Thursday, 23 May 2013


Deforestation - outside Maldonado - Giles Crosse
Some hours outside Puerto Maldonado the extent of deforestation in this part of the Amazon basin becomes truly apparent.

Road to the future - Giles Crosse
In this part of Peru, one side of the forest lining this road is protected by law. The forest on the other side of the road is being decimated by goldmining, human incursion and destruction. Nothing more than a strip of tarman separates these opposing visions of how Peru's future forest might one day exist.

A sustainable alternative? Giles Crosse
On the protected side of the road, more sustainable options are apparent. Viveros, spaces set aside for sustainable soils and plant growth are visible.

Will goldmining and contaminated waters cover the forest? Giles Crosse 

Yet elsewhere, blue plastic shacks, mercury contaminated pools and skeletons of trees define the landscape

Non deforestation - Giles Crosse
Some hours further down the road, undamaged forests line the horizons. Though even these may be threatened by future hydroelectric projects.

Sunset at Mazuko - Giles Crosse
As ever, the Amazon offers up a bewildering array of images and possibilities. Those that will ultimately represent its future remain difficult to predict.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Alex and me

I read this lovely, meaningful excerpt from 'Alex and me' by Irene M. Pappenberg, which I felt keen to share on these pages...Alex was her Gray Parrot with which Pappenberg carried out research into animal sentience, communication and thought.

'Exactly how scientists came to espouse ideas about animal minds that were so at odds with what non scientists would call common sense is fascinating and instructive.

It bears exploring because it tells us a lot about ourselves as a species. Humans have always tried to make sense of the world and their place in it. Foraging people, living in close harmony with nature and her rythmns, see themselves as closely connected to other living things in their worlds.

They see themselves as an integral part of the whole of nature. We see this expressed in the mythologies and folk tales of Australian Aborigines and Native Americans, for instance....

Aristotle, in the fourth century B.C.E, constructed a view of the natural world that is, in its essence, still with us. He ordered all living and non living things on a ladder of perceived importance based on mind.

Humans were at the top, below the gods, a place earned by our great intellect. On lower and lower rungs were the lesser creatures, and finally the plants; lowest of all was the mineral world.

The Judeo-Christian tradition enthusiastically adopted Aristotle's blueprint, in which humans were given dominion over all living things and the earth. This description of nature became known as the Great Chain of Being. Humans were not only different from all of God's other creatures, but also distinctly superior.

The most important lesson that Alex taught us concerns the place of Homo Sapiens in nature. The revolution in animal cognition of which Alex was an important part teaches us that humans are not unique, as we long believed.

We are not superior to all other beings in nature. The idea of humans' separateness from the rest of nature is no longer tenable. Alex taught us that we are a part of nature, not apart from nature.

That 'separateness' notion was a dangerous illusion that gave us permission to exploit every aspect of the natural world - animal, plant, mineral - without consequences. We are now facing those consequences: poverty, starvation, and climate change for example.

My philosophy of life is based in an appreciation of the holistic nature of the world. Who knows what other amazing things we might have seen through our window into Alex's mind had he stayed?

In any case, he did leave me this great gift of what was once known and embraced but was lost: the oneness of nature and our part in it.'

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Slash and Burn

There is here in Peru, and in many developing countries, a strong tendency to burn things. When that comes to rubbish in the streets or toxic chemicals that is a bad thing.

Giles Crosse

Then again, in the EU incineration of rubbish is one of the largest forms of waste disposal. This of course does not make it right or necessarily good, but it does illustrate that these approaches are not confined to shanty towns or barrios. They are also used, invested in and supported by some of the richest governments in the West.

Of course, burning in agriculture to clear land is also a widely used and debated approach.
There is perhaps insufficient space in these pages to enter into the scientific and environmental arguments behind these points. They are complex and even experts in the subject fail to reach consensus.

More interesting is the ethos behind burning things.

Without using scientific arguments, it seems plain that allowing a field to lie fallow ought to enable a greater
quantity of goodness to return to the soil than rushing to send the vast majority of this into the heavens in smoke and fumes.

Equally, if we create something so virulent that we need to burn it to find a way to get rid of it, then perhaps it might have been wiser, certainly in terms of waste disposal, to have opted for a less harmful product in the first place.

But burning can also cleanse and destroy viruses. Viewed without emotion, it is little more than a process which converts one form of energy and material into another.

I do not condone incineration of rubbish nor the destruction of vast swathes of rainforest through burning.

Yet perhaps even more worrying is the mindset that burning belies. It speaks of a short termism, a lack of vision and a desire to sweep our mistakes under the carpet. It is often a violent, destructive process.
Maybe burning things isn’t the problem, it’s why we allow ourselves to do it in the first place.

Giles Crosse 

A blade of grass

Giles Crosse

Often it seems that humans and the environment are at odds, constantly battling for supremacy.

However, in actual fact there is a great deal of shared experience that bonds and illustrates the links all elements on this planet share.

The tiniest blade of grass, the hugest tree, a microscopic organism, a human being. All of these share a common functionality. All have a tipping point, the point at which, for whatever reason, balance is broken and spins out of control with potentially disastrous consequences.

Such equilibrium might be shattered by the tiniest ant, bringing to ground the most ancient hardwood in the Amazon rainforest. It might be the tiniest drop of rain, that crushes a blade of grass to the ground.

In the human world, it might be the final cigarette that leads to cancer. The final meal that leads to obesity, the final emotion that leads to a breakdown or triggers the onset of love, or conversely hatred.

If our world does rest on these subtle, tiny nuances that govern life and death, time and fate, balance and imbalance, then it may be that the word sustainability becomes even more meaningful.

What does it mean to live sustainably? Do we mean a sustainable life in terms of consumption? In terms of what we drink, eat, buy, in terms of how sustainable our emotions are? In terms of how much we give or take, in the measure of our kindness or selfishness?

Who or what governs these choices, and how do we know which are the right ones?

The natural world seems capable, left unhindered, of creating its own balance. Along this path there are winners and losers, extinctions and events, chaos, disorder and tragedy underlying the surface. But these are the elements that combine to create a holistic way forwards.

Perhaps mirroring this in our own lives could lead to a more sustainable way of living in many senses; personal, ethical, a learned ability to neither cling too tight to fleeting dreams of happiness nor cast away futures for lack of patience or resolve. To neither try too hard nor to give up.

Balance maintains the planet around us. Perhaps correctly used, it can maintain us too.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Escape from the jungle 2...

Apologies for the poor vid quality... It was necessary to use a low res format with Peruvian uploading times...

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Las Piedras river journey

River to your soul

Huesca river tributary, Las Piedras reserve - Giles Crosse
An hour or two upriver from the Lucerna port, the protected reserve in the Las Piedras region of this part of the Amazon comes into force.

It's a remote, isolated, largely untouched and largely unspoiled wilderness, where man's influence has been limited and nature still reigns in the jungle light.

Unsurpassing beauty and calm are at work here. But human encroachments have occurred, as a road enables illegal logging to take place. Empty shotgun shells have been found here by the Fauna Forever team, evidencing the brutality and the cheapness of life that belies this form of existence.

As yet, government officials have taken little or no action to protect the reserve in the form of guard posts or in the form of watch towers or communications. Laws at this stage have no concrete affirmation beyond cabinet rooms or red tape.

Thus it is left to the NGOs and the private businesses in the area with a vested interest in conservation to protect what may be Peru's most vital legacy, both economically in the form of future ecotourism and in the form of the biodiversity that exists here.

Giles Crosse 

Jungle canopy from below - Giles Crosse 
Ancient trees line the riverbank - Giles Crosse 
Las Piedras riverbank - Giles Crosse 
Alternating mud, clay and stone make up the shores lining these waters - Giles Crosse 
 Journeying upriver, people fall silent, preferring the nature around them to conversation. Sounds of a thousand birds, spider monkeys and the myriad species which inhabit this jungle wilderness reverberate and echo amid the canopy enclosing these waters.

It's amazing that such a truly wonderful place as yet affords little concrete protection from its government. Locals rub their fingers together knowingly, commenting, 'el dinero habla.' As in most parts of the world, money talks.

This area is among the least surveyed or studied in the Amazon basin. No one has mapped the river tributary and its species density in the pictures above. Few have even visited; far fewer have studied.

The mysteries here might one day serve up a million new medicines, species, plants and surprises yet unimaginable to those of us standing on these river beaches. There is a real sense of the majesty of nature when you become aware you're treading on unspoilt beaches, unstudied or sullied by human intervention.

Research  vessels must respect this ecosystem - Giles Crosse 
The very isolation of this place shines a light on how carefully we must avoid impacting on these areas whilst trying to protect them. Ecotourism, conservation and study all inevitably alter and change the environment within which they operate.

Perhaps the question is how we may successfully deliver the resources that can help save this part of the world, while respecting and enabling this precious ecosystem to manage and maintain itself, as it has already for so many millenia.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

High Andes

Cusco to Puerto Maldonado

The 10 hour bus journey from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado offers up some of the most beautiful scenery in this part of Peru.

Expect waterfalls cascading from cliffs of cloud forest, locals grazing flocks on unprotected mountainsides, flowing rivers, unguarded drops and astonishing views into the High Andes.

Palolimo tours offer the journey, on the lower deck of the bus in a fully reclining seat, for 70 soles, a bargain. This includes food, pillow, blanket and drinks.

It's a breathtaking experience...

Leaving Cusco - Giles Crosse 

Giles Crosse
Unguarded drops and beautiful vistas - Giles Crosse
Giles Crosse
Herding in the High Andes - Giles Crosse
It is quite astonishing that people still make a living in this harsh terrain from herding and traditional ways of life. So divorced from what we perceive to be modern realities and yet living and breathing, though the majority of today's Peruvians seek wealth and a better way of living in Lima.

Lonely sign - High Andes - Giles Crosse

Giles Crosse
Day's end - Giles Crosse
Be aware Peruvian buses are subject to occasional stop and grab raids where thiefs relieve tourists of their belongings. Avoid cheap operators and travelling during or after rainstorms, when roads can be washed out and delays counted in days.


Lifetime in a moment - Giles Crosse

Flowing waters guide healing; a lifetime’s emotion framed in a moment
Angels flit softly; to sunscapes and palm light surrender your soul
Under shadows and skylarks the truth bids you nearer, the silence most welcome, cathartic and clear
Nature’s epiphany constant as starlight, the tiniest creature, the world as a sphere
Ask not for distractions, crave not mirrored lies
For futures are present, reliant, come freely, both trustworthy, blameless and shown in these skies
Orphaned by sadness, seek not redemption
Rejoice in translucence, let clarity calm
Evermore freely step back from your chaos,while
Vistas of solitude soothe and disarm
Even when gifted these strange constellations, that wander and watch and perceive from above
Remember your world lives, remember your choices, be guided by mindfulness, presence and love
Giles Crosse 

FAUNA FOREVER – experience the magic

Friday, 3 May 2013

Escape from the jungle

Unloading at Lucerna - Giles Crosse
Often the most interesting days are the least expected. Arriving at Lucerna, to unload and return to Puerto Maldonado via car, it transpired Amazonian tormentas had flooded out part of the road, leaving our return route to humanity impassable.

Strict rules are meant to prevent vehicles using the carreteras that link Lucerna and the main highway during bad weather, as the road becomes yet more damaged and dangerous when heavy trucks pass over the waterlogged ground.

The riverbank at Lucerna - manual loading set to commence - Giles Crosse

In theory, this left us without a route out, as the gate was locked where our transport was awaiting some two hours away.

However, swift communications with local Brazilnut merchants, already at Lucerna and hence unable to be locked off the carretera, provided a potential escape route; on top of their truck, astride the brazilnuts.

Some time later, equipment, luggage and Fauna Forever humans were ready for departure. At this point, we already understood another truck had crashed some miles up the road. Hence the task was to breach several hills of muddy, ruined track, reach the overturned truck, right it, and continue onwards in the hope our scheduled transport would appear somewhere down the line.

Hill number one - Giles Crosse
Inclines on an Amazon carretera after a rainstorm in a truck are no joking matter. The incline doesn't look too bad in this photo, but it's pitted with deep ruts, the mud is sticky with moisture or dusty. Our truck failed in its initial attempts to get up this section.

A makeshift road - Giles Crosse 
Even planks were insufficient to enable the truck to pass the obstacles...

Walking back to Lucerna - Giles Crosse
It became apparent pretty quickly that the Brazilnut merchants had a scheme in mind. This necessitated walking back down the road we had just passed to Lucerna, in search of dry leaves and palm fronds to forge a makeshift road...

Palm fronds - Giles Crosse
Once collected, these fronds line the pitmarks and puddles, offering traction to the tyres and enabling vehicles to pass.

Fronds in the Brazilnut truck - Giles Crosse

They do the job really well, and it's well worthwhile reloading them up into the truck for reuse further down the line...

The top of a brazilnut truck is a wobbly place - Giles Crosse 
Even moving happily down the road, razor sharp bamboo spines and branches protrude above it... A watchful eye is required to prevent these damaging life and limb. The truck rolls and balances too, so a tight grip is advised...

Ravine no.2 - Giles Crosse
There are some serious craters in these roads...

Advice worth taking - Giles Crosse 
On some of the hills, it's too dangerous to ride on the truck, best walk behind...

Giles Crosse
Nearly there - Giles Crosse
Eventually, some ten hours after a 6AM departure from ARCC, we arrived back in Maldonado. In spite of any difficulties, the Amazon remains a disarmingly beautiful and wonderful place, though it's equally imposing and powerful. Being stuck or acting foolishly in this part of the world is not recommended. The forest will offer little sanction or pity to those who approach its boundaries without caution.

For those who respect and care for this place, it offers much much more.


Amazing photos from Las Piedras... Stunning, inspirational sights...