By Campbell Plowden, Executive Director, Center for Amazon Community Ecology

campbell-plowden

Campbell Plowden

My first foray into Amazon conservation was a three month trip in 1986 through Brazil and other countries to get a first-hand look at the drivers of deforestation. I visited logging and ranching operations, and toured the giant Carajas iron ore mine, Balbina dam and colonization projects to see how these development schemes were transforming the region’s landscape. I also spent several weeks in the jungle and dry coastal forest of Peru to document how men caught parrots and other wild birds for the pet trade. After falling in love with copuazu in Brazil, I left Iquitos thinking that gnawing the fine layer of orange paste off of aguaje seeds was probably an acquired taste.

In 1990, I helped launch Greenpeace’s tropical forest campaign and lobby the World Bank and other international institutions to stop funding projects that damaged the forest and displaced traditional forest peoples. I could describe the negative consequences of logging, ranching, plantations, and mining and the infrastructure created to support them, but I was increasingly bothered by my inability to answer one basic question. How could local people make a living without damaging the forest?

One potential solution was highlighted by a study conducted around Iquitos by researchers from the New York Botanical Garden. It showed that the combined value of non-timber forest products (fruits, fibers, and resins often called NTFPs) harvested from a forest plot over time could exceed the short-term profits of logging it. This principle fostered the creation of Extractive Reserves in Brazil that gave collective land titles to rubber tappers and huassai fruit collectors. I wondered if the strategy could be applied to indigenous reserves where native people could use their intimate knowledge of the forest to improve their standard of living instead of succumbing to the temptations and pressures of mahogany cutters and gold miners.

I got my first chance to test this idea by studying the ecology, management and marketing of NTFPs in a Tembé Indian reserve in the eastern Brazilian Amazon. I lived in the village of Tekohaw on the Gurupi River and focused my field work on andiroba oil, copaiba oleoresin, amapá latex, tamshi vine roots, and copal resin (called “breu” in Brazil). I didn’t consider edible fruits because it seemed too hard to transport perishable items far from the reserve. The research was fascinating, physically demanding and did not produce the results I had hoped for. While each product had a well-established market in the city of Belém, none of them promised to provide an abundant sustainable source of income for the people in this remote forest area. The trees were too rare, production was too low or erratic, or the plants were easily overharvested. One common factor was that harvesters earned little cash in return for the large amount of time it took them to collect, roughly process and bring these NTFPs to a distant market. The people who refined, packaged and sold the finished products captured far more income from these plants than the people who collected the raw materials in the forest.

It is an understatement that living with the Tembé was a rich cultural experience for my wife, two young children and me. I learned how to lay out a transect in forestry classes, but I had to learn painful lessons about working with forest communities on my own. My desire to be a good researcher and member of the community led me to become my village’s largest employer, occasional medic, family photographer, handicraft trader, chant recorder, and conduit for outside funds to fix a boat and finance a land rights project. I may have escaped global politics, but these multiple roles thrust me into the maelstrom of local indigenous politics that was rife with jealousies and rivalries between different leaders, families and villages of Tembé and other tribes in the region.

I emerged somewhat shell-shocked from the process with a PhD in Ecology and a passionate if quirky desire to learn more about copal resin ecology. I followed this thread back to Peru where I found numerous sites in the Iquitos area to probe the relationships between diverse species of copal trees, the obscure bark-boring weevils that provoke formation of resin lumps on their trunk, bees that harvest this resin to make their nests and people who collect the resin to caulk their canoes. It was great to find a collegial community of researchers and a less onerous government bureaucracy.

After a Quaker healer helped me realize that I could and should try to work with communities again, I founded the Center for Amazon Community Ecology in 2006. CACE’s main goal is to help local communities improve their livelihoods by sustainably harvesting and marketing value-added NTFPs as alternatives to economic activities that damage the forest. Our first project was a study of copal at the Jenaro Herrera research station operated by the Institute for Investigations of the Peruvian Amazon (IIAP). We measured the amount of resin that could be harvested from different species of copal trees and the amount of time that should be allowed between successive harvests for resin weevils and resin lumps to recuperate.

While I had initially decided to focus just on copal, an enterprising artisan named Amalia walked several kilometers from town to show me some bags and fans she had woven from chambira palm leaves and necklaces made with local seeds. It felt like deja-vu from Tekohaw where neighbors often came to my house to trade necklaces, bracelets or rings they had carved from palm nuts and bones for fishing line, hooks or some extra sugar. After giving away as many of these items as I could to relatives for Christmas presents, I found that I could actually sell them at my Friends Meeting and return the proceeds to support needs in the community. OK universe, I get the message. Handicrafts are not only a valid but perhaps one of the best forms of value-added NTPFs available to local communities. The next summer, I met several groups of artisans in Jenaro Herrera and began working with them to develop specific designs of rainforest plant jewelry and woven bags.

In 2008, it seemed time to begin applying lessons from our copal studies in a protected reserve to real conditions around communities in the region. I had gone it alone with the Tembé in Brazil and didn’t want to do so again in Peru. I was fortunate to met Michael Gilmore who had worked with Maijuna native communities in the Napo region. He introduced me to the Instituto del Bien Comun which facilitated my first visits to native communities along the Ampiyacu River and the Rainforest Conservation Fund which invited me to meet their campesino community partners along the Tahuayo River.

These visits gave me a renewed sense of confidence and welcome perspective about working with communities. I tried to clearly explain how working with CACE could benefit the community both in the short-term and long-term without creating unrealistic expectations and making promises I couldn’t keep. Many communities have been involved with research and development projects sponsored by governmental and non-governmental agencies that have failed to help them so they have become understandably cynical about new proposals. A few communities which have escaped such attention for better or worse, however, seemed vulnerable to uncritically embrace a potential project too quickly.

While adhering to certain principles and protocols (like always seeking out village leaders first) can improve the chances of succeeding, I increasingly trust my instincts to sense when working with a particular community would not be a good fit for us if I feel we could not offer what they seem to need, the logistics of working there would be too hard for us to manage, or the social atmosphere would not be conducive to establishing a positive relationship.

In the past six years, we have slowly built trust with partners in about ten villages and small towns in the region. Our largest program focuses on developing and marketing innovative handicrafts and essential oils with native communities in the Ampiyacu region. We began by surveying copal resin around the village of Brillo Nuevo and creating a unique line of belts that Bora artisans have woven with chambira palm fiber and natural plant dyes into patterns of Amazon jungle snakes. As our ability to sell crafts in the U.S. grew, we reached out to new villages with the goal of partnering with at least one village from the four ethnic groups (Bora, Murui (Huitoto), Ocaina and Yagua) represented in the fifteen communities that comprise the native federation FECONA.

This expansion of village partners accompanied the growth of ideas for new products and designs coming from artisans, CACE and craft buyers. These now include guitar straps, dog collars and leashes, hat bands, bracelets, hot pads, cell phone and water bottle carriers, and Christmas tree ornaments. Our overall craft offerings also include woven baskets, ornaments and jewelry made by artisan partners from Chino on the Tahuayo River, Jenaro Herrera on the Ucayali River, and the Maijuna village of Nueva Vida on the Napo River.

The strongest asset of most of these artisans is their creativity, and CACE has been able to sell a fair number of their beautiful woven crafts at local fairs and church events around central Pennsylvania and the Washington, D.C. area. This level of sales, however, has usually only generated enough extra income for artisans to buy some basic materials for their household. In order to increase their income to the level where they can send their children to a better school (one commonly stated goal for families in the region), they will need to be able to make crafts in larger quantities with more consistent quality. Doing so will require surmounting the biggest challenge we face working with many artisans; they are used to making and selling things one at a time, often by themselves.

Telling an artisan that we can’t accept a piece that she may have worked on for several days is the one of the hardest and most important things that we do. Some artisans get frustrated and/or angry at us and give up. Women who have now worked with us for up to six years all say they appreciate that we hold them to a high standard and that giving them detailed feedback on their crafts has helped them become better artisans. Last year we conducted a series of workshops with the Field Museum of Chicago to help artisans improve their communication and leadership skills and work together in small groups. This year CACE has sponsored several workshops led by veteran artisans to teach their fellow artisans how to make specific types of best-selling models of belts, hot pads, guitar straps and ornaments. We are also making instructional videos featuring these artisan “professoras” demonstrating how they make these crafts one step at a time.

Our craft sales have always been strongest in the Christmas season. This year we are going to try to expand sales by displaying our crafts at several “green” product expos and summer music festivals. If our partners continue to build their skills and organization, the step after that would be to bring their products to major gift trade shows to connect them with other business buyers.

In addition to building artisan capacity, the other critical component to scaling up production of handcrafts is to ensure that the plants used to make them are well managed. We followed the lead of another NGO working in the region by providing curved pruning saws to artisans in Brillo Nuevo so they could harvest chambira palm leaf spears with less damage than is sometimes caused by cutting them with a machete. We have surveyed chambira abundance in artisan fields and are sponsoring more reforestation activities to increase the supply of this key fiber to meet expanding demand for crafts in the future. We have helped artisans in Brillo Nuevo to plant more dye plants in upland areas and raised planter boxes so high seasonal floods don’t deprive them of the roots, fruits, and leaves they use to imbue chambira with a wide range of colors.

While some craft buyers take products from artisans on consignment (and sometimes only pay them months later), CACE pays artisans immediately for any product we accept and assume the risk of selling it or not. Beyond promoting sustainability and fair trade, we also give back to the communities where our artisan partners live and harvest their plants. We dedicate 20% of net craft sale revenues to support health, education, and conservation needs in our partner communities. They have so far used these funds to buy school supplies and medicines, build a community pharmacy and a fully equipped bathroom for a village school, and improve their chambira palm management.

Our work with handicrafts is focused on generating income for women; the goal of our copal work is to develop an alternate source of income for men who are often engaged in logging and selling game meat. While copal resin is often boiled with used motor oil to caulk wooden boats, its other traditional use that has been documented back to the Mayans in Mexico is incense. Our early attempts to grind the resin into incense sticks was laughably ineffectual, but I fortunately met the owner of a specialty fragrance company from Los Angeles who told me that the resin could be distilled to extract its essential oil. Oils with the right aromas could be valuable components of custom-made perfumes.

The next summer we brought a copper alembique still to Brillo Nuevo and prepared our first batch of copal oil. We lacked rye flour to make the paste used in the Old World to seal the junctures between the pots and pipes so we applied cassava flour. The hot still baked it well, but too much steam still escaped so we opted for a plumber’s caulk called Moldi-Mix. It was exciting to produce our first batch of golden oil, and I took a sweet-smelling bath in the warm hydrosol that emerged from the process. Unfortunately our fragrance lady said that first sample had a strong lemony aroma. This was fine for a cleaning solution, not for a fine perfume.

Over the next few years we only collected resin lumps from copal trees whose species we could identify. We then distilled small batches within weeks, six months or a year after harvest to see how the type of resin and extent of its maturation would affect the composition and attractiveness of its oil. The good news of this painstaking process was that we identified one great candidate for a high-value fragrance; the bad news was that this resin came from one of the least common species in the area.

While we kept up our studies to monitor recovery rates of copal resin after harvest, an alliance with the NGO Camino Verde that conducts reforestation projects in southern Peru led us to launch a joint project to produce essential oil from rosewood trees – in our case “Brazilian rosewood” – Aniba rosaeodora. This classic oil had a well-established market, but more than a century of felling and grinding up entire trees throughout the Amazon had brought this aromatic rainforest tree to the verge of extinction.

One man from Brillo Nuevo guided us to a lone rosewood tree that survived from five seedlings his father had brought from the Putumayo River over sixty years before to plant in front of his new home in the Ampiyacu River area. It took five spry men over an hour to collect a bag of small branches and leaves from its high canopy. This batch yielded a decent amount of oil, but harvesting material from older trees was not going to be a viable strategy for generating income or promoting rosewood conservation.

We soon commissioned IIAP to produce 900 rosewood seedlings for us at their nursery in Jenaro Herrera. Most came from cuttings from a few bush size plants they had. In early 2013, we brought these two-foot tall plants by truck and a succession of three boats to Brillo Nuevo where they were divided among five families that had won a lottery selection to plant a share in one of their forest fields. By monitoring the survival and growth over the past two years we have learned that rosewood seeks a medium path in life. It of course needs light and water, but young plants withered in open sun and died in saturated fields. We expect to be able to carry out the first limited leaf and branch harvest early next year. The general plan will be to maintain most trees at a height of three to four meters so they concentrate their growth in producing side branches. Other trees in each field will be allowed to grow tall at their own pace into mature trees whose seeds can be used to expand the local oil producing enterprise and replenish the species. Almost every family from Brillo Nuevo now wants to have their own rosewood trees – both to enjoy the soothing fragrance that it naturally emits and to have another source of income.

While waiting for the trees at Brillo Nuevo to reach minimum harvestable size, we wanted to gain some experience working with rosewood trees. Searching around Tamshiyacu where IIAP had acquired its few trees, we found a few families willing to sell us some leaves from trees planted in their farm plots about twelve years ago. Our Bora friends had laboriously cut our first trial batches of rosewood branches into little chips by machete, but in the summer of 2014 we brought in a grinder and stainless steel distiller to improve the efficiency of our budding enterprise. The new equipment worked well, but our initial runs processing rosewood leaves from Tamshiyacu and copal from other sites were hampered by a different technological challenge. We needed a steady flow of water to run through the condenser that cooled the oil and water vapor back to their liquid state, but we quickly emptied the tank connected to the well of our rental house and then the old pump gave out. The operation ran more smoothly when we relocated to a place connected to city water.

It remains to be seen if we will be able to produce enough of the very special copal oil with our community partners to sell to perfume makers, but working with Camino Verde showed us that even our more common varieties may be very attractive to people interested in aromatherapy. We’re now discussing copal oil production projects with several native communities in the region. The next steps will be using the results of our research to formulate management plans to guide the harvest of copal resin and satisfying the other legal requirements to export copal and rosewood oil to buyers in the U.S. and elsewhere. These processes will doubtless involve a new series of challenges, but I am optimistic that we are finally getting close to creating a new source of sustainable income for people in forest communities – even remote ones.

To learn more about CACE’s work, please visit www.AmazonEcology.org. To support our project in Peru, please visit our page on GlobalGiving at: www.AmazonAlive.net. Donations of any size are very welcome.

campbell-plowden-huitoto-artisans

Campbell Plowden with Huitoto artisans

My elusive quest to support Amazon forest conservation and communities

By Campbell Plowden, Executive Director, Center for Amazon Community Ecology

I’d like to thank Bill Grimes for his sincere counsel and support since I became a regular visitor to Iquitos ten years ago and for kindly offering the use of his Dawn on the Amazon Café for our first public meeting in Iquitos in 2015, March 24, 6:30 – 9:30pm

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"Dawn on the Amazon Tours and Cruises ranks number one on TripAdvisor"

Dawn on the Amazon Tours and Cruises ranks number one on TripAdvisor

Good news.

I joined TripAdvisor over seven years ago, in October 2007. It took a lot of time to figure out how to list Dawn on the Amazon Tours and Cruises, and I agonized over which category was most appropriate, (there is no cruise category), and after much thought and worry, I listed Dawn on the Amazon Tours and Cruises under Things to do in Iquitos – Activities.

I paid almost no attention to TripAdvisor back then. It was over a year before we got our first review, and over another year before we got our second review.

It wasn’t until I listed Dawn on the Amazon Cafe that I realized how much influence TripAdvisor has over tourism. Our first 13 reviews were 5 stars, we went straight to number one. Many of our customers told me “We came because we saw you rank number one on TripAdvisor.”

Gasp, what about Dawn on the Amazon Tours and Cruises. I think we ranked number four. Our next ten reviews were excellent 5 stars. We moved into third place and then eventually second place, but guess who had always been number one under Things to do – Activities? The Butterfly Farm! That nearly every one loves…How many times did I tell myself there is no shame being behind the Butterfly Farm? I was resigned to be number two forever.

Then last week it happened. Dawn on the Amazon Tours and Cruises became the number one Thing to do – Activity in Iquitos, at the same time Dawn on the Amazon Cafe is the number one restaurant in Iquitos. This is a great accomplishment for the Dawn on the Amazon team, from the night watchman to the riverboat pilot, from the waitress to the head cook, thank you all for your dedication to excellence…and thanks to our clients and customers for appreciating our products and services.

With your help, we can continue to rank number one. If you have enjoyed a tour or cruise with Dawn on the Amazon, we would appreciate your reviews on TripAdvisor and Facebook. Thank you for your support.

Dawn on the Amazon Tours and Cruises Ranks Number One On TripAdvisor

Bill Grimes is President of Dawn on the Amazon Tours and Cruises, and host for Dawn on the Amazon Cafe

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"Dawn on the Amazon delivering school supplies"

Marmelita delivering school supplies to the teacher of the river village school in Mishana.

If you are planning to travel to Iquitos Peru for an Amazon River cruise or to stay at a lodge, or even just to visit for a day, and you want to help children in need, you can make a big difference in the lives of the children who live in the remote villages along the rivers you will visit.

In theory, education in Peru is free from age 7 – 16, however in practice education is poorly financed and inaccessible in rural areas such as the villages along the rivers in the Amazon jungle.

Every small village is guaranteed by the federal government to have at least a one room school house and a teacher. However the Ministry of Education lacks the resources, or the will, to provide educational material for the teachers and students of the jungle schools.

This is where you come in. Compared to the resources available in a small remote jungle village, you are a billionaire. If you packed a shoebox full of school supplies chosen from the list below, to leave with the teacher of the school when you visit a village, you can make a big impact on the lives of children in the Amazon jungle. Five pounds of supplies will go a long way. Multiply that by many tourists bringing a shoebox full of supplies and we can make many children’s lives better, and who knows how much we can change the world…

School supplies

  • pencils with rubber eraser tops
  • colored pencils
  • crayons
  • coloring books
  • individual pencil sharpeners
  • pens
  • notebooks
  • scissors
  • world map
  • Peru map
  • Loreto map
  • solar powered calculators
  • classroom posters in spanish, (biology, math, astronomy, human body, language)
  • flash cards, (math)
  • flash cards, (alphabet spanish)
  • puzzles
  • rulers, metric
  • measuring tape, metric
  • stickers
  • art supplies
  • craft supplies
  • books in spanish, children’s storybooks, language, learning to read books, literature, parenting, and science
  • glue sticks

First aid supplies

  • bandages
  • bandaids
  • alcohol wipes
  • antibiotic ointment
  • aspirin
  • stingez

Clothes

  • Friends of mine go to yard sales all summer and accumulate a suit case full of children’s clothes to bring to the jungle children.
  • children size flip flops

Sports

  • soccer balls
  • volley balls and nets
  • rubber balls

Hygiene

  • toothbrushes
  • toothpaste
  • combs
  • brushes

Games

  • Scrabble
  • Connect Four
  • Dominoes
  • Bananagrams
  • Checkers
  • Chess
  • Decks of cards
  • Backgammon
  • marbles
  • tops

If you speak Spanish, or hire a guide, and come a day or two early, most of the items on this list can be purchased in Iquitos which would help the economy even more.

For more ideas and inspiration click on this link;

Pack For A Purpose, small space, little effort, big impact;

A special thanks to my friends at Conapac, who have been doing good work in the Amazon Rainforest for 24 years.

Dawn on the Amazon Tours and Cruises has delivered supplies to villages and schools for over 11 years.

"School supplies in a jungle village"

Each student got some version of this care package.

I must mention the wonderful work done by my friends and peers, Patty Webster through Amazon Promise, Albert Slugocki, Devon Graham and Don Dean with Project Amazonas, Bill and Karla Park with Eco-ola and  Acaté. I realize there are dozens or probably 100s of NGOs, missionaries, tour companies, and individuals donating their time, labor, and money to do good work in the upper Amazon. I apologize for not mentioning you all by name. Please leave a comment and tell us all about your project.

"Student with Inflatable globe"

A student inflating a world globe. Where are you from?

How You Can Help The Children

Bill Grimes is president of Dawn on the Amazon Tours and Cruises;

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Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve

"Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve, 3 pound black piranha"

3 pound black piranha caught in Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve, with Dawn on the Amazon

While most people in Iquitos are infatuated with Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, one of my favorite places on God’s green earth is up the Nanay River into Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve. Some of the most precious outdoor memories of my life are from there, including one of the best days fishing I have ever had.

You can Google Allphauayo Mishana and learn about the rare geology of the white-sand forest, its amazing bio-diversity, and the many endemic species of birds. This story is about my friends’ and my personal experiences in this wonderland of nature.

Only once in my life have I seen as many as ten or 12 black-collared hawks repeatedly swooping down only a few meters in front of our boat catching bright silver-colored fish in their talons. We cut back our motor and our boat drifted downstream on the Nanay River, with the entire school of fish in front of us, as that bird watchers’ dream scene played out over and over.

A few nights in Allpahuayo Mishana have been memorable. Once after the boat was tied to shore, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner and as we were settling down for the night, a pod of pink dolphins chose to  join us and enjoy their dinner of fish close by. The sound they make when they surface to breath, a forceful exhalation of air to clear their blow hole, kept me awake late in the night. Early in the morning a family of duski titi monkeys woke me. The concept of a “quiet jungle” is only in books and Disney movies.

In September and October when the water is low, most of our Dawn on the Amazon Tours and Cruises go to Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve. The Nanay River always has a navigable channel that meanders through the rainforest, past dozens of ox-bow lakes full of fish. The tranquil black water reflects the clouds and trees; the lovely white sand beaches are just waiting to be waded.

One of the couples that was on our most recent cruise told me that it was the best experience of all their travels through South America. They loved our crew and the boat, the food was delicious and they got to see the amazing bio-diversity of Allpahuayo Mishana with their own eyes.

Our head guide Billy, boat pilot Edson, and cook Filo remarked on what they saw on this cruise which included a capybara swimming in the river, a group of four coatis, (in the raccoon family), foraging on the forest floor, saddle-backed tamarins, squirrel monkeys, duski titi monkeys, night monkeys, a two toed sloth, a three toed sloth, two kinkajous, many pink and gray dolphins, and two species of bats.

A fer de lance was sunning on the trail, (carefully moved off the path with a long forked stick), and two red backed poison dart frogs, an iguana, and a tree runner lizard were all observed.

Among the interesting birds they spotted were ospreys soaring, a blue coatinga, white-throated toucans, many-banded aracaris, wire-tailed manakins, screaming piha, (the signature sound of the Amazon), yellow-headed caracaras, black caracaras, and a couple of road-side hawks.

Among the more amazing insects were izula ants, (one of the most painful stings in the jungle), walking sticks, praying mantis, four tarantulas, tailless whip scorpions, and countless colorful butterflies. The fishermen caught two species of piranhas, (one weighed a kilo and a half), peacock bass and other ciclids and  a couple of nice catfish, which were all released.

Strangler figs were strangling, bromeliads were blooming, vines were climbing, there were many medicinal plants, orchids, and giant trees.

Another advantage to cruising into Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve, there are not as many  mosquitoes as in the other nature reserve, or any other place I know in the upper Amazon.

Cruising downstream once in Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve our riverboat was escorted by a migratory flock of hundreds of American swallow-tailed kites. Our passage was stirring up a large number of dragonflies that the gracefully soaring kites were feeding on in mid-air.

On another cruise I had one of my best fishing days. I only caught three Peacock Bass but fought several big toothy fasacos, or wolf fish. I caught five of the largest fasacos I ever caught on six casts. I was right in the middle of a feeding frenzy. At the end of the day I was completely exhausted and in love with the Allphauayo Mishana National Reserve.

The Other National Reserve, Allpahuayo Mishana

Bill Grimes is president of Dawn on the Amazon Tours and Cruises;

Click the links below to know that the team at Dawn on the Amazon Tours and Cruises are the experts on Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve;

Here Is What Happened On Our Amazon River Boat Cruise;

The Real Live Dawn on the Amazon Cruises In Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve;

Allpahuayo Mishana, It Ain’t Disneyland;

Dream Trip Come True;

Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve Revisited;

Why Does The Sloth Swim Across The River?;

Our Expedition On The Restored Rubber Boom Era Boat, The Ayapua;

Our Trip To Iquitos Peru;

The Bats of Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve, and How They Could Benefit You;

Into The Heart Of Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve;

Into The Heart Of Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve, Part Two;

Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve;

Lost on the Amazon;

The Story of Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve;

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Guest post by Leo Jones

That’s the threat my Brit buddy throws at me in the thickest Cockney accent you’ll hear this side of Liverpool, England. Dave makes the comment as I enter the Amazon Golf clubhouse the other day. Located smack dab in the middle of the Peruvian jungle—a thousand miles from the Peruvian capitol of Lima as the eagle flies—the Amazon Golf Course is the most isolated golf course in the world.

“Yeah … well. I guess we’ll have to see about that,” I reply, trying hard to sound confident.

“When was the last time you beat me?” he asks, smirking.

“I’ve never beat you, you know that. But today just might be the first time.”

He roars with laughter.

“Are you going to practice first, Senor Leo?” The question comes from eighteen year old Isabel, the attractive local woman who mans (or is it woman’s) the desk in the clubhouse.

“Don’t need to practice to beat this guy,” I say, regretting the comment as soon as it passes my lips.

“What about you, Senor Dave?” she asks him. “Do you …”

“As old as Leo is,” he says, grinning at Isabel, “I’d be stealing if I practiced.”

I thrust my index finger at the side of my head and make a circling motion. “Ignore him, Isabel. He’s just another crazy gringo.” Then I sling my golf bag over my shoulder. Carefully making my way down the steps, I stroll over to the first tee. It’s another beautiful day in Iquitos, Peru. The jungle sun is nine O’clock high and huge puffy white clouds wander aimlessly below the bluest sky you’ll ever see.

After five minutes of attempting to limber up my 80 year old body—something that’s becoming more and more difficult with each passing year—I call out to Dave, “You gonna spend the whole morning flirting with Isabel? Or are you gonna play golf?”

Actually I don’t blame him for flirting with Isabel. Girls in this jungle town mature early physically, and she’s no exception. She likes to show off her curvy figure by wearing her pink blouse and cutoff blue jeans as tightly as she can. If she dyed her long black hair blonde, she’d look like a sun-tanned version of the cute blonde in the television show, “The Dukes of Hazard.”

Soon Dave struts out of the clubhouse. Fifty years old, he’s one of the more interesting expats in town. A close friend of one of our mutual friends, Mike Collis—the founder of the Amazon Golf Course—Dave is the only gringo motorcar driver in town. Standing a tad over six feet, he’s built like a NFL linebacker. He’s the kind of guy if you ever get into a brawl, you’d want him on your side. “You want me to go first?” he asks.

I step aside and wave my hand toward the first green a hundred and twenty yards away. “Show me the way, Tiger.”

For a big man, he’s very agile. After two practice swings, he sends his ball into the sun, where it eventually lands softly on the edge of the green. Suppressing a grin, he exclaims, “Your turn, old timer.”

I take out a seven iron. “Hit the ball smoothly”, I tell myself as I stand over the ball. My backswing is nice and smooth, but when the face of the club approaches the ball it speeds up—and I hook the ball into waist-high vegetation fifty feet or so to the left of the green. Unwritten course rules allows each golfer one Mulligan for every nine holes. So I stick the seven iron back into the bag and take out an eight iron. My goal this time is to keep the ball in the narrow fairway. A smooth follow through this time launches the ball some twenty feet this side of the green. I send my second shot ten feet from the hole and need two putts to end up with a bogie.

Dave pars the hole.

After we finish the first hole, Dave is ahead by a stroke. “Don’t panic,’ I tell myself. “Stick to your plan.”My strategy is to stay within a few strokes until the beers Dave had drank before I arrived takes their toll—and the jungle sun starts wearing this big man down. We were supposed to have teed off at nine. I didn’t arrive until ten for a good reason. Like most Brits I know, Dave is fond of beer. While waiting for my arrival he’d drank two beers. Peruvian beer is twice as strong as Budweiser or Miller. According to my calculation, he’ll be sweating profusely by the time we tee off for the eighth hole.

The second green is 275 yards long. I’d planned on using a driver rather than a long iron. There are two hazards in this fairway: a small oval-shaped lake golfers have nicknamed Alligator Lake located 150 yards from the tee and a tiny stream zigzagging across the fairway in front of the green. Not yet warmed up enough, I slice my ball into the lake. Then, to make matters worse, I stub my second shot, dribbling my ball into the stream.

Dave pars this hole while I double-bogey it.

We’ve only played two holes and I’m already down three strokes.

I catch a break on the third hole when Dave dumps his second shot into the stream. But I do the same. And both of us double- bogey the hole.

I’ll gain a stroke on the next hole, I convince myself.

The fourth hole is only 100 yards long. But this green is a tiny oval-shaped island. And it’s surrounded by a Piranha-infested waist-high moat half full of wayward golf balls no one has been brave enough to retrieve. To be on the safe side, I take out my wedge and hit the ball ten yards this side of the moat. Normally, that’s good strategy. Not today. Feeling his oats, Dave whips out his nine iron and strikes his ball like he’s kissing Isabel. I groan as I watch the ball land a dozen yards from the flag stick. My second shot lands next to his ball.

I feel like shoving him into the water as we cross the tiny wooden bridge that leads us onto the green. It takes two strokes for both of us to sink our balls. We’ve played four holes and I’m down four strokes.

But I’m sticking to my plan.

As we approach the fifth tee I glance up at the Heavens. I mumble, “Come on, you’ve got to help me beat this guy.”

A confident smile creasing his beefy face, he asks, “What’s that, old man?”

“Oh, nothing.”

During the next three holes I remain four strokes behind him. I had hoped to gain a stroke on the seventh hole. A 500 yard par five, you have to avoid two meandering streams and the left side of Alligator Lake. This time both of us plop our balls into Alligator Lake. (There’s something about my golf balls that’s attracted to water). By the time we’d sunk our putts we’d both double-bogeyed  this hole.

As we hike toward the eighth tee– which is located 20 or so yards below the clubhouse—I glance over at Dave. He’s sweating profusely. But not enough. “I could use something cold to drink,” I say, licking my lips. “What about you?”

“I’m good,” he replies, taking a now sopping wet handkerchief from his pocket and mopping his brow.

I nod at Isabel standing in the clubhouse doorway. “I’m buying, Dave,” I say.

That gets his attention. “In that case, mate, let’s do it.”

“A bottle of water for me and a cold beer for my friend,” I call out to Isabel.

We drop down under the shade the tin roof of the rectangular-shaped structure used to provide shade when we’re practicing our shots—a poor man’s version of a Driving Range shelter.

A minute later Isabel prances down to us. After handing us our drinks, she asks in a seductive voice, “Anything else?”

We say that’s  all, and she sashays back to the clubhouse. Gulping down half the bottle in one swallow, Dave keeps his eyes on her until she disappears inside the house.

I drink from my bottle and say, “Ready?”

“I still have half a bottle left,” he complains.

I glance up at the sky. The sun is trying to hide behind some clouds. “Looks like it’s gonna rain soon, Dave,” I fib.

Standing, he gulps down the rest of his beer. “Let’s get this butt whipping over with, old timer.”

The eighth and ninth holes fairways are divided by a long row of coconut and palm trees planted some four or five years ago. It’s almost impossible to hit your ball out of bounds on the eighth hole. So both of us use drivers. Dave splits the fairway with a 200 yard drive. I knock my ball fifty yards short of his. This hole is a 360 yards par four. The only obstacle is a three foot deep water hazard called Anaconda Lagoon.

I’ve got to be honest with you, dear reader. I’m fairly confident there has not been an alligator spotted in Alligator Lake for years, and, though locals insist there really are piranhas in the moat surrounding the third green, I can’t swear there are any still there. But I know for a fact there used to be an anaconda in Anaconda Lagoon. My friend, Mike Collis, and I were there when a half dozen locals corralled this reptile while the golf course was being constructed some ten years ago.

At any rate, no one has ever tried to retrieve a ball hit into the  lagoon. Wisely, I take out an eight iron and lay up ten yards short of the water. Dave gives me a look that says, “What a wimp!” Then he proceeds to take out a five iron and swing mightily. Topping the ball, he sends it dribbling into the lagoon. “Mulligan time,” he exclaims. Wiping sweat from his face and neck, he uses a six iron, sending the ball into a water hazard on the other side of the hole.

With a pitching wedge, I hit the ball three feet from the hole. When we finish the eighth hole I’m only two strokes back. I stifle a grin as we head for the ninth tee. “Come on sun,” I mumble.

The ninth hole is 375 yards away. The only hazards are the left side of Anaconda Lagoon and a sand trap on the left side of the fairway 200 yards away. I use a driver and place my shot 155 yards in the middle of the fairway. Sweat dripping from every pore, Dave tops his ball and drives it into Anaconda Lagoon. Trying to make up for the mistake, he swings as hard as he can, sending his ball into the bunker. To compound this error, he tries to hit his ball out of the sand with a three iron. The ball catches the lip of the bunker and rolls some fifty yards toward the green.

Now we’re even.

Minutes later both of our balls are on the green. He’s huffing and puffing by the time we finally reach the green.  His ball sits 10 feet above the hole. My ball is 15 feet below the hole. This oval-shaped green slopes downward at a severe angle—so I can afford to be aggressive. I take out my putter and stand over the ball. Just to aggravate him, I start to shake like I’ve lost a grip on my nerves.

Dave isn’t amused. “Just hit the damn ball, old man.”

I give the ball a nice smooth stroke. It scoots upward like a magnet is drawing it toward the hole. It stops at the edge of the hole. Dave let’s out a sigh of relief as I reach for my putter. Then something strange happens.

The ball drops into the hole.

“All right!” I yell, giving a geriatric version of Tiger Woods pumping his fist into the air.

The noise brings Isabel out of the clubhouse. It also awakes the mongrel dog that guards the place at night out from under the shade of the house. Both wander down to check on the commotion. “Who is winning?” Isabel asks.

Dave takes out his handkerchief and mops his brow. “Leo will win if I don’t sink this putt,” he grumbles.

“Yeah, Senor Leo,” she says.

Dave had been studying his putt. “Will you be quiet,” he exclaims. Then, noticing the hurt look on her face, he adds in a softer voice, “Please.”

Smiling, she makes a zipping motion across her lips.

After several tenable practice putts, Dave looks over at me. “What do you think, Leo?”

“I think you’d better make this putt.” Then I quickly add, “Whipper-Snapper.”

Finally, he strokes the ball. It rolls confidentially toward the hole. Then, inches away from dropping into the hole, it veers to the right. “Oh, well,” I say, grinning, “you can’t win them all.”

Minutes later we’re sitting in the second floor of the clubhouse. Dave is drinking another beer and I’m nursing a Coca Cola as we gaze out across the golf course. Two things occupy my mind. I recall Mike Collis and I scouting this location for the possible site of a golf course a dozen years ago. It was a dense jungle back then. But Mike didn’t see it as a jungle. He visualized it as a golf course. And now it is.

The other thought occupying my mind is this: Beating a man thirty years my junior sure feels good.

I’m gonna beat your butt, old timer!

Guest post by Leo Jones

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