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The Amazonian plain of Madre de Dios extends to what seems to be infinite, but we continue traveling through Peru, although in front of us is the immaculate and controversial highway to Brazil, and Bolivia is even closer- in the thicket to our right. That is when we turn left.
It is on this new road, very red because of the composition of the soil in the area, where almost the only vehicle movement – in addition to ours, is represented by large trucks with even larger loads. David says to us: “shihuahuaco” (a.k.a. Brazilian Teak / Cumaru).
David Johnston sits at the back of the minivan, where we traveled for approximately three hours between Puerto Maldonado and our destination. The wavy red road first crosses pastures and hamlets – which can hardly be called communities, and then forests. This is how he acts as an omniscient narrator of what we see on the way to Las Piedras.
Shihuahuaco, meanwhile, is a name that has only recently been heard among the commons of Peruvians, but for loggers – legal or not (more are those who carry the syllable iI ahead), it is a known term and synonymous with money.
Scientists know it as Dipteryx sp. to generalize, because in reality it’s a group of species, all unfortunately with a rapid tendency of populations decrease, due to the demand of the international timber market and the consequent supply response, which does whatever it takes to make the product available, at any cost. The fate of the cedar and mahogany is ahead of the grim future of the shihuahuaco.
This is well known by the great birds (eagles and macaws) that nest almost exclusively in these trees, which require half a century to millennia to be the once invincible giants, but that today fall like toothpicks in front of large diamond saws and hydraulic cranes as if their tons of weight are no impediment.
“More than 120,000 hectares of forests disappear in the Peruvian Amazon every year.” MINISTRY OF THE ENVIRONMENT OF PERU
Las Piedras Amazon Center (LPAC) is where we are going and it is an ecotourism concession, managed by ARCAmazon, which seeks the balance between forests and people through several action points: direct conservation, research, sustainable development of communities and of course, tourism.
This is how upon our arrival, after seeing ten trucks loaded with impressive lifeless logs and feeling a bit bummed out, we met the Quispe family of the Lucerna community, with whom we spent an excellent afternoon seeing their organic cocoa crops; learning about plant varieties; its handling and care, processing, and finally a tasting.
But what has been the most exciting was not seeing and tasting multiple products such as liquor, pasta, toasted and glazed grains, and different combinations with Brazilian nut, but seeing the pride and empowerment of the family, that after dealing with the fact of being migrants displaced by the drug trafficking, they have managed to overcome difficulties, so together: family, friends, ARCAmazon, travelers, and RESPONS, drank to the health of the sustainable and replicable economic development.
With a better taste in the mouth after the bitter blow of seeing the fallen shihuahuacos, now we enter LPAC. You are welcomed by the splendid building that fuses kitchen, dining room, library, rest area and spaces for as many other activities you can think of. Perfect space to socialize with staff, researchers, passengers, and in general, any guest in all kinds of interactions and conversations that begin with taking off your shoes and continue to use the wonderful buffet arranged after the unique call to all voice that invites food : “RAAANCHO!”
At LPAC the activities are practically a menu of options from which you can choose according to your interest or the time you have available.
So, a nightwalk or the night boat ride will provide you with amazing discoveries about life in the forest.
The morning visit to the macaw clay lick and the subsequent bath in waterfalls will give you unforgettable spectacles of nature and refreshing moments with the mixture of waters on the same shore of Las Piedras.
At sunset, the visit to the viewpoint is something you can’t miss, but it can also be a highly recommended experience at dawn, with all of the sounds of the jungle.
Julio, the guide, will gladly take you to some of the impressive 50 kilometers of trails that have been traced in the concession, those of which you will most likely remember some of the names, as they will stay in your memory because of the sightings and peculiarities that you will experience: Vicky’s, Melo’s, Antwren, must be the main ones.
Julio will also guide you to strategic points where researchers conduct experiments and data collection. The visit to LPAC cannot be complete without getting involved, even if superficially, with biological research.
But who knows, maybe you will be up to (most likely because of the heat from the area) walking through the Loboyoc creek. Of course, rubber boots are highly recommended (although others omit them) since rays are the rule in the riverbed. Also other animals – or their footprints, which are not easily seen inside the forest can make a presence in Loboyoc.
But while we were experiencing this wonder to be able to tell you first hand the beauties of LPAC, at its southern boundary, the threat of a new road that was dangerously moving towards the concession made all the staff, researchers, and even a traveler (who was already celebrating his eighth day at the lodge) go to oppose the progress of the machines that open the way for future trucks loaded with wood.
ARCAmazon has an excellent relationship and communication with its neighbors, and along with many groups and people that are interested in conservation, they have developed a plan for quick responses when there is an emergency, that at the same time, little by little, are putting an end to the extractive illegal activities of the Las Piedras river basin.
It has been a pride to see the commitment and passionate actions of these people towards the forest, as well as being able to contribute to their work through sustainable tourism, something that is our strength.
So, going back to our thing, we want to mention how LPAC describe themselves: “Rustic, comfortable, low impact, wild nature immersion”.
And that is the truth, when you see the “rooms” practically devoid of walls and eco-friendly sanitary facilities overlooking the forest, you will have no doubt.
Keep in mind that the wild animals, especially the smallest ones and the ones that there are more of will always be “visiting”, but instead of fearing them, you will learn to get to know their habits and how to maintain harmony between each other. There will not be a morning in which the capuchin monkeys will not pass loudly through the treetops, or one in which you will not hear the thunder of howler monkeys at any time, or be intrigued with the varied and almost unimaginable sounds of crepuscular and nocturnal birds.
Spending time at LPAC will fill your mind with fresh ideas, new environmental awareness and satisfaction of knowing that with your visit you are collaborating with all of the goals that they have set for themselves at ARCAmazon.
“Thank you so much for ramping things up in a huge way last year , when you started sending tourists our way. That was a huge and very important boost for the project. It’s really thanks to people like you and your team that we have been able to succeed in conserving a little piece of Amazon rainforest. We should all be very proud of that!”
David Johnston (ARCAmazon Director) to RESPONS
The young people you will meet will give you the enthusiasm and hope in a promising future for the forest. And the contact with nature will transform you into the best ambassador of the Amazon. We are certain that once you are back home all that you will want to do is tell your stories and show the pictures that you will have taken throughout your stay.
We have returned recharged after such a wonderful experience filled with satisfaction. It’s been a while now that we have been working with LPAC and the truth is that we have no doubts that we share the same values and ideology, and that our relationship is simply something natural. This is why we don’t have to think about it twice when we suggest the idea of visiting Las Piedras to our passengers, investing [somewhat] more time, but with the guarantee of experiencing something unforgettable and 100% gratifying.
We enjoyed a wonderful time at LPAC and are very grateful!!
It was too short, but we’ll return….. 😉
Thousand thanx, all the best and lots of love for all of you!
Elise Tibben-Verloop via email to LPAC
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