Over the last decade, many ecolodges have cropped up in the Peruvian Amazon. Ecolodges should always focus on conducting research and taking actions aimed at the preservation of green areas threatened by deforestation, mining, and agriculture, but sadly, most of them exploit, rather than protect, the rainforest and its inhabitants.
Inotawa Expeditions, a family-owned ecolodge and the host of the 2015 Advice Project Leadership and Empowerment Summit, is one of only a handful of ecolodges that is truly committed to both the conservation and reforestation of the rainforest in the Madre de Dios region of Peru. The lodge supports the sustainable use of resources by partnering with various universities and local people who have an interest in preserving their forests through conservation of ancestral areas. These local people live within the La Torre community (a group of indigenous people of Ese’Eja decent, mestizo farmers, and people who have moved from mountain communities to look for work). Inotawa has formed an agreement with an organization founded by a group of families from La Torre, called the Association of Residents of La Torre for Ecotourism and Sustainable Use of Tambopata (AMTUSET).
This morning, after a yoga session with one of our adult leaders, Saskia, (more about yoga in another post!) and then a delicious breakfast, we headed down to the riverbank to board a boat for AMTUSET, where we learned about how local people are preserving their forest through ecotourism and by maintaining cultural traditions and sustainably using resources for protein in diets, resources for homes and crafts, and plants for medicinal use.
There’s no better place to learn about rainforest issues than tromping through the rainforest with a knowledgable, local guide. We hiked through the dense forest, saw parrots fly overhead, followed the paths of white-lipped peccaries (a species of wild pig), and spied on a myriad of industrious insects such as leafcutter ants, which form long highways of ants along the forest floor. We also started learning more about individual species of trees, including chihuahuaco, which set the stage for a volunteering job we’ll take on tomorrow to help reforest the area.
The highlight of today was when our guide, Jaime, showed us how to rub leaves from the Sanipanga plant between the palms of our hands to create a natural dye. Although the leaves were green, when rubbed vigorously, they produced a purple juice. Apparently, some indigenous people believe that if a person is able to extract the juice, that he or she carries good spirits. The members of our group laughed when one teen couldn’t produce the juice… But finally, success — no bad spirits!
We even managed to convince Jaime to pose for a photo amid all of our colorful hands. Some of us thought that he looked like the center of a flower!
Jaime got even by painting the face of one of our teens, Anevay, with the juice from the Sanipanga plant. In addition to the plant producing a vibrant reddish-purple dye, it also acts as a powerful antiseptic!