What started just as an art commission in the jungle ended up being the biggest and beloved adventure of my life.
In 2006, I founded Amazon Action Cultural Association together with my friend and business partner Marco Schneider. Amazon Action was a Grassroots initiative to promote the conservation of biodiversity, the well-being of riverside communities, and the promotion of Art and Culture in Peruvian Amazonia.
We started by building a small lodging complex in a place of great biological diversity near the small Amazonian town of San Juan de Yanayacu. We lived isolated from the rest of modern civilization. No phone, TV or even electricity was available. To travel to the nearest city we needed to sail 5 hours on a speedboat.
Yanayacu Lodge was our operation’s base in the forest. With 7 cabins, a big dining house and a traditional kitchen we received travellers and guests. We also had a home-office in Iquitos, one of the most isolated cities in the world.
During the years of Amazon Action’s activities, we worked on social and environmental projects, by organizing communities to solve problems related to their life and environment. In order to make our work self-sustainable, we promoted our Jungle Lodge as a destination for adventure and biodiversity. People from all over the world came us to have this unique experience of disconnection and contact with nature.
People of the river villages
Our Lodge was located near a small town on Yanayacu River. People of river towns in Amazonas work on activities like agriculture, fishing, hunting and gathering. Often they travel to big cities to sell their products on the market.
Life in villages at the riverside is peaceful. It is very similar to the life of our ancestors centuries ago. Because it is a flood zone and there are no roads, the communities are almost isolated from globalization, and they live according to their own ancestral customs. The majority of the inhabitants of the Amazonian towns that we visited have some kind of education, they speak Spanish and receive news through AM radio.
Most small Amazonian towns do not have medical facilities or basic services such as water, electricity or telecommunications. There are only a few multigrade schools in the area. Few people finish high school. Despite all this, they are happy hard-working people, always looking for new ways to make a living.
The Jungle Lodge
Having a house in the middle of a biodiverse forest was a unique experience that we shared with volunteers, guests and travellers who visited us.
Our lodge was built with organic materials, wood and palm roof. Our cabins were made in Amazonian style, without walls, covered only with nets.
Making trips and excursion inside the forest was the best part of staying at our lodge. Through different programmed activities, we taught in a practical way how life is inside a Hotspot. We walked hours inside the forest to find animals and plants in their natural state. We used to sail in a canoe at night to see the nightlife of the forest resonating with an incredible sound full of life. At dawn, we watched birds while they fed and flew around the river.
Here some pictures of our friends and team members:
Communities of the Amazon basin have many needs. We created an intervention plan focusing on areas such as health, education, art, culture and personal development. At first, we worked just with the town near us, but over time we discovered that, by having several tourism companies around, they were in a privileged position. We looked then for communities that did not have any kind of support. With them, we developed different social initiatives such as a mother’s club to improve nutrition and education of their children, a kitchen soup, youth workshops, medical support, art workshops, handcrafts training, donations of equipment and special celebrations. In all this time we received the support from small organizations and people who provided donations and volunteers. I will always be grateful for people like Father Norbert Nikolai, Marita and Gunther, Katharina Bette, Julia Reinhardt, María Aguilera, Mrs Moreau, Rio Amazonas Group and many others.
One of the first challenges I faced was a local tourism company that tried to seize the entire area using a legal figure of a concession for ecotourism. The community was told that it was a communal concession for their benefit. After clarifying them the difference between the two types of concessions, the community decided not to give their authorization. I discovered with sorrow that most “ecotourism” companies take very little care about the ecology of the place. Many of them execute completely anti-ecological activities, such as using an outboard motor day and night and disturbing animals in their natural habitat, just to take them in their hands and make photographs.
With the help of some locals, we concentrated on wildlife rescue, especially primates. These animals were sold in the city, and after some time, when their owners didn’t know what to do with them, they contacted us. Among the rescued species we had Saimiri sciureus (Common Squirrel Monkey), Cebuella pygmaea (Pygmy Marmoset), Saguinus fuscicollis (Saddleback Tamarin) and Cebus capucinus (Capucin monkey).
Marco was in charge of the creation of a botanical garden of exotic and medicinal plants. The idea was to create a natural pharmacy for the benefit of the small communities. With the help of young travellers and volunteers we sow and classified the plants, and even we harvested some of them before the flood came.
In January 2012 a strong flood covered all the area. It was the worst flood in the last 50 years. The climatic event left more than 200,000 homeless just in Loreto. 26 thousand hectares of crops were flooded. Our lodge complex was also flooded and after some months when the waters diminished our workers called us and informed that the structures suffered considerable damage.
The reconstruction required a very big investment that we couldn’t afford. That was a hard time for me and for Marco. It was difficult to accept that our home and all our work was washed away by the waters.
I returned to Lima and concentrated on my artistic practice, as a way to deal with the loss. Marco returned to Germany, and after a few months, he convinced me to emigrate and hosted me in Frankfurt. At that moment I felt that relocation as some kind of exile. I blamed myself for not doing more to save the lodge, and for not having all the resources I wanted in those circumstances. It was a grieving process. But day by day I started to heal and the past was left behind. I focused on creating a new future. I saw clearly that my mission as an artist was always linked to my desire to contribute to the conservation of biodiversity. It became clear to me that by inspiring people with my artistic work and also with my actions I could continue what we started.
In May 2014 Marco underwent a triple bypass heart surgery. He died 3 months later. Alone, and with a heavy heart, I said goodbye to Marco Schneider. He was my best friend, adventure and business partner. I promised him to come back some day to the paradise we discovered, to continue the goals and dreams we created together. From now on, that mission just belongs to me, and to the new allies that I will find in my life.
Looking to the future
Years had passed. In this time I have grown and changed. I know now that sometimes difficulties come, but it is vital to follow our calling and to find creative ways to fulfill it. Amazon Action was born from my desire to help in the conservation of the Amazon basin and to promote the sustainable development of its population. I´m sure I will come back to Amazonas again. But I learned that this mission can’t be done alone. People with the same vision belong to the same tribe. When we create synergy to reach our goals together, we become unstoppable. If you are interested to help the Amazon ecosystems and communities, please contact me. There are many ways available. By protecting the environment, we bring heaven to our Earth.