Life in the Woods, Peruvian Style! Part 1

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October 12th 2010
Published: December 1st 2010
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Little did I know, embarking nearly four months ago to South America, that I would have the opportunity to learn firsthand about the controversial topic of logging in the Amazon. Even less did I anticipate that I would come to know a group Madereros like family, and how much they would teach me.

In Pucallpa, it´s hard not to know people. It seems that the abundance of the land here, with her wide stretches of fresh water and ample edibles, is mirrored in the open hearts of the people. One friend leads to another, and I soon found myself aquainted with the entire family of my friend Alejandro. One afternoon, as I sat chatting in the family´s yard, drinking juice with the uncles in the shade, watching copious nieces and nephews playing volleyball, the subject of the family business came up.

This family, like many others in the region, organizes timber expeditions. I was curious, and began asking them questions, which soon prompted an invitation for me to accompany the group into the jungle in the coming weeks.

I, even more curious, had numerous questions, including:¨Where? How many other women will there be? How does the business work? For how long? When? What are your expectations of me? How will we get there? What will we eat?¨

Tío Lucho and Alfredo (for they had long ago insisted that I call them ¨uncles¨) were quick to assure me that it was a family timber business, and that I would be welcome and taken care of. Their smiles shone radiantly as they talked about the huge trees, all of the animals, and the pace of life in the campamento. I listened with interest as they gave me the logistical run-down, but told them I would definitely need to think it over. I wondered if there might be a catch. Or maybe the family could understand that everyone needs experiences in nature, and that I was ready to leave the city.

I considered how I was doing in general with my ALG project. I realized that I would both have an opportunity for even deeper immersion in Spanish if I went, and also an incredible window into traditional ecological knowledge, an interest of mine apart from the focus of my project. And, of course, I could play in the forest!

I stayed in touch with the tíos, gathering as much information as I could in advance, and preparing to take off and visit, for the first time in my travels here, a place with no tourist infrastructure whatsoever. As is typical of my experiences in Peru, an expercted departure for Wednesday turned into Friday, then Sunday, and eventually into the following Wednesday. I went back and forth within this window of time, debating if I should go. The positive aspects included time away from the city, with people I would never otherwise meet, learning about the woods from folks who live in them, and having a challenge. The things I was wary of were unclear financial expectations of me, health issues (venemous snakes, jaguars, and the insessant insects), and having a challenge. Eventually, a good amount of time weighing the options and feeling fairly stagnant with my textiles project led me to go ahead and have faith in these friends.

I told the tíos that I would love to come, and purchased some last minute gear (hat, long sleeves, more sunscreen- sadly nothing like the organic and natural type I am privileged enough to have access to back home). Next was a morning of shopping for bulk foods around the port of Pucallpa. Who would have thought detirmining which gigantic sacks of rice we liked best would be so time consuming? Especially because I was helping to buy supplies and because I am interested in food ecology, this was a wonderful way to learn more about how river-folk live. Indeed, in the port of Pucallpa, you can feel the influx and flow of more than just water- there are so many goods, foods, and people moving between the city, smaller towns, indigenous villages, and off to Iquitos. The boats range from peki-pekis (motorized canoes) to multi-level passenger and cargo boats that sail for the bigger city of Iquitos.

The most unsettling sight on Pucallpa´s waterfront, along with profuse plastic rubbish and oil smears on the Ucayali, is the port where the lumber is brought in. It is like a huge graveyard for ancient trees. Not one in homage to their spirits but simply a resting place for wood waiting to be bought, sold or used. It was with thiçe senaçsation of being here that I made it my intention to bear witness to what the madereros were doing. With my ignorance or their practices, customs, and circumstances, I couldn´t detirmine my feelings towards theor practices before seeing it with my own eyes. And see I did.


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