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The Rainforest Must Stay Standing

by Doris Ragettli

Achuar Rainforest of Ecuador

Oct/Nov 2011, a year after my first trip to the Rainforest I am back in Ecuador. Since last year, Robin, our tour leader and I kicked off a global signature campaign for Rights of Nature, which had been greatly inspired by my experience in the Rainforest and meeting the Achuar people. My intention for this years trip is to learn more from the Achuar and their understanding of the importance to keep the Rainforests standing.

Achuar drinking chichaWe are visiting an Achuar community in Ti’inkias, (South East, near the Peruvian border). We ride on a bus for many hours, then we take a 45 min. flight on a bush plane over the vast forest. As I look down I feel great honor and respect for this majestic forest with the rivers winding through.

The camp where we stay is run by the Achuar with emphasis on being eco friendly and trash free, which it is, from the toilets to the way the food was prepared. Everything that is brought in, is also carried out.

At night the rainforest comes alive with a cacophony of sounds from frogs, birds, monkeys and insects. The moon plays hide and seek behind the clouds. I fall asleep while enjoying this heavenly clean air, perfumed by the fragrances of flowers, leaves and earthy smells.

In the afternoon our Achuar guide leads us into the rainforest and sits us down in a little spot of our own. “Pay attention to your fears and other thoughts and listen to the forest”, he says.

In front of me is a Kapok tree, its roots are taller than a person. The tree is host to other trees and plants. I suddenly feel upset by the thought that people cut down such majestic trees and the rainforest for oil. No! When will we stop that? What these trees and the rainforests provide can never be replaced. These forests are the lungs of Mother Earth. They contain a function within the world’s atmosphere that is vital to the survival of our Planet. We must protect the rainforest and the indigenous peoples. We in the west must change, what we call the modern progressive lifestyle. It is a dream that is not environmentally sustainable nor spiritually fulfilling.

How do I know this is true? I don’t, but as I leave my spot by the Kapok tree, I have no doubt.

Next day we walk through the jungle to the river. We wobble onto the dugouts and gently glide along the river for several hours, until we reach Kapawi Lodge, a Kapok treemore upscale and award winning Eco-Lodge, also run by the Achuar. The boat ride was quiet and inspiring in this pristine nature.

The Achuar took on leadership many years ago, by saying NO, to Oil-exploitation. They are a stand for the protection of the forest and their culture. They reached out to partners in the western world to support them in their vision and share their knowledge. The Pachamama Alliance is one of their main partners.

12 Nov 2011, “The Toxic Tour”

Our journey with the Pachamama group is over. I’ m traveling on to Lago Agria with Dean who was also in our group. It is a town in the North of Ecuador, where oil mining companies started drilling in the 1970es and left the area polluted. I wanted to see this for my self.

We are met by Donald at the airport of Lago Agria, who is the most inspiring and loving man. Donald is in charge of Frente de Defensa de la Amazonia, an organization dedicated to the well being of the people in the area and the impact the oil extraction has on their health. He has seen the destruction through Oil mining as he grew up here. His parents died of cancer caused by the pollution and so have many friends and other family members.

He is committed to show the world what has happened here, so we can learn and not repeat the same mistakes elsewhere.

We drop our bundles at the Hotel and start the tour rights away. We drive along a winding country road lined with a dozen curvy and mostly rusty pipelines.

First we visit a woman who has one of these oil deposit pits behind her house on her farm. She has tears in her eyes as she tells us that her 13 year old son is in the hospital for the 3rd time for treatment against intestinal cancer caused by the polluted water.

At the next deposit pit the surface of the pit rippled as we walk gently on the edge. Covered with tropical green plants, unless you knew it was there, you would have no clue until you stepped on it. My throat and eyes are burning from the fumes that go unnoticed at first but after a while you feel it.

There are more than 900 of these holding pits, which are a left over aspect of oil production in this area. These abandoned or poorly maintained pits leak into the ground and surface water, contaminating the supply of drinking water for 30,000 people.

Oil in waterDonald showed us how they have a pipe inserted on the top of the lip, so when the rains arrive, which in a rainforest is often the case, the surface water runs off into the streams.

He took us to where these pipes exit the pits so we could see and smell the oily landscape created by the escaping. This is sad, I have to hold back my tears.

“This goes directly into the streams where poor people bath and use the water for cooking,” explains Donald, “eventually it enters the Amazon River to the east, and the home of animals like the pink dolphins.”

Back on his own farm is a pit that Texaco/Chevron claims in its court case it cleaned up”. Donald took a soil sample and mixed it with water. A blue oily film was quickly visible. He held the bottle up to my nose, it smelled like an oil pit in a gas station.

As I leave, I am glad I decided never to own a car, too much for it is taken out in a forceful way from our Mother Earth and causes the Rainforest and the local people to suffer. It needs metal, rubber, oil and then the thing pollutes the air, makes noise and I would not walk anywhere anymore. Nope, not for me!

Dean Jacob’s interviewed Donald during their Toxic Tour with him.  Watch Donald’s compelling message to the citizens of the United States.

The Rainforest in Ecuador is in great peril of being destroyed for Oil right now, including the area of the Achuar that we visited! New allotments for drilling are being opened up next year. See: www.AmazonWatch.org

You can make a difference by contributing to: www.Pachamama.org

For more on Pachamama Journeys to Ecuador visit www.PachamamaJourneys.org

Also, we are collecting One Million Signatures for Rights of Nature, which we will deliver at the Earth Summit 2012/Rio+20 in Brazil in June next year.

Please sign our petition, be the voice for Mother Earth at the Earth Summit here