|» Responsible Tourism Showcase
ETC 2009 Responsible Tourism Showcase Runner-Up
Amazon Explorama Lodges
Conservación de la Naturaleza Amazónica
del Peru, A.C.
Nominated by International Expeditions, Inc.
The words “Amazon jungle” evoke images of lush plant life growing in wild profusion, of colorful birds and strange animals, of head-shrinking natives subduing their victims with poison darts and early explorers hacking their way through dense undergrowth. From the observations and insights of Charles Darwin and other scientists that followed him, we have learned much about the Amazon rainforest and its creatures. Even today during the age of laptop computers and Internet access, the mere mention of the Amazon continues to create sensations of the mysterious and the exotic. The global awareness of the importance and necessity of a healthy rainforest has been heightened in recent years with a nearly worldwide consensus of the existence of global warming and the role the rainforest plays in this interdependent world in which we live.
Explorama is at the center of this important area, with its offices located in Iquitos, Peru. From this point, where the headwaters form the Amazon River and it begins the 2,000-mile journey to the Atlantic Ocean, Explorama operates five tourist lodges in the jungle with one lodge, ACTS, designated as a bio-research station. This lodge’s purpose is to further the conservation and study of rainforests by scientific researchers by disseminating information and providing educational opportunities through access to tropical rainforests. Students and visitors can participate in field courses and programs where scientists conduct actual field studies, while on-going research continues.
Having started over 44 years ago and still continuing in the day-to-day operations of Explorama is Peter Jenson, an American who had the vision, determination, and perseverance to dedicate his life to Explorama and the Amazon rainforest. Although ecotourism seems a new and trendy concept, it’s an old and driving force for Mr. Jenson, his business partners and all the staff at Explorama Lodges.
With the many pressures on the rainforest, from questionable logging, over-hunting of wild animal populations, clear-cutting for crops, and pollution to land and water, ecotourism seeks an alternative approach to the utilization of the rainforest. To be successful, it must have a minimal impact on the environment while at the same time show visitors the rainforest’s biodiversity and beauty. In order to be considered an ecotourism company, it is essential that tourist facilities minimally impact the surrounding forest, that alternative sources of income to local residents be provided, and that education about rainforest conservation be included for both local inhabitants and visitors. The protection of rainforest land through the establishment of reserves should also be a priority for companies working in these areas. Explorama Lodges has been involved in all of these practices, and more, long before the term “ecotourism” became popular.
BENEFITS FOR THE LOCAL COMMUNITY
With the many goals Explorama set out to achieve, it became clear that a separate entity needed to be created for oversight and management of the projects necessary for these efforts. Thus in 1990, a non-profit, non-governmental organization named CONAPAC (Conservación de la Naturaleza Amazónica del Perú) was formed under the auspices of Explorama Lodges. CONAPAC is supported by Explorama and is funded by guests of Explorama Lodges. Each tourist who visits Explorama's privately owned and protected Primary Rainforest Reserves has a portion of their tour program cost donated by Explorama Lodges to CONAPAC. Overhead costs of CONAPAC, such as boats and drivers, guides, office space, support staff, and office expenses are contributed by Explorama Lodges so that donations can be used exclusively for conservation purposes and projects. CONAPAC also works in cooperation and collaboration with several governmental and non-governmental organizations such as the local Peruvian Public Amazonian University, the local Peruvian Government-sponsored scientific Investigative Institute, the local Regional Board of Education, and, in the United States, the Detroit Zoological Institute and International Expeditions (IE).
Explorama and CONAPAC’s first major effort was the creation of the Adopt-A-School program. Now starting its 16th year, annually this program provides books and school supplies to over 4,200 students, in more than 120 schools in 73 communities located on the Amazon River and its tributary, the Napo River, through monetary support from individuals, schools, and organizations in the United States and around the world. The program supports a variety of schools ranging from one-room schoolhouses to combined kindergarten, primary and secondary schools in the rainforest. Although education is a high priority in Peru, the government is unable to supply these schools with adequate educational materials. Rural schools rarely have textbooks, reading materials, maps, charts or reference materials for teachers and students. Education is free but students are required to purchase their own notebooks, rulers, pens, and pencils, which is an almost impossible financial burden for most rural families with many children. CONAPAC’s program materials and teacher workshop curriculums focus on environmental awareness and the importance of the rainforest in which these children and families live. Participation by volunteers from the States for the Adopt-A-School deliveries each year encourages intercultural awareness and exchanges of friendship and goodwill.
Over the years, many positive relationships have been built between those who live in the rainforest, CONAPAC and Explorama. Much respect has been earned by all parties and the inter-dependent relationship has been valuable for all concerned. CONAPAC has initiated a number of productive projects and community workshops for village leaders to consider alternative, sustainable methods for implementation in their communities. These initiatives, which add value to their existing natural resources include:
• Managed family fish farms
• Agouti farms (sustainable sources of protein)
• Camu Camu plantations (a native rainforest fruit, packed with Vitamin C) for sale at market
• Susan Olsen Carpentry Workshop in the community of Iquique. Explorama has ordered and purchased wood furniture, i.e. benches, chairs, etc., to be used at the Lodge for staff and tourists to enjoy
• Mini water treatment plants
• Community bakery and marmalade factory which create products for sale at market
• Construction of playgrounds, community buildings, and fences
• Reforestation of hardwoods and fruit-bearing trees
• Planting and cultivation of indigenous medicinal plant gardens
• Construction of school/community latrines
These alternatives to over hunting, fishing, and clear-cutting have allowed the villagers opportunities to add value to their resources. This gives them reasons not to allow outsiders to cut their trees for little money nor over hunt their own surrounding areas. Instead, by raising managed livestock and other protein sources in a sustainable way, they reduce pressure on wild animal populations and add value to their existing natural resources such as water, trees and fruits. By implementing systems of integrated crops and regular rotation, the use of slash and burn techniques can be avoided.
PRESERVATION OF CULTURE AND BIODIVERSITY
Explorama works closely with the local Yagua Indigenous people by assisting in the maintenance of an authentic village communal building, a small market, and blow gun demonstrations. Both the elders and the youth of these villages participate in recreating traditional dances, music, and handicrafts. Tourists visit daily, led by knowledgeable guides employed by Explorama. Explorama underwrites the cost of these recreations of traditional village life, thus adding economic value to the community. This allows them to maintain an understanding of their culture, language, music, and crafts that would otherwise be lost. And the elders and young people of the community can avoid seeking employment in the already overcrowded City of Iquitos.
Some of the other activities that Explorama helped initiate are:
• Explorama created and supports the ReNuPeRu medicinal garden at its ExplorNapo Lodge. This garden hosts over 240 varieties of native plant species and they are maintained by a local Bora Native American. Ethno-botanists regularly study these plants and tourists are guided on daily visits by Explorama staff.
• Explorama currently holds in private reserve a total of 5,090 acres of prime rainforest which surrounds its five lodges. Explorama provides for its protection from illegal logging and overuse of natural resources. The reserves also serve as an example of how natural resources can be used for profit without destroying them.
• Explorama provides boats for all CONAPAC personnel and workshop leaders to the workshops CONAPAC regularly offers to teachers and community leaders in the AAS program. These workshops provide valuable information about issues such as sustainable farming and livestock practices, environmental education and nutritional information for healthy families.
• Explorama, with the arrival of Dr. Linnea Smith in 1990, assisted in her effort to build and maintain a medical clinic on the Amazon River, near the Explorama Lodge. This clinic serves the surrounding native population which otherwise have no excess to health care unless they undertake a 50 mile trip up river in dugout canoes. Even with this trip, they often lack the money necessary for medical care. A small fee is charged for services at Dr. Smith’s clinic but no one is turned away for lack of funds and payment is often received in the form of some barter arrangement. Explorama covers Dr. Smith’s meals and transportation needs when she is in residence at the clinic.
• Annually over 500 students and adult guests come to stay at the lodges of Explorama to perform “service projects” in surrounding villages. They pay to participate and their fee covers the cost of supplies such as wood, paint, nails, cement, shovels, etc. Projects include construction of community gazebos and playgrounds, painting of schools, construction of latrines, reforestation of fruit trees and other endangered species such as mahogany and rosewood, building and repairing fences. While staying at the lodges, daily visits are made to communities by project participates, and with the locals they work on these projects together. Besides the benefits of these improvements, much in the way of cultural exchange and understanding takes place and has become the basis for many long-standing, mutually beneficial relationships.
• Each year, volunteers from the USA come to help with the delivery of books and school supplies to all the schools that participate in the Adopt-A-School program. During this week-long effort, Explorama Lodges provides, at no cost to the volunteers, their boats, guides, food and lodging.
• Explorama employs over 180 full-time employees all of whom, except for three people, are originally from Iquitos or the surrounding rainforest. This provides substantial employment in a region, which is economically underdeveloped, with few opportunities for advancement.
• Over the course of one year, Explorama welcomes approximately 9,000 tourist-guests to its five lodges. Thus each visitor has an opportunity to see the rainforest first-hand and learn more about its beauty and its challenges. Explorama Lodges hope each guest takes home with them a better understanding of why the Amazon rainforest of Peru is so important to us all.
RECOGNITION OF EXPLORAMA
Explorama Lodges has been recognized for its ongoing efforts in the Peruvian rainforest. Most recently, Peter Jenson, received a distinguished award from the President of Perú, Alan Garcia, and Antonio Brack, Minister of the newly appointed Ministry of the Environment. The award honored Mr. Jenson for generating value to Peru’s natural resources and its biodiversity. The ceremony took place on Tuesday, August 19, 2008, at the Presidential Palace and was attended by Mr. Jenson, dignitaries from various countries as well as mayors from different areas of Perú. In 2006, Explorama Lodges received the “Medal of Recognition” from the City of Iquitos for its valuable part in promoting tourist business projects by showing the world the potential that the State of Loreto offers. Explorama has also received official recognition by the National Board of Tourism for its work in the industry.
Over the years, other like-minded groups and individuals have become involved with Explorama and CONAPAC through regular communication and financial support of its various efforts. Along with individual donations, much of what is accomplished by Explorama and CONAPAC has come to pass due through the commitment of outside groups to the rainforest of Perú.
Explorama is proud of its long-standing relationship with The Detroit Zoological Society, which facilities donation processing and volunteers for the Adopt-A-School program. International Expeditions (IE), which has invested funds to be used for capital improvements of CONAPAC, several of the special projects noted above, and most recently, the initiative to build an environmental education center in Iquitos. This center is to be utilized by citizens of Iquitos and tourists alike. Lastly, The Tree Foundation/Amazon Amigos, which is an on-line, gift program where money from purchases fund the important work of self-sustaining micro-enterprises, community development, and environmental education in the Amazon River region.
WEBSITES FOR LEARNING MORE
Related published material:
“La Doctora” by Dr. Linnea Smith, M.D.
“Explorama’s Amazon—A Journey Through the Rainforest of Perú” by James L. Castner