Peru: surfing and saving the rainforests – or rather just documenting their devastation?
One sleepless summer night after having read Gert Nygårdshaug's Mengele Zoo, feeling frustrated about my life, the world and my capabilities to do anything about its problems, lead to a Google search "Volunteering Amazonas Renewable Energy". This had unexpected consequences. It brought me in contact with ARCAmazon, a non-governmental organization working to conserve a particular piece of rainforests in South-Eastern Peru. A couple of weeks later I had assigned myself for volunteering at their concession in the Peruvian Amazonas for two weeks in January and applied for one month leave from my job in Trondheim. A month later I had booked my flights to Peru. A half a year later I was standing alone at the chaotic airport of Lima, feeling slightly scared and confused – how did I actually end up coming here?
The North – the surf
There's no chance I would travel all the way to South America without doing any surfing, and hence my Peruvian experience started with a week in Huanchaco. Huanchaco is a cute old fishing town in Norther Peru packed with Peruvian fishermen and tourists, mixed up with western surfers and backpackers. The place is only 1.5 hours away from the famous Chicama surf spot, known as the world's longest left wave; but for my disappointment January is not the season for that spot, it was essentially flat, so I did not get to ride this famous wave. Nevertheless, Huanchaco had plenty of good surfing to offer, and it's particularly a good place for learning. Within a week consisting mainly of surfing, sleeping and eating, I managed to build up my surfing skills and muscles considerably, and I left the town feeling almost like a real surfer. Little did I know that this illusion would get badly crushed during my last week in Peru, in Lobitos, where the surf was considerably more challening...
South-East – the jungle
The next stop was the region of Madre de Dios in South-Eastern Peru, and there a city called Puerto Maldonado - the gate to the jungle. Puerto Maldonado is a chaotic town with Wild West vibes, inhabited by people living off the jungle, through logging, mining and ecotourism. Puerto Maldonado is also an important crossing point along the Interoceanic Highway, which is a transcontinental highway connecting Peru and Brazil, crossing the Amazonas. This infamous highway has undoubtedly had positive consequences for the economies of these two countries, while leading to accelerating rates of deforestation, illegal hunting and loss of biodiversity in the rainforest. Also my trip to the jungle started from the Interoceanic Highway, taking off to a dirt road to get deep in to the Amazonas.
Caption: At the gate to the jungle.
Peruvian Amazonas faces two major threads. One of them is the gold mining industry, which has led to large areas of the rain forests getting thoroughly devastated. Apart from the actual mining areas that need to be digged inside out, the mercury emissions from the mines pollute the rivers, creating an impact that extends far away from the actual mines. Another major thread are the local communities – many of which who got access to the Amazonas through the Interoceanic Highway – that destroy the rainforests little by little through small-scale agriculture, logging, illegal hunting, and so forth.
Caption: Wood on its way out of the jungle.
The concession I was volunteering at is located next to a local community called Lucerno. The people of Lucerno are not initially from the jungle, but arrived from the Andes for only some years ago, escaping a massive cocaine problem in the mountains and hoping to find a better life in the jungle. However, as the jungle is not their native habitat, they do not treat it as it is. They log the jungle for small-scale agriculture, hunt apes and other jungle mammals, and take down big trees. A part of the work that ARCAmazonas does is to work together with these people to make them see the value in a forest that is standing – for instance through eco-tourism – as well as to teach them sustainable ways to utilize the forest. The last mentioned includes for instance sustainable farming of cacao, a project launched by two brave American girls called Hoja Nueva.
Caption: Playing volleyball with the people of Lucerno. The blue building on the right is a school.
I spent 1.5 weeks in the jungle, in the ARCAmazon base along the Las Piedras river. My task was to try to improve the sustainability of the base, although the days in the jungle were mainly filled up with long walks, helping out in daily routines, and just getting to know and getting used to the place. Considering the sustainability however, there was a lot to do. The power demand of the camp – used for pumping water, lights and a freezer – is at the moment covered with a gasoline generator. Same applies to the local community, Lucerno. My mission became to help the organization in converting to solar power, simply through mapping the total power demand, and later, after my trip, helping with funding applications. I am quietly hoping to be able to make this into a bigger green energy project, including Lucerno. Changing to solar power would not only reduce emissions and noise, but greatly cut the expenses of the organization, saving money to something more important than transporting fuel to the jungle.
Caption: Searching for an anaconda. Found only its trail, though.
The jungle is not the easiest place for a human being. The first thought that struck me when entering the rainforests was that it is certainly the most optimal place for life to exist – every single square centimeter is filled with living organisms! – but us humans should not be there. It is hot and humid, incredibly dense, and there are many hazards; poisonous snakes, mosquitoes and sandflies that spread diseases, and trees are often covered by spikes. A rule in the jungle is that you should never crab anything without looking, not even, or especially not if you stumble. Nevertheless, most of these threads are easy to avoid, and fascination quickly takes over the anxiety. Afterwards I did start thinking that people should go to the rainforests. Ecotourism is, when done in the correct way, extremely important for conserving the Amazonas.
Caption: The Las Piedras river and around. The way it should be.
Mountains and more
After my jungle experience, I did a must-do-visit to the Andes and Machu Picchu; and a short week in another surf spot in Northern Peru, Lobitos. But my mind was busy in thinking how and if could I actually help ARCAmazon in realizing their solar power plans. And I felt extremely grateful for that I might actually be able to contribute in something I find so important. Getting high from doing things such as surfing and snowboarding is something I could hardly live without – but contributing to keeping this planet green is something that gives me the meaning for being here.
Caption: Got a picture taken of myself at Machupicchu.