Efficiency Apartment For Rent In Iquitos

"Stairwell and balcony for apartment in Iquitos"

Stairwell to the left goes to your 2nd floor apartment with the balcony

Efficiency Apartment for rent, well located in an interesting neighborhood on the pedestrian only boulevard with a spectacular view from the balcony, and little or no motocarro noise. Rare in Iquitos.

"Balcony of the apartment for rent in Iquitos"

The balcony of the apartment for rent in Iquitos

Your balcony has tables and chairs and hooks to hang your hammock. Hammock included.

"Spectacular view from the balcony"

Spectacular view from the balcony

Possibly the best benefit for you of living in this apartment is the beautiful view day and night. Rare in Iquitos.

"Comfortable bed, adequate storage"

Comfortable bed, adequate storage space

Air conditioning, hot water, cable TV, modern bathroom, fast wi-fi. Rare in Iquitos.

"Small refrigerator, closet with hangers, more storage space"

Small refrigerator, closet with hangers, more storage space

Small refrigerator,

"Desk, Table, Chair"

Desk, Table, Chair

Electric kettle for boiling water for tea.


Dresser for more storage space

Electric bill, wi-fi, cable TV, water bill, and trash collection bill included in the rent.

"Modern bathroom, toilet, sink, large warm water shower, storage"

Modern bathroom with more storage

Your modern bathroom with more storage space.

"tiled shower"

Large tiled warm water shower stall

Your shower stall has a built in tiled seat, a screened in window and warm water.

"Dawn on the Amazon Building"

Dawn on the Amazon building

Your apartment is the one with the balcony on the second floor of the Dawn on the Amazon building, on the pedestrian only boulevard at the corner of the 1st block of Nauta Street, two blocks from the Plaza de Armas. Your view is of the boulevard and the Itaya River. The ground floor is home to the office of Dawn on the Amazon Tours and CruisesDawn on the Amazon Cafe, and the Amazon Explorers Club. This is a great location for you to meet interesting people, and make new friends.

In the interest of transparency, although street noise is minimized, there are other noises associated with human activity on the boulevard particularly on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night, and some holidays between 7:00pm and 11:00pm, as the boulevard is one of the best places to see and be seen. I think it is a cool scene, with musicians playing, clowns on stilts, comedians being funny, capoeira, preachers preaching, dancers dancing, and always surprises. Not everyone agrees. There are also kitchen and restaurant noises except on Sunday when Dawn on the Amazon is closed.

You have no kitchen, but you are only 2 minutes from Dawn on the Amazon Cafe, one of the best restaurants in Iquitos, number one according to TripAdvisor for over 4 years. We can deliver to your apartment when you don’t feel like going out.

This is a furnished efficiency apartment. You start out with two sheets, pillow case, towel and toilet paper to get you started. There is no maid service. The apartment comes with a broom, mop, and bucket. If you would like your room cleaned you can hire one of our crew to clean for you. There is a drop off laundry right around the corner. You can leave your sheets, towels and clothes there to be washed in the morning and pick them up clean in the afternoon. At the end of your stay, leave us the sheets, towel and hammock.

There is a “Portales super market” 4 blocks away to buy toilet paper, supplies, snacks and drinks to stock your apartment and your refrigerator.

Bill and Marmelita Grimes live on the third floor and are your closest neighbors.

Rent is $425 U.S. dollars per month, one month’s rent in advance for security, which will be refunded to you assuming you leave the apartment in the same shape it was when you moved in.

We prefer to rent by the month, but under some circumstances will rent for $40 per night.

No pets, no motorcycles.

Contact Bill Grimes at bill@dawnontheamazon.com to check on availability.

Efficiency Apartment For Rent In Iquitos


Ayahuasca Deaths!

by Captain Bill

By William Menech
Over the past year there have been two ayahuasca associated deaths at ayahuasca retreats within the healing community surrounding Iquitos, Peru. It is a very dire situation when a person comes for a measure of healing and enlightenment only to wind up in a wooden box or burned to ashes.
I began my journey to Iquitos back in 2005. I drank ayahuasca at one of the first ayahuasca retreats just outside of Iquitos. I felt the irresistible pull to the Amazon, to explore more deeply the meaning of life through the medium that ayahuasca offers. While in Iquitos that first time I saw and learned so much about the practices and community surrounding ayahuasca.
I arrived in Iquitos during June of 2013 and opened a retreat center with my Peruvian wife and family. During this time we met and befriended so many spiritual travelers, ayahuasca retreat center owners, and facilitators. I learned about their experiences and ideas while sitting and working at Dawn on the Amazon Cafe.
I have come across so many beautiful stories of healing and transformation during my time in Iquitos. Every one of these stories has been miraculous and inspiring even though there are a few I encounter from time to time that are difficult.
Caution began stirring as I noticed centers being opened by people who had only drank ayahuasca a handful of times. All of a sudden there was the first death associated with ayahuasca. Last year Matthew Dawson Clarke died and then there was a second death, Unais Gomes. 
These deaths sent shock-waves through the ayahuasca healing community as well as throughout the world. The media picked up on the stories, sensationalizing and distorting the facts. In an effort to bring more clarity to the situation, the first death, even though it was at an ayahuasca retreat center, happened half a day after a tobacco purge, not from ayahuasca. The second man who died was stabbed to death by another guest. This guest did not drink ayahuasca and claimed it was self defense. 
Looking further into these events a sense of urgency arose. Something needed to change. Being a part of a healing community, how could these things happen? Couldn’t they have been prevented? I am of the belief system that when one is a part of a community and these types of events happen the responsibility to analyze and find a solution lies at the feet of all within the community.
How could these things be prevented in the future? I decided to reach out to the healing centers from around Iquitos and other parts of Peru to discuss potential protocols for a new mode of operation. 
I am happy to announce that we are formulating an association. This association is in collaboration with the Peruvian Government, Medical Doctors, Psychiatrists, as well as owners and operators of Ayahuasca retreats and healing centers. This association came together to discuss and establish safety and ethical guidelines that will be instituted and enforced through proper regulation. It is our intention to avoid, to the best of our ability, more dreadful events, establishing a more safe and secure environment for those that have the desire to come to Iquitos and work with this incredible medicine.  
About the Author:
William Menech has over over 16 years of training in shamanic healing practices. William Menech founded Qhispikay Kawsay Ayhauasca Retreats, outside of Iquitos, Peru in 2013 with his Peruvian Wife and family. All of whom come from a shamanic lineage. William Menech is one of the Original Founders of the Ayahuasca Safety Association and is dedicated to helping people heal.


Consulates in Iquitos, Addresses and Phone Numbers

Great Britain, Calle San Jose 113, Punchana District Telephone 253364, 965661742

France, Calle Tavara con Fitzcarrald, Telephone 605011, 959036803

Brazil, Calle Sargento Lores 363 … Telephone 235151, 235153

Columbia, Calle Calvo de Araujo 431, Telephone 231461

Spain, Calle Putumayo 559, Telephone 231608

Italy, Calle Putumayo 803, Telephone 233435, 965771171

Iquitos does not have a United States Consulate. The Embassy of the United States in Lima Peru, American Citizen Services Unit, email is LimaACS@state.gov.

The American Citizen Services Unit have eliminated phone contact except for life and death emergencies. If you are a citizen of the United States and you do have a life or death emergency, the hot line phone number is  [011] (51-1) 618-2000. From Iquitos, life or death emergency only, dial  (01) 618-2000.

Consulates in Iquitos, Addresses and Phone Numbers

Bill Grimes operates Dawn on the Amazon from his office at #185 Malecon Maldonado, Iquitos Peru.


Chasing Demons In The Night

by Captain Bill

By Chris Kilham,

Yuri arrives at the ayahuasca camp preceded by mystery. Vague hints of witchcraft during the afternoon have presaged his portentous entrance. Yuri is doughy, quiet, innocuous in appearance for a guy under a black cloud. Slightly under six feet in height and with a linebacker’s girth, this is a Ukrainian raised on potatoes, vodka, and pelmeni, little meat-filled dumplings. He moves at a moderate pace, no hurry, fingers slightly curled, a full head of short black hair atop a round Eurasian face, a Trojan horse of restrained spirits just itching to bust loose. He is a long way from Odessa, broiling under a harsh Amazon sun in faded camo pants and a black t-shirt. He had apparently spent time in the military, seen some bloody awful things nobody should ever have to see.

By contrast, Rolland his eastern bloc companion looks like a mischievous Mister Clean. He is lean and quick, with a shiny shaved head and an infectious, cock-eyed smile. He raises an eyebrow and grins, leaning in to share a confidence, revealing nicotine-stained teeth. “Black magic,” he whispers in a graveled smoker’s tone. “Very bad things, cannot be spoken of now. Tonight will be a very, very big night. You will see. It is going to be a very interesting ceremony.” He leans back, apparently satisfied by the mysterious message he has conveyed, and lets out an eerie little laugh. Then he lights up a cigarette, and after a couple of practice puffs, blows a Hollywood-perfect smoke ring. Svengali.

From appearances, there seem to be no evil spirits about. Insects buzz in the searing mid-day sun, little invisible chain saws in the nearby trees. Butterflies flit about in their greens and blues, apparently unaware of the enormous pressure that has built up inside of Yuri, and Rolland’s expectations of an intense ayahuasca ceremony in a few hours. Blooming heliconia and birds of paradise accent the intense green of the camp. I hear splashes from the nearby pond, where tonight’s passajeros are swimming. A few vultures fly lazy circles high overhead. A nearby aguaje’ palm stands laden with ripe orange fruits. In one of the cabins, somebody strums a guitar.

After the sun sets, about two dozen of us gather in the ceremonial malocca. The frogs are warming up their a cappella chorus, tuning up for a long night of chirping and throaty croaks. The air feels heavy with expectation, a sense of something big on the way. It’s probably all the talk about witchcraft. I glance at Yuri a few mats over from me. He appears relaxed, not a job for Constantine. Rolland squats beside him and speaks to him in a low voice. Yuri nods affirmatively. He appears to be taking direction from Mister Clean.

We all drink ayahuasca, one after another, going up to the shaman and requesting the amount we wish to consume. In the case of those who haven’t drunk before, they are given about a quarter of a glass. This is strong medicine. Just a short snort is enough for a rocket ride into the spirit-laden stratosphere. When Yuri’s turn comes, Rolland accompanies him and sits with the shaman. I think I hear Rolland say “Let’s get this done,” after which Yuri is poured a half glass. He is now the Enola Gay. It is just a matter of time before he drops his atomic payload.

To be outdone by absolutely nobody, Rolland follows Yuri and asks for a full glass. He tosses it back with just a touch of swagger, and appears pleased. He sits down with a knowing smile, and fires up a mapacho cigarette, no smoke ring tricks this time.

After everybody has drunk and the one candle is blown out, we sit. The shaman, one of the most highly skilled in all of Amazonia, starts to shake a chakapa, a leaf fan. The shooshing sound creates a hypnotic rhythm. The shaman blows mapacho smoke at the passajeros while shaking the chakapa. The malocca is filling with the medicine.

And that is when quiet, placid Yuri blows. It is only minutes after drinking, but the urgency with which Yuri erupts shocks us all. His outcry is fierce, extremely loud, filled with ardent rage. “Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! he shouts, fast and hard, as though by yelling god’s name he can expunge whatever has him in its thrall. Yuri thrashes wildly, yelling Allah! over and over, gulping hysterical breaths and yelling some more. A couple of the helpers try to soothe him, but he will have none of it. He gets to his feet abruptly, surprisingly fast for his size, fully screaming now. Dangerous man on the move. No good.

Rolland gets up and moves toward Yuri to help. But Yuri, all rage and distress and mad shouting, does not recognize his friend, and delivers a surprisingly quick right hook, connecting with Rolland’s jaw, dropping him like a sack of hammers. Apparently this guy can fight. Game on, passajero in trouble. We are all on high alert now. Nobody is blissing out. It is now ayahuasca as Fists Of Fury.

In an instant, six guys are on Yuri, who still takes a couple of minutes to go to ground. Under his exterior padding lies a mass of powerful muscle. The men struggle, and Yuri fights like a maniac now, screaming and wailing and flailing. One of the men trying to subdue him is reputedly an accomplished martial artist, but nearly gets his face kicked in by one of Yuri’s flying bull legs. It is mixed martial arts in the malocca. Eventually Yuri is taken down with a man fiercely attached to each limb, and two gripping his torso, and tied tightly to a medical rescue board, still screaming his head off unabated. The shaman coolly continues to shake the chakapa, blow mapacho smoke. For the brand new drinkers, the first-time passajeros, this is jolting, disturbing, unnerving. For the shaman, this is one of five thousand or so ceremonies. He has seen his fair share of gringos go nuts at night.

Yuri is nothing if not inexhaustible. He does not run out of steam in a few minutes, nor in an hour. He bellows furiously, thrashing as water is poured on him steadily to calm him down. Fully enraged, gassed up on potent ayahuasca, gone mad in the jungle night, he struggles and screams, spits and hisses, erupts continually. It takes three hours before he calms down, and more time before he can be safely untied. Once he stops yelling, there is this audible release, more than a breath struggling out, but more, as though something has escaped from deep within Yuri’s body. The sound is like a loud, anguished sigh. The shaman, singing and shaking the chakapa, does not waver.

As ceremonies go, it is one of the stranger ones, a night of ferocity, shrieking, madness, gallons of water splashed all over the place, exhausted helpers having performed yeoman’s duty, the rest of us relieved when Yuri’s screams have subsided and the storm around him has died down. When the ceremony is concluded, Rolland, who nurses a blue egg on the side of his head, and one of the shamans helpers, sit with Yuri and speak with him, calm now.

By Yuri’s account the next day when we all share our ceremonial experiences, something huge and evil and dark, with hooks and fangs and saw-like arms and demonic eyes and an overpowering stink, came out of his body when the shaman sang a particular icaro, a healing song. The terrible thing did not go easily, clung inside tenaciously to Yuri’s guts, and tried to strangle him. Sheepish in his account, Yuri looks terribly embarrassed, like a man who has crapped his pants while giving a Toastmaster’s speech. The best that Yuri can describe is that a demonic figure, inside him since he served in the Ukraine military, had been driven out of him. We are all happy to hear it, partly for his healing and partly because it suggests more quiet ceremonies for the next few nights. I point a friendly finger at Yuri, telling him no more going bananas in ceremony, and he gives me a shy smile.


If Yuri arrived enshrouded in mystery, Maya enters the scene seemingly on a light breeze. She too has traveled from far overseas, northern Africa, and carries an airy aura. Petite, lithe and fluid in movement, she offers a wide smile, and appears dressed from the Free People catalog, classic festival-wear. Maya is quick to converse and to laugh, and gives no appearance whatsoever of struggling with imponderable dark forces. She fits into the group seamlessly, a welcome spirit. About her lingers the aroma of vanilla and spices. When asked why she is at the center, she says that she has some things to work on. Don’t we all. She chats amicably, fits in easily with the group, makes herself at home. Maya appears to be good company, and likely a lovely addition to the ceremonial space.

Night time ushers us all back into the large malocca, each of us on a mat with our pillow, blanket and puke bucket, each armed with a flashlight, and tissues for cleaning up after any barfing. Like the Boy Scouts, we are prepared. Helpers stand ready to change used buckets, lend a guiding hand to the toilet, pour a bit of water on someone’s forehead if they get too far out, and generally assist if things get too hairy. There is support if someone goes off the rails.

We all drink, including Yuri, who will remain quiet and unobtrusive for the evening. I take my usual quarter of a cup of ayahuasca. Some others drink less, some more. Rolland goes for the Big Gulp again, an unstoppable ayahuasca-drinking force. After drinking, the shaman starts shaking the chakapa, blowing mapacho smoke, setting up the space. Eventually he begins to sing, his low, mysterious voice taking us out, out into the spirit landscape. The night unravels, the fetters that bind us to this dimension loosening, as we expand and visions come. At once several of us see the room filled with snakes, and we mutter to one another “Hey, what’s with all the snakes?” The serpents are not ominous, just everywhere, packed by the dozens into the dark malocca, slithering and undulating. It is classic of the shared visions that can and do occur during ceremony.

Maya is apparently very mareado, feeling the effects of the ayahuasca so intensely that she softly calls out for help to get to the toilet. A helper assists her, guiding Maya to the toilets at the back end of the malocca. So far s good. But on the way back to her mat, Maya goes off. She shrieks a high keening wail, and as she does, something that looks like a wraith rises from her body, tearing out from the top of her head. Wrapped in a sinewy flutter of dark smoke, the wraith soars upward toward the ceiling, streaking through the palm roof. We all “see” it, in the way that you see with inner and outer vision simultaneously. The wail is so loud and so dramatic, we all turn to little Maya, somewhat in disbelief that a sound so immense is coming from this tiny woman. Unlike Yuri, whose eruptions filled the night for hours, Maya’s comes and goes at once. When the wraith has flown, she is silenced. Yet her odyssey is not over.

As Maya is aided back to her mat, she drops in a heap, rag-doll loose and gone baby gone. The mat is a distant shore, and Maya is out cold someplace past the shipping lanes, lost in the deep psychedelic sea, unresponsive. Water on the forehead produces no response. Light shaking of her arm does nothing. A couple of the male helpers decide to lift her up from under the armpits and try to bring her back to waking consciousness. This does not work. Then they decide to walk her around, which also does not work. They are way out of their depth. Maya is limp and out of it, and no amount of dragging about will bring her back. The scene gets weird. People in the malocca become uneasy, as we watch a couple of big guys drag around this unconscious little woman. I suggest to my wife Zoe that she and some other women take over immediately, since the men are making a pathetic hash of the scene.

The suggestion requires only a second to take root. Four women march on Maya and the draggers, and demand her release, right now. It is not quite a showdown, but it can be if the men don’t get out of the way. The women are riled up, alright. The men reluctantly lower Maya gently to the ground, and the women shoo them away, sitting down around her, taking her hands, stroking her feet, speaking to her softly. Where brute force has failed, tenderness and the sweet touch of four women prevails. In just minutes Maya is conscious, exhausted, definitely spent, and grateful for the sisterly assist. She vaguely recalls being hauled around, toes barely touching the ground, by some guys.

Eventually Maya is gently returned to her mat, conscious now, and the evening continues on with more chakapa, more mapaho, more icaros. There is the usual symphonic puking, bowel eruptions in the toilet, the random call for assistance. Buckets are exchanged, passajeros laughing or trembling at their own visions, frogs croaking loudly, groaning farts in the night, strange insect noises from the surrounding Amazon forest, the occasional soft crying someplace in the room. There are gasps, sighs, chuckles. The shaman shakes his chakapa, blows mapacho smoke, sings eerie and compelling icaros in the dark.

The next morning when we share our experiences, Maya describes with great surprise her unexpected experience with the wraith. According to Maya, the thing was deep inside her, firmly entrenched, and she only saw it for the first time ever, or had an inkling of its presence, when she emerged from the toilet. “I had no idea it was in me,” she retells. “But when it started to come out, I felt as though this thing had been living inside of me for a long time.” Its emergence was painful, thus the scream.

Several of us comment on the experience, noting that we all saw the same thing, the same shape, the wraith in gauzy smoke, swirling and soaring up through the ceiling of the malocca. The shaman cannily comments “When bad spirits are in the ceremonial space, we send them away. For good. They have no other option.”

As for the dragging scene, the men helpers get a good talking-to by the women who brought Maya back, telling them plainly that instead of being clumsy and forceful, they should be more attentive and gentle. The men don’t dare argue back, because the women are right, 100%. We are all eager to put the incident behind us.


Demons? Really? It all sounds so melodramatic, delusional, reminiscent of superstitious Medieval times when witches were burned at the stake. Yet however we wish to grapple with the notion, the accounts of demons or wraiths or bad spirits coming out of people during ayahuasca ceremonies are too numerous to ignore. What happens inside us? Is it that ideas or thoughts or feelings, perhaps resulting from injuries, insults and traumas, eventually become so repetitive that they assume form? Everything is energy, so perhaps at a certain point negative forces, including memories and traumas, become so energetically charged that they turn into demons of some sort, seemingly separate forms with shape and personality, that dog us and harm us and gray our days.

And what of the fact that sometimes many people see these supposed demons? How did so many of us see the exact same thing when Maya wailed? I am not especially concerned with the why or how of it. What I do know is that people often experience some sort of negative force inside them. And often many people see the same thing at once. This is not uncommon with ayahuasca, and is one reason that the alkaloid harmine in the vine used to make this potent brew was originally named “telepathine.”

In the ayahuasca space, people have unusual and extraordinary experiences of all kinds. Some feel great sadness. Some are swept away in ecstatic joy. Some resolve tenacious health disorders. And some battle demons. And when the demons are vanquished, then people experience a great lifting of long-held burdens. Sadness, depression, grief, and other soul-constricting forces are released, replaced by a greater sense of wholeness and relief.

In the ayahuasca space, people have unusual and extraordinary experiences of all kinds. Some feel great sadness. Some are swept away in ecstatic joy. Some resolve tenacious health disorders. And some battle demons. And when the demons are vanquished, then people experience a great lifting of long-held burdens. Sadness, depression, grief, and other soul-constricting forces are released, replaced by a greater sense of wholeness and relief.

This is why ayahuasca is referred to as La Medicina, the medicine. In a multitude of ways, some simple and some abjectly strange, ayahuasca helps to restore balance to body, mind and spirit. The ways seem infinite, often hard to fathom. But the effects are generally very, very good. People are relieved of pain and suffering, and their lives become more satisfying and fulfilled. So demons be damned. Whatever they are, and however they come about, the medicine works, and that is its great purpose.

Chris Kilham is an ayahuascero and author of The Ayahuasca Test Pilots Handbook, The Essential Guide To Ayahuasca Journeying. His web site is www.MedicineHunter.com.

If you enjoy Chris Kilham’s writing style, you will want to click the links below to read the other articles he has written for the Captain’s Blog.

Another Iquitos Evening;

Saturated With Spirit at Nihue Rao;

Mareado On The Nauta Road;

Gringo Self-loathing and Ayahuasca;


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By Campbell Plowden, Executive Director, Center for Amazon Community Ecology


Campbell Plowden

My first foray into Amazon conservation was a three month trip in 1986 through Brazil and other countries to get a first-hand look at the drivers of deforestation. I visited logging and ranching operations, and toured the giant Carajas iron ore mine, Balbina dam and colonization projects to see how these development schemes were transforming the region’s landscape. I also spent several weeks in the jungle and dry coastal forest of Peru to document how men caught parrots and other wild birds for the pet trade. After falling in love with copuazu in Brazil, I left Iquitos thinking that gnawing the fine layer of orange paste off of aguaje seeds was probably an acquired taste.

In 1990, I helped launch Greenpeace’s tropical forest campaign and lobby the World Bank and other international institutions to stop funding projects that damaged the forest and displaced traditional forest peoples. I could describe the negative consequences of logging, ranching, plantations, and mining and the infrastructure created to support them, but I was increasingly bothered by my inability to answer one basic question. How could local people make a living without damaging the forest?

One potential solution was highlighted by a study conducted around Iquitos by researchers from the New York Botanical Garden. It showed that the combined value of non-timber forest products (fruits, fibers, and resins often called NTFPs) harvested from a forest plot over time could exceed the short-term profits of logging it. This principle fostered the creation of Extractive Reserves in Brazil that gave collective land titles to rubber tappers and huassai fruit collectors. I wondered if the strategy could be applied to indigenous reserves where native people could use their intimate knowledge of the forest to improve their standard of living instead of succumbing to the temptations and pressures of mahogany cutters and gold miners.

I got my first chance to test this idea by studying the ecology, management and marketing of NTFPs in a Tembé Indian reserve in the eastern Brazilian Amazon. I lived in the village of Tekohaw on the Gurupi River and focused my field work on andiroba oil, copaiba oleoresin, amapá latex, tamshi vine roots, and copal resin (called “breu” in Brazil). I didn’t consider edible fruits because it seemed too hard to transport perishable items far from the reserve. The research was fascinating, physically demanding and did not produce the results I had hoped for. While each product had a well-established market in the city of Belém, none of them promised to provide an abundant sustainable source of income for the people in this remote forest area. The trees were too rare, production was too low or erratic, or the plants were easily overharvested. One common factor was that harvesters earned little cash in return for the large amount of time it took them to collect, roughly process and bring these NTFPs to a distant market. The people who refined, packaged and sold the finished products captured far more income from these plants than the people who collected the raw materials in the forest.

It is an understatement that living with the Tembé was a rich cultural experience for my wife, two young children and me. I learned how to lay out a transect in forestry classes, but I had to learn painful lessons about working with forest communities on my own. My desire to be a good researcher and member of the community led me to become my village’s largest employer, occasional medic, family photographer, handicraft trader, chant recorder, and conduit for outside funds to fix a boat and finance a land rights project. I may have escaped global politics, but these multiple roles thrust me into the maelstrom of local indigenous politics that was rife with jealousies and rivalries between different leaders, families and villages of Tembé and other tribes in the region.

I emerged somewhat shell-shocked from the process with a PhD in Ecology and a passionate if quirky desire to learn more about copal resin ecology. I followed this thread back to Peru where I found numerous sites in the Iquitos area to probe the relationships between diverse species of copal trees, the obscure bark-boring weevils that provoke formation of resin lumps on their trunk, bees that harvest this resin to make their nests and people who collect the resin to caulk their canoes. It was great to find a collegial community of researchers and a less onerous government bureaucracy.

After a Quaker healer helped me realize that I could and should try to work with communities again, I founded the Center for Amazon Community Ecology in 2006. CACE’s main goal is to help local communities improve their livelihoods by sustainably harvesting and marketing value-added NTFPs as alternatives to economic activities that damage the forest. Our first project was a study of copal at the Jenaro Herrera research station operated by the Institute for Investigations of the Peruvian Amazon (IIAP). We measured the amount of resin that could be harvested from different species of copal trees and the amount of time that should be allowed between successive harvests for resin weevils and resin lumps to recuperate.

While I had initially decided to focus just on copal, an enterprising artisan named Amalia walked several kilometers from town to show me some bags and fans she had woven from chambira palm leaves and necklaces made with local seeds. It felt like deja-vu from Tekohaw where neighbors often came to my house to trade necklaces, bracelets or rings they had carved from palm nuts and bones for fishing line, hooks or some extra sugar. After giving away as many of these items as I could to relatives for Christmas presents, I found that I could actually sell them at my Friends Meeting and return the proceeds to support needs in the community. OK universe, I get the message. Handicrafts are not only a valid but perhaps one of the best forms of value-added NTPFs available to local communities. The next summer, I met several groups of artisans in Jenaro Herrera and began working with them to develop specific designs of rainforest plant jewelry and woven bags.

In 2008, it seemed time to begin applying lessons from our copal studies in a protected reserve to real conditions around communities in the region. I had gone it alone with the Tembé in Brazil and didn’t want to do so again in Peru. I was fortunate to met Michael Gilmore who had worked with Maijuna native communities in the Napo region. He introduced me to the Instituto del Bien Comun which facilitated my first visits to native communities along the Ampiyacu River and the Rainforest Conservation Fund which invited me to meet their campesino community partners along the Tahuayo River.

These visits gave me a renewed sense of confidence and welcome perspective about working with communities. I tried to clearly explain how working with CACE could benefit the community both in the short-term and long-term without creating unrealistic expectations and making promises I couldn’t keep. Many communities have been involved with research and development projects sponsored by governmental and non-governmental agencies that have failed to help them so they have become understandably cynical about new proposals. A few communities which have escaped such attention for better or worse, however, seemed vulnerable to uncritically embrace a potential project too quickly.

While adhering to certain principles and protocols (like always seeking out village leaders first) can improve the chances of succeeding, I increasingly trust my instincts to sense when working with a particular community would not be a good fit for us if I feel we could not offer what they seem to need, the logistics of working there would be too hard for us to manage, or the social atmosphere would not be conducive to establishing a positive relationship.

In the past six years, we have slowly built trust with partners in about ten villages and small towns in the region. Our largest program focuses on developing and marketing innovative handicrafts and essential oils with native communities in the Ampiyacu region. We began by surveying copal resin around the village of Brillo Nuevo and creating a unique line of belts that Bora artisans have woven with chambira palm fiber and natural plant dyes into patterns of Amazon jungle snakes. As our ability to sell crafts in the U.S. grew, we reached out to new villages with the goal of partnering with at least one village from the four ethnic groups (Bora, Murui (Huitoto), Ocaina and Yagua) represented in the fifteen communities that comprise the native federation FECONA.

This expansion of village partners accompanied the growth of ideas for new products and designs coming from artisans, CACE and craft buyers. These now include guitar straps, dog collars and leashes, hat bands, bracelets, hot pads, cell phone and water bottle carriers, and Christmas tree ornaments. Our overall craft offerings also include woven baskets, ornaments and jewelry made by artisan partners from Chino on the Tahuayo River, Jenaro Herrera on the Ucayali River, and the Maijuna village of Nueva Vida on the Napo River.

The strongest asset of most of these artisans is their creativity, and CACE has been able to sell a fair number of their beautiful woven crafts at local fairs and church events around central Pennsylvania and the Washington, D.C. area. This level of sales, however, has usually only generated enough extra income for artisans to buy some basic materials for their household. In order to increase their income to the level where they can send their children to a better school (one commonly stated goal for families in the region), they will need to be able to make crafts in larger quantities with more consistent quality. Doing so will require surmounting the biggest challenge we face working with many artisans; they are used to making and selling things one at a time, often by themselves.

Telling an artisan that we can’t accept a piece that she may have worked on for several days is the one of the hardest and most important things that we do. Some artisans get frustrated and/or angry at us and give up. Women who have now worked with us for up to six years all say they appreciate that we hold them to a high standard and that giving them detailed feedback on their crafts has helped them become better artisans. Last year we conducted a series of workshops with the Field Museum of Chicago to help artisans improve their communication and leadership skills and work together in small groups. This year CACE has sponsored several workshops led by veteran artisans to teach their fellow artisans how to make specific types of best-selling models of belts, hot pads, guitar straps and ornaments. We are also making instructional videos featuring these artisan “professoras” demonstrating how they make these crafts one step at a time.

Our craft sales have always been strongest in the Christmas season. This year we are going to try to expand sales by displaying our crafts at several “green” product expos and summer music festivals. If our partners continue to build their skills and organization, the step after that would be to bring their products to major gift trade shows to connect them with other business buyers.

In addition to building artisan capacity, the other critical component to scaling up production of handcrafts is to ensure that the plants used to make them are well managed. We followed the lead of another NGO working in the region by providing curved pruning saws to artisans in Brillo Nuevo so they could harvest chambira palm leaf spears with less damage than is sometimes caused by cutting them with a machete. We have surveyed chambira abundance in artisan fields and are sponsoring more reforestation activities to increase the supply of this key fiber to meet expanding demand for crafts in the future. We have helped artisans in Brillo Nuevo to plant more dye plants in upland areas and raised planter boxes so high seasonal floods don’t deprive them of the roots, fruits, and leaves they use to imbue chambira with a wide range of colors.

While some craft buyers take products from artisans on consignment (and sometimes only pay them months later), CACE pays artisans immediately for any product we accept and assume the risk of selling it or not. Beyond promoting sustainability and fair trade, we also give back to the communities where our artisan partners live and harvest their plants. We dedicate 20% of net craft sale revenues to support health, education, and conservation needs in our partner communities. They have so far used these funds to buy school supplies and medicines, build a community pharmacy and a fully equipped bathroom for a village school, and improve their chambira palm management.

Our work with handicrafts is focused on generating income for women; the goal of our copal work is to develop an alternate source of income for men who are often engaged in logging and selling game meat. While copal resin is often boiled with used motor oil to caulk wooden boats, its other traditional use that has been documented back to the Mayans in Mexico is incense. Our early attempts to grind the resin into incense sticks was laughably ineffectual, but I fortunately met the owner of a specialty fragrance company from Los Angeles who told me that the resin could be distilled to extract its essential oil. Oils with the right aromas could be valuable components of custom-made perfumes.

The next summer we brought a copper alembique still to Brillo Nuevo and prepared our first batch of copal oil. We lacked rye flour to make the paste used in the Old World to seal the junctures between the pots and pipes so we applied cassava flour. The hot still baked it well, but too much steam still escaped so we opted for a plumber’s caulk called Moldi-Mix. It was exciting to produce our first batch of golden oil, and I took a sweet-smelling bath in the warm hydrosol that emerged from the process. Unfortunately our fragrance lady said that first sample had a strong lemony aroma. This was fine for a cleaning solution, not for a fine perfume.

Over the next few years we only collected resin lumps from copal trees whose species we could identify. We then distilled small batches within weeks, six months or a year after harvest to see how the type of resin and extent of its maturation would affect the composition and attractiveness of its oil. The good news of this painstaking process was that we identified one great candidate for a high-value fragrance; the bad news was that this resin came from one of the least common species in the area.

While we kept up our studies to monitor recovery rates of copal resin after harvest, an alliance with the NGO Camino Verde that conducts reforestation projects in southern Peru led us to launch a joint project to produce essential oil from rosewood trees – in our case “Brazilian rosewood” – Aniba rosaeodora. This classic oil had a well-established market, but more than a century of felling and grinding up entire trees throughout the Amazon had brought this aromatic rainforest tree to the verge of extinction.

One man from Brillo Nuevo guided us to a lone rosewood tree that survived from five seedlings his father had brought from the Putumayo River over sixty years before to plant in front of his new home in the Ampiyacu River area. It took five spry men over an hour to collect a bag of small branches and leaves from its high canopy. This batch yielded a decent amount of oil, but harvesting material from older trees was not going to be a viable strategy for generating income or promoting rosewood conservation.

We soon commissioned IIAP to produce 900 rosewood seedlings for us at their nursery in Jenaro Herrera. Most came from cuttings from a few bush size plants they had. In early 2013, we brought these two-foot tall plants by truck and a succession of three boats to Brillo Nuevo where they were divided among five families that had won a lottery selection to plant a share in one of their forest fields. By monitoring the survival and growth over the past two years we have learned that rosewood seeks a medium path in life. It of course needs light and water, but young plants withered in open sun and died in saturated fields. We expect to be able to carry out the first limited leaf and branch harvest early next year. The general plan will be to maintain most trees at a height of three to four meters so they concentrate their growth in producing side branches. Other trees in each field will be allowed to grow tall at their own pace into mature trees whose seeds can be used to expand the local oil producing enterprise and replenish the species. Almost every family from Brillo Nuevo now wants to have their own rosewood trees – both to enjoy the soothing fragrance that it naturally emits and to have another source of income.

While waiting for the trees at Brillo Nuevo to reach minimum harvestable size, we wanted to gain some experience working with rosewood trees. Searching around Tamshiyacu where IIAP had acquired its few trees, we found a few families willing to sell us some leaves from trees planted in their farm plots about twelve years ago. Our Bora friends had laboriously cut our first trial batches of rosewood branches into little chips by machete, but in the summer of 2014 we brought in a grinder and stainless steel distiller to improve the efficiency of our budding enterprise. The new equipment worked well, but our initial runs processing rosewood leaves from Tamshiyacu and copal from other sites were hampered by a different technological challenge. We needed a steady flow of water to run through the condenser that cooled the oil and water vapor back to their liquid state, but we quickly emptied the tank connected to the well of our rental house and then the old pump gave out. The operation ran more smoothly when we relocated to a place connected to city water.

It remains to be seen if we will be able to produce enough of the very special copal oil with our community partners to sell to perfume makers, but working with Camino Verde showed us that even our more common varieties may be very attractive to people interested in aromatherapy. We’re now discussing copal oil production projects with several native communities in the region. The next steps will be using the results of our research to formulate management plans to guide the harvest of copal resin and satisfying the other legal requirements to export copal and rosewood oil to buyers in the U.S. and elsewhere. These processes will doubtless involve a new series of challenges, but I am optimistic that we are finally getting close to creating a new source of sustainable income for people in forest communities – even remote ones.

To learn more about CACE’s work, please visit www.AmazonEcology.org. To support our project in Peru, please visit our page on GlobalGiving at: www.AmazonAlive.net. Donations of any size are very welcome.


Campbell Plowden with Huitoto artisans

My elusive quest to support Amazon forest conservation and communities

By Campbell Plowden, Executive Director, Center for Amazon Community Ecology

I’d like to thank Bill Grimes for his sincere counsel and support since I became a regular visitor to Iquitos ten years ago and for kindly offering the use of his Dawn on the Amazon Café for our first public meeting in Iquitos in 2015, March 24, 6:30 – 9:30pm


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