Projects in the Peruvian Amazon: An Interview with Davarian Hall
By Kit Herring
After 10 years of road trips across the USA and sailing to islands of the Caribbean, Davarian Hall visited the country of Peru in 1982 as a travel writer and photographer. His work was subsequently published in publications such as National Geographic Traveler Magazine and, with the advent of the World Wide Web, within scores of web sites.
In Peru Davarian pursued a career as an eco-tourism consultant working with conservation organizations and indigenous Indians to help build and promote Amazon rainforest lodges.
Davarian is currently a partner in the Amazon Refuge Wildlife Conservation Center, a remote research center located off of the Peruvian Amazon River. Here Indian communities, including the San Juan de Yanayacu Indians protect a one million-acre Amazon rainforest reserve. The reserve area is one of the most biologically diverse places on earth. Monkeys, Jaguars, untold numbers of reptiles, birds, and insects, live amidst jungle flora and fauna just as they have for countless generations. Parts of the reserve consist of flood plains, rivers, streams, lakes and upland primary forest each supporting rich localized ecosystems.
Continuing his involvement with eco-tourism Davarian is a logistics consultant for wildlife expeditions and spiritual retreats.
With his passion for conservation Davarian, when not in Peru, lives outside of Lexington, Kentucky, with his wife, Drae, on a 30-acre homestead along with 3 dogs and 8 cats.
What first sparked your interest in the Peruvian Amazon?
It happened in 1954 in a Clearwater, Florida, movie theater. As a kid I sat glued to the screen–watching Creature From the Black Lagoon. Now, almost 60-years later, that spark has grown to a bonfire of curiosity and commitment for me to continually explore the Andes Mountains and Amazon Rainforest.
My first opportunity started one fortuitous evening on a Jamaican beach when I met a Spiritual Brother fresh from his travels in Peru. With a couple phone numbers, an Instamatic camera, an old backpack, and 5-words of Spanish I jumped a flight to find my own Black Lagoon.
The next 20-years felt as if I were a character in a Hemingway-meets-Hunter S. Thompson novel.
With the hospitality and friendship of Peruvians I went further to remote Andean communities and deeper up Amazon River tributaries. Each step of the way knowing a special new adventure, aloft the one before, was waiting along the next trail, around the next river bend.
With years of helping companies build and promote Amazon tourist lodges there was always the desire to have a place of my own in the Amazon.
Exploring a tribuatary: Photo by Gordon Wiltsie
But not a place dependent upon numbers of tourists being herded over rainforest trails leaving behind a carbon footprint the size of Big Foot.
Rather an isolated jungle home open to research people and serious nature lovers. A Home away from Home.
Aided by like-minded business partners I was sent on a quest to find a jungle location that is literally unexplored and unexploited. There, to build such a jungle-home in concert with nature. A place that would become the Amazon Refuge Wildlife Conservation Center surrounded by protected national reserves and on land owned by local Indians.
How did you first become involved with the community at San Juan de Yanayacu?
In 2008 with my partners I encountered Juan Carlos Palomino, an English-speaking Peruvian working as a naturalist guide at a tourist lodge near Iquitos, Peru. The connection was immediate. Here is a man with an incredible knowledge of rainforest plants and animals. A man who grew up in a remote Indian community, went on to study biology, and, because of his assistance with research teams, he was awarded an Honorary Degree from Cornell University.
Juan Carlos is a member of the San Juan de Yanayacu Indian community, 200 Indians living on the remote Yanayacu de Yacapana River. The Indians have land title to portion of a 1-million acre primary rainforest National Reserve. An area that has never been completely explored.
Just past the community Juan Carlos had a thatched roof river front camp. No human population beyond.
With an invitation from Juan Carlos our community visits brought us awareness that the Indians were part of their own “conservation initiative.” They had long ago given up using blowguns to hunt monkeys and birds. Without an international organization telling them the definition of “Conservation,” they truly feel themselves as being part of the ecosystem, a rainforest commune inhabited by creatures great and small.
The community’s livelihood is fishing and, as with many remote Indian communities, without a medical post, schoolteacher, or clean drinking water.
With the cooperation and support of the San Juan de Yanayacu Indians, a piece of land was granted the to Amazon Refuge for the construction of our research and conservation center. The Indians further agreed that no future construction would be allowed upriver from the Amazon Refuge except for small research posts that would be under the control of Amazon Refuge.
Construction started in 2009 to turn Juan Carlos’ camp into a complex to provide safe, comfortable accommodations under the guidance of expert naturalist guides for visiting scientists, birders, and photographers.
And to offer a rewarding learning environment to student and volunteer groups, and nature lovers who wish to experience the true splendor of the Amazon rainforest.
What are the basic needs of the community?
Immediate needs of the community include clean drinking water, good medical care, and installing composting toilets.
For education a school for the young children is needed along with supplies and volunteers to visit as teachers.
For drinking water we are currently providing special water filters through a program with Waves For Water, a non-profit organization:
For a longer term water supply a two-tiered water tower is in planning that filtrates and chlorinates a large volume of water.
Fund raising is underway so that a medical clinic can be built and used by volunteer medical professionals through our alliance with Project Amazonas, a nonprofit medical organization:
The Mission of the Amazon Refuge includes providing employment and education for the local people so they may live productive, healthy, and sustainable lives, in harmony with nature.
And to strengthen the rainforest ecosystem of the Yanayacu area by facilitating sound conservation principles and supporting protection of the community reserve.
What challenges do you face working in a remote jungle?
We are in constant flux with Mother Nature in the Amazon: The rainforest is an ever-changing dynamic system that is both a blessing and a challenge. From yearly river flooding, summer rainwater flowing down from the Andes Mountains, that in the extreme can wash away Indian homes, to dry seasons when water supplies are ammonia-laced from decaying vegetation.
On the flip side flooding brings the much-needed nutrients that then sustain the rain forest vegetation. The dry season allows animal migration between islands of permanent terra firma.
In the last two years these extremes have been magnify with record-breaking floods followed by rivers becoming small streams.
To adapt to these extremes the San Juan de Yanayacu Indians need homes that are elevated off the rainforest floor higher than anticipated flood levels. And for drinking water a purification system that can eliminate large amounts of ammonia.
How can a person now help the community?
Money and advocacy of course!
Make a donation through our non-profit partner, Project Amazonas, and get a tax deduction:
In order to support the cause we need support in perpetuity. Visit Us! Bring your family and friends to see for yourselves the Amazon rainforest and meet the San Juan de Yanayacu Indians.
Gather a small group from your fraternal, social, or professional societies. Bring your students for an educational experience of a lifetime.
Come to Teach and Learn: Help with our Organic Garden Sustainable Food Project, teaching English, aiding with health services, or give assistance to Indian guides for a Wildlife Census.
What do you see for the future in Yanayacu?
My vision is to bring together an international community of 50, 100 or more people, who like myself share a desire to bring stability, hope, and resources to the San Juan de Yanayacu Indians. And to protect a rainforest habitat that is home to more species of mammal than any other place on Earth.
With their assistance we can pass the word to friends and co-workers, network with research organizations, universities, and medical volunteer organizations, and disseminate information through their Facebook and community web pages. And perhaps use whatever professional skills they have for such things as fundraising, grant writing, and web site development.
With such an international community of supporters the funds would become available to:
Improve the San Juan de Yanayacu homes.
Build a medical clinic complete with emergency supplies.
Arrange visits by doctors/nurses, and dentists.
Build a school building and hire a teacher.
Construct a reliable drinking water system.
Install composting toilets in Indian homes.
Build guard posts within the community reserve to prevent poaching.
In return donors receive not only a tax deduction, but also have use of the Amazon Refuge as a “Home away from Home” while time permits, so they can Teach and Learn.
With Vision, imagination, and perseverance our Spirit becomes the guide that gives our children and grandchildren the opportunity to find their own Black Lagoon.