In 2008 my son was halfway through his Motorcycle Diaries experience, minus the motorcycle, spending six months traveling from Brazil up through South America on his own. As he was nearing Peru, we started talking about meeting up somewhere in Amazonia. We found a place that seemed to fit the bill advertised in Lonely Planet. It was a newish “ecolodge”, where an individual investor had partnered with Cornell University to build basic lodging and lab facilities so that students could come down and study the local ecology. It was on the Yarapa River, a tributary of the Amazon, which could be reached only by boat from Iquitos. We were lured by the promise of pink irrawaddy dolphins cavorting in the river alongside the lodge and signed up for a week’s stay.
What exactly is an ecolodge, you ask? This web link Green Globe Travel gives good information and differentiates between a “green” hotel and an ecolodge. It also warns about greenwashing, the attempt to attract well-heeled travelers by easing some of the guilt about the outsized use of international resources by North Americans. Greenwashing means claiming some environmental efforts that don’t amount to a hill of organic beans as a marketing ploy. Many of the pictures shown seem like something hyped in the New York Times travel section, that is, not affordable by most of us. Yarapa River Lodge was (is?) not like that. Basic lodging, no infinity swimming pool or umbrellaed cocktails before dinner. Just Amazonia and its people in all its wonder. And, an honest attempt to benefit the local economy and environment, as well as its customers.
This admittedly amateur video I made was to commemorate our trip back then. Nevertheless, it gives you a good picture of what the lodge and the Yarapa River and its denizens are like and how it benefits the local environment and economy of indigenous villagers. Spoiler: You will see a sloth on video. Look carefully. I can’t say how it may have changed since then. There is a sad note at the end, as one of the local guides on our trip, Melvin from a nearby village, came down with meningitis four months after our trip and died before he could get to a city with health services. I found out about it by reading an incredibly thoughtless review of the lodge by an American guy who was pissed off because his guide had obviously been ill during his stay and hadn’t done his job properly. I emailed our other guide to find out what happened and was told that he died.
The time of our trip was April, so it was the height of the rainy season. Every night it poured and we wondered if when we awoke the next morning we would be walking through standing water on our stilt walkways. We were told that when the river receded to its lowest point, the villagers would plant corn on the newly irrigated and enriched soil. Note to my Green Revolution friends who think organic farming is only for the elite.
More on thoughtless American travelers I have run into will be in later posts. It will be called “Some kind of help is the kind of help we all can do without” (thanks to Free to Be You and Me for that title). Please watch the video; it’s a hoot. That young man aboard the plane from Lima to Iquitos is my son. I hope he will be a guest blogger one day soon on his total immersion experience in Colombia.