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Amazon Adventures, Day 9 – Peruvian Gold Rush?
by -- March 12th, 2011

Today was our last full day in Peru and a full day of travel. We are looking forward to heading back to school and enjoying civilized life again.

We woke up at 6 AM and had breakfast. Then, after some trouble with the boat motor, took a four-hour boat ride to Boca Colorado, and then another bus ride to Puerto Maldonado. There is a small airport in town, from which we leave to Lima tomorrow.

A day of travel afforded us several wildlife sightings from the boat. These included a great black hawk, wide-eyed parakeets, macaws, and a snowy egret. Our guide said that the rivers converge and the flow grows wider as you head east. At the mouth of the Amazon, the river is 300 km wide! We traveled down the Madre de Dios river today, which is bordered by willow, tesaria, cecropia, and gineru (cane).

During the bus ride, we passed a few mining establishments constructed of tarp and thatched roofs. The conditions are very poor; often the huts are built on stilts in standing water. This is the result of the modern gold rush in Peru, which is creating new pressures on deforestation. We saw giant piles of earth that had been discarded in the process, and was clearly stripped of nutrients with no plans for remediation. It seems like this area could become one of great economic, social, and health problems in the future.

Mining Community

Mining Community

We heard a statistic that over 1000 new miners come to Peru each month seeking gold. In addition to gold mining, oil exploration processes have been placing pressures on South American rainforests as well. This has enormous negative implications on the landscape. Human influence is apparent here; roads are wide and mostly paved, and large tracts of land have been deforested for cattle ranching. The edge ecosystems do not look as vibrant and healthy as the jungle of Manu, and small towns and villages emerge randomly as we travel down the road.

The change in culture is very interesting between the areas through which we traveled. Cusco could be considered cosmopolitan and modern, though the classic elements of Andean Incan influence are clearly present. People enjoy the conveniences of modern technology; high-speed internet, plumbing, diversions, and public safety. These aspects disappeared within Manu national park, due in fact that any type of ecosystem disturbance is illegal, but also within the cultural zone, where natives and locals sustain themselves on jungle resources.

Streets of Puerto Colorado

Streets of Puerto Colorado

Outside of Manu, the lowland cities of Puerto Colorado and Puerto Maldonado, while providing the same technologies as Cusco, did not seem as welcoming and to foreigners and tourists. Dirt roads, mangy dogs, littler, and poor air quality plague these cities as a result of economic instability. We may aspire towards development of this area, but recognize that sustainable endeavors like ecotourism and carbon offset programs are only part of the solution. Development requires adequate space, energy, and resources, all of which threaten the conditions of the rainforest. This conundrum leaves us in need of research; how to sustainably develop countries that boast such high biodiversity but low standards of living?

This has been the trip of a lifetime. We have 26 hours of travel ahead of us! A special thanks to the Environmental Sciences Dept, The Nicholas School of the Environment, Dr. Baker, our wonderful TA Alana Belcon, and our classmates for this experience!

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