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As seen in Transitions Abroad Magazine November/December 2000
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Responsible Travel

Amazon Ecotourism

Even the remote backwater lakes and tributaries of the Amazon river basin are being plundered of their nearly 3,000 species of fish, often by commercial fishermen from outside the region. But now help is coming from concerned visitors wanting to learn about life in the Amazon and contribute to the conservation of its biological and cultural diversity.

My friend and I were among those who boarded a bus in Manaus and rumbled past once dense forest now turned into marginal farmland or wasteland, cut over and burned. After five hours we reached a vast spread of open water and sky. We were at the Urubu River, which opens into Lake Canaçari, in the center of which lies Silves, our destination. Atop a grassy hill just west of the port are two crescent-shaped lodges and a three-story circular tower with an open patio for dining. Their red-tiled roofs are beacons to arriving visitors.

Aldeia dos Lagos was established by ASPAC, the Association for Environmental and Cultural Preservation of Silves, formed by local residents to protect the fisheries and the other vital nature resources. Recognizing the unsustainability of current fishing practices, they have zoned the lands and waters around them, setting aside certain lakes as reserves where fishing is prohibited. These serve as hatcheries to naturally repopulate nearby rivers.

To get the funds needed to carry out education programs and provide management, the members of ASPAC established an ecotourism program. With support from World Wildlife Fund and the Austrian and Swiss governments, ASPEC constructed a lodge and received training in hotel management, cooking, building, accounting, and community outreach. Now, funds come from visitors like us.

Our first meal was typical of what we would enjoy for the next few days: pirarucu stew, made from the Amazon's largest fish; farinha, dried manioc root in granulated form; cupuaçu juice, made from the creamy pulp of a brown Amazonian fruit and tasting faintly like delicately perfumed milk; pupunha, the slightly oily, pasty fruit of a local palm tree; and cajú, the stem of a cashew fruit, underneath which hangs the more well-known nut.

On our final day, Vincente, a local schoolteacher and our guide, took us on a walk deep into the upland forest and showed us a wide array of leaves, fruits, and roots which are still collected for food, medicine, and other household purposes. Rubber, palm oil, and guaraná, a jungle fruit with stimulant properties, are just a few examples of the many products appreciated far beyond the community of Silves. Vincente explained how global survival ultimately depends on the well-being of the forests and the waters that run through them and that how participation in the Silves ecotourism program made us members of an alliance which protects not only one community but the world beyond.

Amazon Adventurers, a tour operator specializing in Brazil and based in Arlington, VA, can arrange personalized and group tours to Silves. Contact Lacey Gude at (703) 415-4795 or amazonadv@aol.com.

Costs. Food and lodging at Aldeia dos Lagos cost $55 per person per day. Transportation costs are additional, and depend on the number and length of boat and bus trips taken.

Guides. Presently, local guides do not speak English. Therefore, non-Portuguese speakers should seek a translator, available through Amazon Adventures. If this proves impossible, your trip will still be worthwhile, both as an educational experience as well as by its value in contributing to conservation of the Amazon.