DEEP ECO-TOUR IN ECUADOR Jan/Feb 1998
RIC Projects Director Anja Light has just returned to Japan after a visit to Ecuador to visit the projects run by CIBT. With her was a small group of Japanese activists. This is her story of that visit.
I have just returned to Japan from 3 intoxicating weeks in Ecuador. I feel recharged and empowered from seeing the work of RIC people in Ecuador - but still in major culture shock in returning to the anethesized life in Japan. It is painful to be awake in such an abused landscape - yet - once again the journey to Ecuador revealed the deep connections between the consumer juggernaut of Japan and the exploitation of nature in 'developing' countries.
The main purpose of the tour was bringing (for the first time) a small group of friends and co-Earth workers from Japan to visit RIC projects. It has been a strong reconfirmation of the importance, effectiveness and challenges of working at the grassroots level. Perhaps the most important ingredient in these projects is that they will continue whether or not the funds arrive, through the faith and belief in the hearts of local people and volunteers.
The tour itself was billed as a 'deep ecotour' - seeking not only to observe the beauty of the virgin forests but to understand the threats, the connection between the threats and our own lifestyles and to find motivation and inspiration in shifting our way of thinking and behaving in our 'developed' world for life to continue. We had the added opportunity during this tour to share some of our experiences with thousands of people in Japan. A local television station in Japan lent us a digital cameraand showed the footage, in a positive rainforest story, on a 10 minute segment on the afternoon news.
Our first stop was in Seattle where, a few days before, I had made email contact with John Reese from the Community Action Network. A testament to the strength of shared worldviews and international networks - he and his friends gave us a wonderful welcome on our 20 hour Seattle stopover. We shared vegan dinner and ecological experiences with around 15 local activists, deep ecologists and permaculturists and started our process in searching for alternatives to the destructive lifestyle we lead in the 'developed' world.
Part of the intention of the tour was to learn from indigenous people. Gehua Enamenga, the grandson of the Huoaurani Jaguar Shaman Mingatu, came with us to Los Cedros - the first time an indigenous representative from the Amazon visited the area to identify similar medicinal plants. He also called toucans by imitating the sound of their young by sucking on a leaf and rescued us from a night walking adventure - carrying an exhausted tour member out on his back. While there are no indigenous people living at Los Cedros at present, there are many signs that an ancient people lived there.
In the three days we had in the forest at Los Cedros we did some deep ecology processes - mostly clearing through personal issues so that we could open more deeply to the infinitely more powerful facilitation of the forest itself.
The director of RIC in Ecuador, Martha Mondragon, gave an inspiring slide show about the CIBT activities, the projector powered by the tiny micro-hydro electric system that Rainbow Power Company (of Nimbin, Australia) installed some years ago. (Jose hadn't needed to check the system in 4 months - it is working extremely well). The talk was accompanied by a live performance of a million creatures flying and singing inside the room without walls that serves as a dining and living space.
In our self introduction and sharing after the presentation we heard the local workers talk about their impressions of the project. It was a very rare opportunity to hear their perspective and reaffirmed the value of Jose's administration. They talked of their gradual understanding of the new concept of preservation - and the growing support the feel for it. It was very important for them meet people from Japan (the first Japanese visitors to Los Cedros) - which helped fulfill their image of Los Cedros as an ecotourism site for the future.
While we were there 3 volunteers from Germany and USA were helping local workers build (and complete) 2 new, super deluxe composting toilets, chicken and guinea pig coops (as an alternative to hunting endangered species at the reserve) and the new scientific buildings. Volunteers come here regularly and make a wonderful contribution in the sharing of ideas and cultural expansion. Steve helped us in guiding a sweat ceremony, Laura taught English to the local workers (in exchange for learning Spanish) and Maria went back to Quito to help Gehua organise a tour to Huaorani territory.
While all aspects of the project are continuing in varying degrees, the central aim of the project in protecting some of the forest in 'hottest of the hotspots' of the world - according to world renowned ecologist, Professor Edward .O. Wilson - is still under threat. Only 10 km away, the Japan International Cooperation Agency along with the Metal Mining Agency of Japan and Bishi metals (a subsidiary of Mitsubishi) cooperated to explore and discover a vast copper reserve. In Ecuador, whatever is under the ground is owned by the State - so despite the area being within the boundary of the Cotachi-Cayapas Reserve (or anything within the Los Cedros reserve) - it doesn't protect it from being mined.
There is fierce and determined local resistance to the mining of this copper (hundreds of local residents burned down their camp in May last year). I was able to interview local leaders and the local (indigenous) Mayor who supports local peoples right to fully participate in decision making processes which will affect their lives. Hopefully this footage will provide a good basis for a campaign in Japan which may help the people protect their land and their future.
No Mining, No Aid?
In one shocking revelation many witnesses (including a newspaper report) quoted the JICA representative saying that Japan would cut all its aid to Ecuador (including hospitals, education and potable water) if the resistance to the mining continued.
On our return from Los Cedros we passed through Quito (where we had meetings with local environmentalists to discuss shrimp exploitation and oil mining issues) on the way to Galeras, at the headwaters of the Amazon. Again, we only had 3 days to be in this very different, but stunning, forest. We were hosted by the Mamallacta family who displayed great skill not only in their knowledge of the forest (especially medicinal plants), but in looking after eco-tourists. They were very excited to welcome the very first Japanese tourists to Galeras too - commenting on the similarity in their faces. Meals, in particular, were a delight. Once again, we combined guided walks with deep ecology processes (sharing, healing ceremony with Casimiro's brother and Council Of All Beings) and refreshing dips in the nearby stream.
As a project manager I felt heartened to sense the Mamallacta's take on responsibility for ongoing activities to protect the sacred Galeras mountain - even though Douglas was back in Australia. There were 4 other tourists passing through while we were there and a German volunteer had been helping out for the past month. In the coming years, if things proceed smoothly, I can imagine that the community will achieve financial sustainability through eco-tourism. This would not have been possible without the dedication of volunteers and infusion of funds for construction of hardware (eco-centres, micro-hydros). At present, activities to guard the demarcated boundary of the reserve and maintain medicinal gardens are continuing.
After Galeras most of the group returned to Japan. Everyone's face had changed - more life showing through the polite, controlled mask we must wear to exist in mainstream Japanese society. I think every participant experienced a degree of culture shock - yet everyone has more strength to draw on in the quest to find a sustainable life.
I stayed on for an extra week to do some more exploring and talk about projects with Martha. I spent 3 days in Huaorani territory. Somehow, the life of the Huaorani was veiled to me (another issue -a people that face major challenges in keeping their culture alive)...probably based on my expectations having spent so much quality time with the Penan (who are perhaps more informed in their engagement in the struggle and more connected with other indigenous struggles) and the guidance of Gehua who has a foot firmly planted in both worlds. It's an extremely challenging and confusing path. It's hard to resist (for all of us) the lures of the of the dominant paradigm...
Instead I plunged into the forest at dawn and dusk and was blessed - a black hooded white eagle came down into the forest and watched - I remembered the Ayauasca vision the week before where the same black and white face appeared. I followed Gehua's step father in the jungle - silently, barefoot, attentive and saw the alligator first. I forgot myself in the pouring rain and sensed the narrow trail without losing the path.
I slept out in a clearing on the full moon night and fully experienced the tropical storm. The next morning when I returned from dawn prayers in the forest - they looked at me with worried faces - apparently Taegeri were around. I truly felt no fear at certain death from Taegeri in case we met. It would be an honour to meet this kind of death. I found the Amazon jungle more gentle than I expected. I emerged from Ecuador fully charged - but less able to bear the sanitized life of Japan (oh - oh)...