28 February 2014
Camp George. Not the most romantic or exciting name. But the name was appropriate – the camp was named after a Makushi elder who had a vision for a camp in the “deep forest” where travelers with a sense of adventure could truly experience the Amazon rainforest. Unfortunately, George died before his vision was realized but his son was there as a guide to see it become real.
The camp was little more than a small clearing in primary forest with a canopy made from a large tarp and and supports made from freshly machete-cut slender trees. We slept in hammocks under mosquito netting (the best night’s sleep ever!), sat on benches also made made from trees, and ate food cooked over an open fire.
We were the first group to ever use Camp George. In fact, they were still “building” the site when we arrived and continued to build it while we were there – the students were amazed to see new benches and tables appear out of nowhere every time we returned from a hike. We were fortunate to be able to experience such a site: one that was relatively untouched by hunting. logging, or mining. It is truly a special place.
You really experience the forest when you camp like this. There are no walls to keep the sounds and the smells out (the “bathroom” was an even more intimate nature experience). This is how I prefer to spend my time in the forest. And the students, while being a little anxious at first, agreed. We did not leave the forest when we were done for the day. It was always there.
When you experience the forest this way, you really appreciate the great diversity of life in the rainforest. It is noisy. It is never quiet, even in the middle of the night: there are always insects calling, birds call through out the day, especially the arrogant, little Screaming Piha, monkeys howl and chatter in the morning and early evenings, and, of course, there are the strange sounds whose origin is a mystery, even for our Makushi guides.
Speaking of guides, it is absolutely essential to have them, for two important reasons – one selfish and one ethical. Selfishly, the guides, which were from a local Makushi village, know the forest. Plain and simple. I can lecture on the ecology of tropical rainforests, I am pretty good at identifying birds and mammals, and I can discuss at length the conservation issues affecting the Amazon, but the forest is their home. They know the place to see that special critter, or which plant to make a tea from if you have a toothache, or how the forest was before the loggers cam through. Their knowledge and stories make an incredible experience even that more incredible. It makes it rich and deep.
Ethically, because this is their home, the guides should benefit financially from our stay in their home. Whenever I lead trips like this, I always stay at lodges and camps run by local communities. Ecotourism is often cited as an effective way to conserve nature because local communities find more value in intact forests than in the cut-down trees. But this only works if the local communities receive the profits from ecotourism. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Many “ecotour” operations are not owned by the communities in which they operate and locals from these communities are hired as guides, cooks, etc. and are paid minuscule wages.
This was not the case for us. The Camp is owned by the community and the guides, cooks, etc. are part of that community and share in the profits.
After a great dinner and a GREAT night of sleep, we were ready to explore the Amazon Rainforest!
Categories: Amazon Adventure: Guyana