Photo post by Elizabeth Mann
Photo post by Elizabeth Mann
Join us for in-person storytelling, with tons of multimedia: video clips of puma, interviews with people who live in the rainforest, pictures of monkeys, and Q&A about much, much more.
All welcome! Free and open to the public.
Deep 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:
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.
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.
A collaborative story written during a creative writing workshop between the Forest Online and Wild Forest and Fauna’s Future Leaders program. Written by Cris, Elizabeth, Lucy, and Antenor.
Today I felt so privileged to be here in the Amazon Rainforest. Not everyone has this amazing opportunity to be here in the jungle. To be here, see the sights, smell the scents, and experience the Las Piedras River.
Today we arrived in the Amazon at 9 am after traveling by peki-peki 40 miles up the river from Puerto Maldonado with my friends
I felt so blessed to travel with my friends and feed my adventurous spirit that has been confined for too long. I cannot wait to open my mind to the beauty of this jungle. I’ve lived in Perú all my life but have never explored this river. I have heard people speak of this place and now I get to actually see it for myself. I cannot wait to take a walk through the dense jungle and see the biodiversity of the animals, but I also am also excited to be in such a remote place that has a booming population of trees instead of people.
We woke up very early in the morning, took a lengthy trip across the vast river and journeyed for a long, muddy, hilly walk in the Biodiversity capital of the world. Our destination…the acclaimed Macaw claylick.
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.
“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.
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.