Familiar Strangers in the Forest

IMG_2054Deep in the heart of the Amazon jungle, an eclectic group spread across rough-hewn benches on a packed-earth floor, sipping fresh-made tea. They were gathered at a new site for conservation and education, the Las Piedras Amazon Center (LPAC). Rain drummed against a large tarp roof as the group of participants, from all over the world, sat elbow-to-elbow:

  • Twelve American college students, from many different disciplines
  • Nine Future Leaders—young Peruvian professionals and college students
  • Six local partners, from scientists to support staff
  • Two volunteers from Europe, accomplished professionals eager to share their expertise

The participants were gathered for a two-day workshop, focused on learning and telling some of the stories of the Madre de Dios rainforest, one of the most biodiverse places on earth. They were gathered to dialogue across political and cultural borders–an important task, requiring both small steps and big leaps of confidence.

The conversation focused on the intersection of ecotourism, sustainable farming, and wildlife conservation and kicked off with a panel discussion led by Dr. Jason Scullion (president of Wild Forest and Fauna), Luis Garcia (president of ARCAmazon), and Romulo (president of Palma Reale). Each panel member shared their nonprofit’s history and its mission.

They explained afresh that the challenges each of their organizations face share many commonalities: their dedication to the region and its diversity, the momentary setbacks their missions have faced, and what they hope to achieve. At each step of the way, they answered many student questions–about sustainability and opportunities, about environmental impact and networking potentials, about the rainforest and its inhabitants.

The incredible work showcased was invigorating; the interest in everyone’s faces was clear. Each new facet of the discussion hinted at the enormous promise the Las Piedras Amazon Center has for bringing far-flung people together.

For the next day of the workshop, everyone moved around and joined one of five different teams. Their objective? Simply to “tell a story, focusing on first impressions of the rainforest with the outside world.”

Introductions began, conversations started. As each group set to work, the writers had to work through different expectations of storytelling, different languages, different experiences and beliefs. Together, they wrote their stories in both English and Spanish, refining them in multiple stages with additional facts and context.

There was back and forth between people who had just met each other for the first time, brought together in an unfamiliar environment by their admiration for the beauty and thrill of the wild. There was a lot of awkward translation and searching for words, sustained by friendly smiles and genuine interest in how the other person saw the world. And as they worked, they discovered how many commonalities they had with each other, how familiar these former “strangers” began to feel.

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The workshop leaders initially thought that everyone would focus on their own stories, their own experiences. While those factors influenced the participants’ storytelling decisions, what was written was more imaginative, more surprising, than they first expected.

Read them here for yourself:

Of course, it’s hard to change the world in just two days of workshops. But stories were written on more than just paper as people shared email addresses and social media contacts. New narratives were written and the groundwork laid for many sequels to come–relationships that would give rise to new plotlines bridging continents, new character arcs in the endeavor to conserve the rainforest and support its inhabitants.

Ecotourism Team Field Update–Los lobos del agua, aka Adventure at Lake Soledad

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.

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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.

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Continue reading “Ecotourism Team Field Update–Los lobos del agua, aka Adventure at Lake Soledad”

The Tourist Gaze: Unrealistic Expectations

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http://www.nathab.com/central-america/costa-rica-adventure/

Lucy and Elizabeth write about their thoughts on the benefits and concerns associated with Ecotourism, a rapidly expanding industry, which ARCAmazon will utilize in order to conserve the Peruvian Rainforest.

As government officials construct the Estrada de Pacifico, an extensive highway plan which extends from Brazil through the rainforest to the coast of Peru, many environmentalists are concerned about the effects the road will have on the Amazon. Constructing such a road will lead to higher rates of deforestation, which already destroys more than 150 acres lost every minute of every day. The highway could also increase the threat of gold mining illegal logging extraction of the forest resources there is also the threat of farmers entering the forest and using slash and burn agriculture, to destroy mass amounts of trees and natural habitats, to create nutrient rich soil for farming.

Without a plan for conservation and protection the future of the Amazon rainforest remains in jeopardy. By utilizing the resources of scientific experts, and collaborating with community members organizations like ARC Amazon can play an effective and significant role in the protection of the rainforest. It is crucial that ARC Amazon is aligning themselves in the best way possible both ethically and environmentally as they introduce tourists to the Peruvian jungle. Ecotourism provides ARC Amazon the credentials to be an environmentally friendly tourist destination, which will appeal to both environmentally concerned enthusiasts and explorers alike. To advertise as an ecotourist destination, It is essential that ARC Amazon creates sustainable profit while educating and promoting the values of conservation and research.  Fortunately the Amazon rainforest provides numerous opportunities for  ARC Amazon to fulfill the criteria of being an ecotourist friendly centre.

Continue reading “The Tourist Gaze: Unrealistic Expectations”

Ecotourism: From the Rolling Hills of Central Maryland to the Rainforests of Peru

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From Carroll County Dept. of Recreation & Parks

For two Environmental majors with an avid interest in nature and love for travel, a class preparing us for an adventure in Peru is the ideal academic setting. That trip, however, is not until January and we need to find our nature fix elsewhere to unwind from academic, extracurricular, and social stress during the semester.

Fortunately, we (Cris and Jase) have convenient access to a local park called Hashawha Environmental Center, which we use as a way to enjoy nature and de-stress.  Just a few weeks ago on a beautiful Maryland autumn afternoon, we found ourselves lost in nature at Hashawha, both figuratively and literally (We both love adventure but unfortunately neither of us have particularly strong navigational abilities)!  Not only does Hashawha provide a beautiful natural setting for the general public to enjoy, but it also serves as a unique way to preserve the native flora and fauna of the east coast of North America found specifically in Carroll County.

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Photo by Jason Swartz (Hashawha Environmental Center)

Continue reading “Ecotourism: From the Rolling Hills of Central Maryland to the Rainforests of Peru”