July 18, 2018
It's been a long few days at ExplorNapo, the eco-lodge run by Explorama that's just down the river from Sucusari. We have been having meetings all day every day; among ourselves, with community leaders, and with the entire community in Sucusari. The largest set of meetings has been about my research. How will we find the 41 mineral licks that have been identified in the basin? Who will be on the team that goes on that first, huge expedition? How much will it cost? Is the water high enough to get to the Sucusari headwaters? Are the hunters in the community okay with this project, and willing to participate?
The community leaders, Shebaco (Sebastian), Victorino, and Duglas agreed to the project and gave their support before the community meeting. I explained the reasoning and the methods and the field work and answered some questions, and they agree that the project will be beneficial both for science and for the Maijuna. Getting the hunters in the community to agree is always a bit more difficult, because you always have to compensate people for their time; but at the same time if I just pay people say, a monthly fee, then I would be incentivizing hunting which would mess up my data. Instead, we have to be strategic about how that compensation is awarded, how much, and how it is distributed.
That's where the second set of meetings comes in: my house! I mentioned to some people that I'm going to be building a little 8 meter by 5 meter house here in the Amazon in Sucusari. If the hunters that participate in my project are the ones that construct this house for me, and I pay for it, that serves as a form of indirect compensation for their participation in the project. So yesterday, it was decided. The community came up with a budget for us for a house 8 meters by 5 meters, with mostly open walls for air flow and traditional thatched roof raised off of the ground on stilts. The house will include a little 3 meter by 2 meter room that is fully enclosed in wooden walls for equipment storage when I am out in the field. Sucusari is very safe, but sometimes the children get a bit curious. On the back of the house is a mini deck with a perforated floor for water to flow through for washing dishes and clothes, etc. We added three tables and some benches to the mix and the plan was complete. The site they chose for the house is incredible - right on the banks of the Sucusari, on a small hill overlooking the river and the forest. My first house purchase is in the books! Here is the budget they made for the house, and the contract that they created and signed for both project participation and house construction by the end of August! Additionally, Victorino will make me a 4-person canoe (for me, Katie, and some gear), and Shebaco will carve me two paddles. Soon, I'm going to be all set.
While meeting with the hunters, they also identified 17 new mineral licks in the Sucusari Basin that we didn't know about previously... suddenly my work load jumped from 41 licks to 58. I don't have enough cameras to cover all of those, but we will see how it goes. The result of that has been me sitting over maps with a large marker for many hours, trying to figure out who I need on these expeditions.
The third set of meetings that has been going on throughout the hunting and house meetings has to do with internal community organization, including the Maijuna Federation, FECONOMAI. OnePlanet, my advisor's Peruvian nonprofit, serves in an advisory role for FECONOMAI, and there are always things to talk about. Today, we leave for Nueva Vida and Puerto Huaman, two more Maijuna communities that are more remote and do not have access to the same resources that Sucusari does. We will meet with the communities and pitch ideas for sustainable income, school improvement, community organization, etc.
At the very least, ExplorNapo is a fantastic place to have meetings all day long. There is a beautiful hammock house, and always entertaining animals roaming around. One of the residents here is a Silver-Winged Trumpeter bird named Raul. Raul loves head scratches and has an annoying habit of pecking anyone that ignores him, like an angry cat. Here's Raul biting my advisor Mike while he's asleep in a hammock after a meeting.
The lodge staff also hang bananas outside the dining room, which brings in all sorts of critters. Most notable are the large troops of Squirrel Monkeys that come in every morning around 6:45am. These troops can be huge, with over a hundred members. You can hear them coming from a while away, crashing through the treetops and the canopy jumping from one tiny branch to another, until finally they leap from the canopy down to the bananas. They play and fight and scream for the good bananas, and it's always a good show. I have good photos on my camera, but they're hard to upload here.
The local bird community has taken a liking to me I think (besides Raul). I was meeting with Mike two nights ago in the dining room, which is screened in, when we heard wings and suddenly a large object hit me in the face. Yes, I got hit in the face by a bird two nights in a row, except this time it was not a pygmy kingfisher. Mike got up so fast he twisted his ankle, and I thought I was going to have a stroke. When I turned to see what was now latched onto my leg, I was surprised because... well, I thought it was Rico, my own bird! It was a large green parrot with a yellow forehead, same as Rico. When I calmed down I chatted to it and leaned down just picked it right up, carried it back outside, and that was that. Only in the Amazon, I guess?