The world’s lungs need you

Across the equator is a belt of tropical forests that harbour so much plant life they are responsible for a hefty proportion of the oxygen we breathe and absorb the carbon dioxide that we produce. Effectively they are keeping everything on planet Earth alive. 

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The Amazon river with primary forest surrounding it

Mankind learnt from an early age that these forests have a lot more to offer than simple gas exchange. We have been mining for minerals and gold, cutting trees for furniture and building, killing animals for food and pelts, clearing land for soy, palm oil, cattle and other agriculture, harvesting trees for rubber, taking Brazil nuts for our granola, and the list goes on.

We are successfully decimating this resource at a rate that is bringing about ill effects to ourselves and to nature. As you read this sentence, 50 to 100 acres of tropical forests, globally, will be eliminated, disrupted, degraded or impoverished. But as a species that is expanding we need power, food, homes and space. Whilst I sit at home eating a steak dinner, who am I to judge the farmer who raises a forest to plant soy that will ultimately feed the cattle that provide beef to European markets. Or as I sit in my plush apartment in London, what right do I have of accusing a man who fells hardwoods for beautiful furniture that adorns western homes.

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Patches of rainforest remain amongst ever encroaching cultivated land

Instead, it is us living in western countries who have the knowledge, wealth and more importantly a choice to do something that can change the future towards a more positive one. Simple things such as eating less meat which will reduce your carbon footprint, or buying furniture from FSC certified manufacturers or even going on holiday to support ecotourism ventures will all help.

A significant quote I recall from the first Spiderman movie stated, ‘with power comes responsibility.’ I believe if you have the capability to do something good then you have an obligation to do so.

This brings me to the main point of this post-

Why should you visit Uacari Lodge and the Mamiraua sustainable development reserve

This area, like many others was subjected to heavy exploitation by rubber harvesters, gold prospectors, the hardwood market, fishing and the trade in wild animals (both for pelts and meat). Several species were driven to near extinction (in the area) and the entire ecosystem was on the verge of collapse.

Nelson, my guide, described a time when there was a single Pirarucu (large fish) left in an entire lake that previously held hundreds.

A visionary and primatologist by profession, Jose Marcio Ayers came to the area to study the Uakari monkey. He noticed the problem and highlighted it to the environmental department. This eventually led to the area being granted protection. Now it is made into a reserve where several human communities live side by side with pink river dolphins, rare Uakari monkeys and vulnerable Amazonian manatees. The locals can fish, clear land for cultivation (on a small scale rather than commercial) and log selected trees. This is all done under tight regulation by the authorities and using scientific advice from research generated at the reserve.

In this human dominated world where take what you want seems to be the gold standard, this is a rare example of how humans and a fragile ecosystem can co-exist.

Apart from supporting such an incredible movement, there are other reasons one should visit this part of the world.

The wildlife

The wildlife is stunning. Seeing a scarlet macaw for the first time will leave you speechless. Waking up to the haunting call of howler monkeys as you look out onto a river shrouded in mist evokes emotions you will probably have never felt before. The reserve has a prodigious bird population from tiny swallows to giant harpy eagles. You are guaranteed of seeing plenty. I racked up a list of 45 different birds in 5 days.

You will see so many monkeys, at such regular intervals, they will become part of the landscape. The endemic black faced squirrel monkeys are the most entertaining and most comfortable in our presence. It’s the Uakari monkeys that are difficult to spot. But the thrill of tracking them is exciting in itself. At the meeting of Mamiraua channel and the Rio Japura is a popular hunting ground for both pink and grey river dolphins and tagging along are vast flocks of neotropical cormorants. The dolphins swarm all around you with a few breaches and many close encounters.

The lodge

The lodge itself is gorgeous. Forget the £1000 a night over-the-water villas in the Maldives. You get the same thing here for under £100 (minus the turquoise waters and luxury- instead you get black water loaded with caiman and piranha). It is built on floating logs that gently sway with the current and located on a lazy bend of a river surrounded by verdant forests.

The lodge takes barefoot living to a whole new level. The rooms are clean and spacious. The bed is comfortable. There is an ensuite bathroom which is functional. 2 rooms are placed on the same floating platform so effectively you share a balcony with your neighbour. Each room can fit more than 2 people if need be. Electricity is solar powered, so after a long spell of cloudy skies don’t expect much electricity. Water is from the river but looked clean. We had water issues during our stay but this was quickly resolved after some quick plumbing.

A walkway leads away from the rooms to the main building where all meals are shared on a long table. The food is buffet style with little variation but at the same time it is good. There is some salad, a chicken dish a fish dish, the obligatory rice and beans and a desert. Tapioca features heavily in most meals. The chef is accommodating and managed to cater for specific vegetarian dietary requirements with limited resources. The coffee is industrial strength and very good. There is always a tray of snacks of which I can highly recommend the cholesterol-raising roasted Brazil nuts.

A library and balcony sit on top of the dining room where you can relax or catch a breeze in the oppressive heat.

The tours

The excursions are fantastic and after all is what you are coming here for. They take place around 7am and 3:30pm lasting for about 3-5 hrs. You will get to see plenty of animals and beautiful trees. The sunsets and sunrises are spectacular. Although most of the guides only speak Portuguese, I managed to  communicate effectively using sign language and a few key phrases that are globally understood. Many are currently learning English on site. Their tracking skills are legendary as explained in my previous post. The staff are very friendly and went out of their way to cater for our needs.

Overall, this is definitely the place for you if you want to experience a slice of this world few others have seen, if you love nature and are keen on helping both the local community and preserving one of the world’s most threatened rainforest.

However, don’t expect gourmet food, luxury of any sort and be prepared for bugs-lots of them. They usually congregate at night where halogen lights are burning but they do so in insurmountable numbers. Be prepared to have your schedule altered because of weather which is more unpredictable than in London.

How to book

Simply go into their website , fill out a form or send an e-mail to get the booking process rolling.

Best dish

Chocolate covered roasted Brazil nuts sprinkled with tapeyoka flour

Favourite moments

– finding and photographing Uakari monkeys

– seeing pink river dolphins

– watching the sunset over Mamiraua lake

Useful info

– malaria free area but you will be bitten a lot

– take your own soap, shampoo, etc

– a waterproof poncho/jacket/pants are essential. Although a shower in the heat is refreshing

– long sleeves and trousers are very useful to keep the bugs away and protect you from the sun

– take lots of bug spray

– nearest hospital is a couple of hours away by speed boat so keep some medication with you- antibiotics, rehydration salts, pain killers

– a dry bag is very useful to keep your valuables and cameras safe in a downpour

Travel info

– there are regular flights from Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo to Manaus. From here either take a long adventurous boat ride or the preferred option of a flight to tefe (of which I believe there are only a couple a week)

– a short drive to the docks in Tefe

– just under a 2 hr boat ride to the lodge from Tefe

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The Uacari Lodge
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