The community of January 20th (20 de Enero) is one of many within the Reserva Nacional Pacaya (the Pacaya National Preserve) in the Peruvian Amazon. Its natural resources include the aguaje, a unique Amazonian plant. The harvest of its fruit is one of the most important activities in the peoples family economies.
One project that unites solidarity tourism with the objective of producing oil from this fruit in a sustainable way takes us on an unforgettable trip on board the Selva Viva (Living Jungle) a charming wooden boat from which we not only enjoy the scenery by also the exchange we have with the different cultures that inhabit this rich territory. We do it through a respectful tourism with the indigenous peoples.
Our French hosts receive us with great warmth and our trip begins with our departure from Nauta, a welcoming town-port situated some two hours south of Iquitos.
Our welcoming breakfast gives us a taste of the wonderful flavors of the jungle we will discover. A new vocablulary draws us in: cocona, juanes from yuca, doncella, paiche, tacacho with cecina, anona, camu camu, and chonta. That vocabulary not only nourishes us with knowledge, it also fills us with happiness.
We travel the Marañón River to where it meets the Ucayali to see how the water join. From there is born the mythical Amazon River. Our eyes are not large enough for the enormity of the spectacle.
Amazing victorias and shanshos (an almost prehistoric bird) await us after we cross the Yarapa River. There, almost astounded from the magnitude of the jungle that surrounds us and traps us, seducing us with each step and with each species, we return to our boat and to the community of San Jose of Panaracura receives us with open arms. It is Per’s Independence Day and everything is painted red and white. Children play and the streets are filled with roosters and women selling their handicrafts. It is definitely a “happy jungle”.
The afternoon begins with a surprise. After a torrential and unexpected downpour, a double rainbow crowns our stay on the Yarapa River and we still have another day.
The next community, Jaldar awaits us after we have seen a show of monkeys. In it there were six species, including the Coto Mono with its lion roar. They make us laugh as they fight over a banana. It seems they are dedicating all their tricks and perfect pirouettes to us. Their moves would be the envy of many members of the Cirque du Soleil.
We walk through a garden of medicinal plants and learn about their uses, their forms, and we experience their perfumes. They help us recover our capacity to be surprised. That is magnified when we get to know the pona, the walking tree. This species can move almost a meter a year in a search to improve its survival.
Some delightful women show us and sell to us their perfectly made handicrafts. They are worthy of any store specializing in modern design.
They obtained marvelous colors with just the resources given them by the earth. Their crafts included bowls made from gingko fruit and charming dolls dressed in multicolored clothes made from penco fibers.
The children of Jaldar told us about their customs and even though ever thing seemed detained in time, they tell us about how they learned to use laptops which they received as gifts in order to give them a connection with global technology and the world around us.
Then we went to the Pucate River with its pink dolphins along with their legends. S pair of them swam along side our boat. Local legends relate that the dolphins, or bufeos as they are called locally, seduce women and carry them away to the depths of the river. .
The community of Santo Domingo offered a night trip into the jungle and even provided a nocturnal party. We awoke to the cock’s crow to go deep into the canyons of trees. Green surrounded us. Birds flew overhead. We saw iguanas, sloths, and one or another boa hanging from a tree branch. We went through the jungle to fish for the much feared piranhas. We quickly returned them to the river.
We passed our evening on the Pucate and the afternoon was tinged with gold. A rain of shooting stars seemed to attack us from the heavens once night closed in and we were in our hammocks which rocked side to side on our deck on the now beloved Selva Viva vessel.
The next morning the January 20th Community awaited us with more than one surprise.
When in 2010 the Franco-Peruvian NGO (Non-Governmental Organization Latitud Sur began to study the possibility of carrying out an an activity that would be economically beneficial to the inhabitants of January 20th by using their own natural resources, the foundation ProNaturaleza researched the possibilities, including the best ways of extracting oil from the aguaje fruit. They sought a sustainable form that would not require cutting down the tree.
As a result they recruited the villagers to the technique that is called estrobo. It comes from Brazil and permits people to climb up the tree by using chords.
In 2012 machinery was installed for the extraction of oil from this fruit that is so traditional in Loreto. And, in 2013 they had their first sale to the French cosmetics firm Albert Vieille. With their first goal met, the Association of Producers and Processors of Aguaje of Veinte de Enero (APRO–VdE) gave the community a stable, legal entity. But that was not all. During this year the project obtained second place as the Innovative Product, Producto Innovador, in the Expo Loreto 2014.
They still have a lot to do to progress. But the first steps have been made and are successful. Their adventure fills us with joy.
But we also feel sadness that we must begin our first steps to return home and in the Fundo Casual, the Renaco, a gigantic and ancient tree is the golden brush that paints our last moments.
The Selva Viva boat sends us on our way to Nauta and as we travel memories and anecdotes of our travels for those four days flow like the river under us. We not only entered into the heart of the jungle but also into the depths of each of us. Our hearts beat to the rhythm of the earth and to each step and to knowing each species, color, aroma, flavor, and fundamentally the people.
More information about Latitud Sur: www.latitudsur.org
If you wish to see the trip of the Selva Viva