to staying fit. Coaches at college have always stressed the importance of doing right both in, and out of the gym, eating healthy and getting rest too. When I am at my best with this, I can do better work.
Today we head out for a four-hour journey up river to the outpost we’ll be staying at for nearly two weeks. If our satellite phone technology allows, we’ll be updating with some text from the field–photos and videos to come.
This is the heart of our mission–we’re excited to share our stories with you as soon as we can.
Imagine a small Peruvian farming community where people still live as their ancestors have for countless generations. Now imagine the change that would come from placing a busy international airport directly next to this town. Each morning, instead of farm animals welcoming the sun, it is jumbo jets full of international tourists.
How would you feel if you lived in this town?
How would your personal personal health and traditions change?
These are the questions facing the people of Chinchero, the ancient Andean community that our team recently visited.
Our experience in Chinchero was one of traditional weaving, impressive Incan ruins, and the wild ambience of the Andes mountains. If we were to return to Chinchero in a few years, our tourist experience will be much different, but more importantly, by this time, the people who live here will know what it means to sacrifice for their country. The fate of Chinchero’s residents is just one example that cuts at the heart of the vexing question facing the developing world in the 21st century: Progress, but at what cost?
As the Forest Online team journeys through Peru this January, the questionable value of progress is recurrent. We face this question again and again, as like most developing countries around the world, Peru is undergoing rapid industrialization and modernization. In particular, the near universal desire of Peruvians for progress, i.e., economic growth and development, is being answered with new dams, highways, and the loss of natural species and ecosystems to new farms and communities. The benefits of Peru’s progress are often great for the majority of its citizens–better health, wealth, and the many other benefits that come from living a modern 21st century lifestyle. On the flip side, as economists often say, “there is no free lunch.”
Someone must pay for this progress.
In many cases, that “someone” is poor communities, minorities, and the many other species we share the planet with.
This story of Peru’s progress is being replayed over and over across developing Asia, Africa, and Latin America. As a scientist and conservationist, I’ve seen this consistent reality as I travel to the earth’s last forest frontiers. Witnessing these changes unfold firsthand via rainforest destruction and species loss is heartbreaking. At the same time, I am not interested in relegating nations or people to permanent poverty. They want to live how we do in the United States.
Who can blame them?
I often wonder, is there no better way? Must we destroy all that is wild and beautiful so that one of earth’s species can live better? Must progress trump the multitude of values intact ecosystems and ancient cultures provide?
Ideally, we can find a middle path where development and conservation coexist and mutually benefit each other. This outcome is not impossible.
In fact, we see the middle path being played out around the world. For example, in Costa Rica, a vast eco-tourism industry has lead to national prosperity and increased protection of its tropical forests. And in Mexico, local governments are paying poor farmers to preserve their forests to protect national water supplies. Yet, in many cases we must be honest and accept that a middle path may not exist. Some places must be left undeveloped to maintain their natural integrity and other places must be destroyed for the urgent needs of people.
In cases where win-win outcomes are not possible, the question becomes how to decide the fate of species and people? What are the variables we should consider? How do we place a value on species and cultures that may be lost in our pursuit of progress? Who should decide? As we journey deeper into the Amazon these questions will increasingly confront our team through the lens of local people with names and children to feed. With species that are among the last of their kind. And through wild rainforests that are extremely rare and only increasingly so.
In short, the true cost of progress–and whether it is worthwhile–will be continually in our faces, in our hearts, and in our minds. We look forward to continue examining this question as a class. I trust we will all get closer to an individual understanding of the true cost of progress. Our answers may be too late to find a better solution for Chinchero, but perhaps some day down the line we will have learned from this journey–and it will allow us to play a part in advancing true progress.
And per the design of the course, we believe this learning can lead to personal action, and that our stories can be a powerful force to change the world.
CAUTION! The following post contains photographic information that could be frightening, disturbing, or even applicable to viewers like you. Thank you!
Since its declaration as a new UNESCO Wonder of the World, Machu Picchu has seen a sharp increase of visitors as well as price. This increase in price is preventing most Peruvians from attending their own national park. This raises concern because these parks depend on the support of both westerners and Peruvian natives. If Peruvians do not feel that they have a relationship with national parks such as Machu Picchu or other environmental protection agencies, including portions of the rainforest, it would hardly be surprising if they allowed miners to demolish their lands.
Due to the trampling feet of thousands of tourists each day, officials at Machu Picchu are debating whether or not to close a substantial portion of the site. This would no longer allow guests to have an interactive experience with the ruins; instead the tourists would only be permitted to view Machu Picchu from hundreds of feet away. In our opinion, this would subtract from the magic and emotion that Machu Picchu can provide, but it would be beneficial as it would save this historical site from damage. What is your opinion of the closure, and the massive crowds which can be seen at most historical sites? Please write in the comment section below, we would love to hear from you.
Coming from a family of outdoors enthusiasts who love to hike, I have gotten to see many amazing sights in nature growing up. However, the hike up the Intipunku, or Puerta del Sol, trail at Machu Picchu was absolutely the most breathtaking hike I have ever gone on. The weather changed quickly as we rose to the top, with clouds rushing up out of the valley. When the view was clear, we could slowly see Machu Picchu getting farther and farther away from us as the air became more refreshing.
Though the hike was a little tiring because of the high altitude, the view of Machu Picchu and the surrounding valley from the top were unbeatable. We were able to take some time for personal reflection among the clouds, lush vegetation, and ancient ruins – and we could not be more thankful for that.
Getting up at 4:30 is never easy, yet knowing the good to that is to come is enough to pull you straight up to your feet. The plan is to ride a bus to the mountains of Machu Picchu, and that is exactly what we did.
Our first stop was to a town called “Ojanta y Tambo” which translates to “a town to relax and enjoy”. We walked around for a short while to study the architecture, and learned that the town was built for the Incas to have a place to relax amidst their advents.
Shortly after we boarded a train that would streamline us to our final destination. During the ride, it was brought to our attention by Dr. Scullion to notice the ascending of trees up the side of mountains. We learned that the trees were migrating up the side as a result of climate change. Who would have thought trees to be so intelligent?
When we arrived to Machu Picchu, we didn’t hesitate to begin the ascent to the top where we could see the “Sun Gate”. We were all reminded of the challenges of hiking in the altitude. Once we got to the top though, it was all worth it. There might be some merit to the saying that the best view is from the top.
Upon descending there were still a few landmarks that could be seen.
We were guided through the maze of many of of the ruins in the mountains. Amidst the ruins was a temple called “The Temple of Condor,” Giovanna explained that the Condor, or vulture is representative of raising the soul and spirit to the celestial realm. There was once a time when the condors flew freely in the mountains. And now, they have been hunted for the value of their feathers which are thought to have powerful energetic properties.
Lacking the expertise of the many photographers in the forest online, I’ve armed myself with only an iPhone to record my trip. To my surprise, I’ve captured many more scenes in more detail than I had initially anticipated. One of my favorite tools has been the panoramic feature, allowing me to immerse the viewer slighltly more to these incredible scenes which all forms of media hopelessly fail to represent.
Cusco, the Sacred Valley, Chinchero, Moray, and Machu Picchu in panoramic: