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Adventures with the Queros-Wachiperi: DAY 1

November 21, 2010

11.07.2010

Today is the first day of my weeklong visit to the Queros-Wachiperi. The Queros-Wachiperi are a very small indigenous group near Pilcopata, Peru. By small I mean less than 40 members. While their culture was close to perishing at the turn of the century, they have an incredible story of recovery. In 2008, through the efforts of community leaders, they became the first indigenous group in the world to be granted a conservation concession. They are now the stewards of a 7000-hectare plot of pre-montane rainforest. The Peruvian government has granted them the title for 40 years, with hope of renewal at the end of that term.

In addition to the conservation concession, they have also developed cultural tourism. In the past year they have brought 9 groups to the community. I am staying in the community for the next two days to document the experience of a tourist group that is visiting for one night.

So, this morning I met Walter, one of the community leaders, for the start of our journey. We loaded my gear onto his motorcycle and set off. About 20 minutes later, the police stopped us for a license check. Walter doesn’t have a license, so we had to find other means of transportation.

We finally found the tourist group after hitching a ride in a van and began the 2-hour hike to the community. The heat was sweltering and we moved rapidly until we arrived at the road’s only destination – a community consisting of 6 small houses made out of wood, a beautiful tourist casa, and two soccer goals without nets. We were greeted with a lunch of fish cooked in palm leaves.

The afternoon was spent ‘experiencing’ community life. We went swimming in the river after assurances that it is not home to freshwater stingrays, piranhas, or electric eels. Afterwards, we joined two women in making handicrafts – baskets and jewelry. I bought a beautiful necklace made of local seeds for S/5.00 ($2.50). Dinner was roasted heart of palm and yucca – a delicious meal.

I have now retired to my tent for a little peace before I venture out to watch Freddy, my former field assistant, make a fire with two pieces of wood. We are going to have story time around the fire. I am amazed by the strength of this little community – pulling together this experience and finding a way to keep their culture alive. Tomorrow will bring balsa rafting and a morning medicinal plant walk. I’m curious to see what else they have planned.

Oddly enough, there are two students from an American study abroad program that are sharing the schoolhouse with me. They are here to study the language and history of the Queros-Wachiperi for their independent study projects. Even in the middle of nowhere, I encounter pieces of home.

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