Leaving the Amazon… Part 3
October 9, 2010 § Leave a comment
We spent 8 days in the Xixuaú reserve in total exploring the surrounding forest, sometimes walking along tracks, though mostly by canoe. Despite not being well adapted to the heat, humidity and countless bites, I was by the end of our time spent in the community starting to feel comfortable with the pace of everyday life. People watching here is just as fascinating as anywhere, like sitting in a coffee shop on Brick Lane in London seeing the unexpected, as people flow by. Although here the pace is understandably somewhat slower, you can observe a steady flow of activity, people going down to the riverside to do their washing or pushing off in a canoe for a spot of fishing or doing the tiring work of planting mandioca (mandioca is one of the widest eaten root vegetables in the world and for Amazonian people is the equivalent of our potato). On the other hand there is also plenty sitting to be observed, people quietly letting the time pass by. In such a peaceful and tranquil place it would be a waste not to simply sit, listen and appreciate the environment surrounding us. I have often heard people compare the feeling of being inside a rainforest as evoking sensations similar to when you step into a vast cathedral, with the sunlight streaming in through the canopy creating the same effect of the stained glass windows, or drawing parallels between the spirituality experienced in both these places; the rainforest being a place for humans beings to feel inspired by our strong connection with nature. For the sake of not inviting any controversy by mentioning anything about religion, politics, etc… I will not attempt to draw any such fancy parallels. However I will say for those who like nature (and I am yet to meet anyone who can truthfully say that they don’t) experiencing the epic-ness of the rainforest is unique, with its rich textures, strange smells and often-frightening sounds, like the time we encountered some howler monkeys, but had no idea from what beasts this deep ghostly sound was coming from as it gradually approached, until we promptly turned to walk in the other direction.
This uniqueness is just one of the reasons I feel so strongly about protecting the remaining rainforests. Although I think this is one of the most important reasons, as it would be unthinkably sad to live in a world in the future where the only place you can experience unspoilt rainforest is in a book or a 3D animated Pixar film, it is though a reason we don’t often mention. We don’t need to declare that the rainforest is a beautiful place as a reason to protect it, firstly because it seems a bit airy and fanciful to talk this way and might invite the ‘treehugger’ label, but mainly because there are so many other logical reasons as to why it needs to be protected. Reasons such as the rainforest being a carbon sink and that reducing deforestation is the most cost-effect solution to tackle greenhouse emissions and climate change. Not to mention the medical potential of their unexplored biodiversity or our simple dependency on the rainforest ecosystem for fresh water and global agriculture. All these environmental services are provided by the forest of Xixuaú and the Amazon as a whole. In the past, the money to pay for the protection of these environmental services has come from donations or not at all. Today we are looking for new financial models that in the future will see the global community paying for these services which we all depend upon and would be impoverished without.
The community of Xixuaú have been protecting their forest for decades and make the point that without their presence the ‘business as usual’ scenario would have left a significantly different picture than the one we see today. Though at present the community Cooperative is largely dependant on eco-tourism and donations, it does have plans to diversify its operations and create other alternative income generation activities. Such as a nut-processing facility which will enable them to process the castanha nuts they collect from the forest adding value to their produce before taking it to market. There are also ambitions to create a scientific research centre that will begin to examine some of the unique species they have in this biodiversity hotspot. Although these enterprises will eventually become self-financing, to begin with they require considerable investment. Helping to provide communities with this initial investment for activities like these, that will create alternative income generation is the most effective way for organisations like bloomtrigger to protect rainforest and this will play a key role in the conservation strategy we intend to implement through ‘the bloomtrigger project’. This model effectively makes the trees worth more standing than cut down.
Leaving Xixuaú seemed to take half the time, as leaving a place often does without the anticipation of arriving. Admittedly we had a much faster speedboat for the first stretch of our journey and the current behind us, so we cruised along the water taking pictures of the sunlit canopy and the occasional maloca perch on the river banks. At one point the speed became slightly too much for my hat which blew clean off my head and most likely is now sat at the bottom of the river, being shredded by piranhas (if piranhas have a taste for hats, that is?). Fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you look at these things it wasn’t my hat! (sorry Dave I’ll find you another one). Any how we arrived back in the village of Moura to await our slowboat back to Manaus. The Slowboat wasn’t expected until 3am so we had a good 8 hours to kill, luckily it was a Saturday night and the locals where out for a night on the town, the two and half bars that we found were lively enough to keep us entertained. We played some pool with the locals and we were kindly invited into the home of a local family who had cooked some dinner for us, as we discovered there was no place in the town to buy a meal. As we sat on the wooden floor of their house eating our bowl of chicken and rice the family of eight crowded around their small colour TV to watch their favourite soap opera. It wasn’t immediately obvious that this family in Moura had noticeably less than any family in Xixuaú, though the conditions that they lived in struck me as a family who had very little and it would be difficult for me to tell them not to poach turtles if that was the only income they could find. It is needless to say that in order to protect rainforest it will be vital to consider the needs of all the local people who live within it.
Our slowboat arrived in Moura at 4am, we boarded quickly and immediately jostled for a place to string up our hammocks. The rest of the journey involved much sleeping and pleasantly watching the forest canopy go by. As we approached the port of Manaus we passed under the half-built suspension bridge that at night is impressively lit up by its construction. This was a clear image of the money and development that is flowing through Manaus. We only spent a couple of days in Manaus, staying with and meeting the friendly people who work for FAS (Fundação Amazonas Sustentável). Manaus looks to me like a filthy and disorganised city, though there is a raw energy and excitement about the place. We visited the Amazon Theatre (Teatro Amazonas), an opera house located in the heart of Manaus. It was built during the colonial period at a time when fortunes were made in the rubber boom. This rubber boom played an important part of the economic and social history of Brazil, as being the extraction and commercialization of rubber. This boom was centred in the Amazon, facilitating a large expansion of colonization, attracting wealth, encouraging the growth of Manaus. I mention this because it had a large influence on the rainforest in the Amazon. The trade of rubber tapping (which was no longer required since the invention of modern rubber) was the environmentally friendly extraction of a forest resource, which caused the rubber tappers to defend their forests against outsiders who wanted to clear the forest for logging and cattle ranching. Leading this fight was a rubber tapper called Chico Mendes, who was eventually murdered by ranchers that opposed his activism, making him a legend and icon for rainforest protection in Brazil. Manuel, one of the older guides from Xixuaú, before moving to the community used to be a rubber tapper from the State of Acre and kindly demonstrated the art of tapping rubber to us during our stay. He causally mentioned that he used to tap rubber alongside Chico Mendes, which may not mean a great deal to me or you, but I imagine is a bit like saying you used to write lyrics with Bob Marley or play the odd round of golf with Tiger Woods. It made me smile.