Posada Amazonas is a lodge situated on indigenous land next to the Tambopata National Reserve in the department of Madre de Dios, Peru. As a joint venture between Rainforest Expeditions and the indigenous community of Infierno, the lodge’s purpose is twofold: it provides its visitors the opportunity to adventurously experience the different ecosystems within the Amazon; and showcases an eco-tourism model that trains and involves members of the community to improve their quality of life.
The following are responses from Blanca, the interim manager, and Oscar, and Gilbert, guides at Posada Amazonas, to a few questions regarding the lodge, its visitors, and the community surrounding it. Their answers have been translated from Spanish.
What do you believe is the most important thing visitors should leave Posada Amazonas knowing or having a new understanding of?
Blanca: We, at Posada Amazonas, would like to show everyone not only the work we do as a lodge and the importance of making contact with nature, the environment, and the wildlife, but we would also like our visitors to leave understanding the native community of Infierno as an integral part of this region. It’s important for our clients to see the work the community members do every day, not just as guides but as members of the community.
Oscar: The most important thing visitors can do once they leave Posada Amazonas is to spread what they have learned about what happens here when they go home. We as guides try to explain to the tourists exactly what the Posada is and give them accurate information regarding the lodge as a project as well as the forest surrounding the lodge. We want the visitors to understand how it all works; it is important for us as guides to give them good information so that visitors leave having felt something important. If we do a good job teaching them exactly what this is, what the project is, how we work, they will understand it as an ecotourism project that works with a native indigenous community and that the profits benefit the local community that, in reality, really needs it.
Gilbert: I think that visitors should leave the lodge with an understanding of our experiences and knowledge of the forest; many people don’t understand our connection to the forest before coming here and we hope they leave learning a little about our skill here. We would love for them to share these experiences about the environment and the community, especially as it relates to the local experience–our surviving experience. I’d also love for people to leave knowing that the jungle is not as dangerous as the movies on TV show it as.
What is the role of women within Posada Amazonas and within the broader context of the Infierno community?
Blanca: I came here to work in 2015 and at the time we had 40% women staff working here. In reality, because it is the low season the personnel is a lot smaller than usual. The native community counts on training guides from the community – we also have women working as cleaners and cooks. In the past, the machismo was much more present, but it has become much better over time.
As a female manager here, the respect is mutual. The way in which we understand each other is good, we all approach things with an open mind and end up learning from each other, even though our upbringing has been different (as a woman from Lima, not native to the community). All in all, our principal objective is to satisfy the customer and showcase who we are.
Speaking to the role of women in the community, like in many or a majority of communities, the women fall into the traditional, maternal roles in the home. A small percentage of them are teachers but the majority still fill traditional domestic roles.
Oscar: Currently, there are about three to four female guides that work for the different lodges in the area but in comparison, there aren’t very many female guides. In reality, I’m not sure why. Before, when the posada opened (20 years ago) there were many guides (both men and women). In the community, we have a small number of women guides that participate a lot and are leaders within the community. With respect to guides, there haven’t been many women guides since 2008 working for Rainforest Expeditions. I noticed that many of the women guides at that time were from other parts of Peru and had come to stay only temporarily.
With regard to the Infierno community, there are 80 voting members (comprised of all genders) and an elected president. When a community member becomes 18 years old he/she regardless of marital status can apply to receive land if they would like to. Typically, women play the more traditional role, but that is changing. Now, the youth are looking to go to school and prepare themselves, especially because they know our community has a few ventures that will need professional skills. They would like to fill these roles/positions. In the recent past, there has been a lot of talk about and focus on the revitalization of our culture. We are working toward this by organizing workshops for all members to attend with the elders so that they may explain and talk about traditions as well as including lessons on the Ese’eja in the schools. We would like to recover our culture, which in some ways has been lost.
Gilbert: Everyone has the same chance and the same opportunities in the community. Even the girls. For example, sometimes they have a stronger opinion in a meeting and they can say whatever they want to the men because that is something that they feel. We, as men, can’t have a bad reaction to them because they are girls. If two men have a disagreement or strong opinions, they are able to argue about it, but if a woman has a strong opinion we all just listen. But she still has the same opportunity.
Lately, there haven’t been very many women studying to become guides. They tend to fill maternal roles and it is easy to get pregnant, so then they have to be in charge of their homes. When the kids are old enough, they can come back. There is one woman guide working for Baawaja Expeditions, one more is coming, one is studying German in Cusco, Peru (to be guided), and then there are three ladies that work as staff here. The last three ladies will be back next month but don’t work during low tourist seasons.
What are some of your thoughts on how the Infierno native community is developing or has developed in the recent past?
Blanca: The native community is developing very positively. There is the fish farm and there are a few other projects they are planning. It is nice to see how the community comes together to be able to create projects that benefit their entire population, a mutual benefit.
I think Posada Amazonas had at least some influence on how the community is developing. Tourism opens doors for all people and taking care of their environment coupled with capacity building has definitely opened doors for the community.
Oscar: It has changed a lot. At first, it was difficult. It (Posada Amazonas) had a negative social impact, because the people thought that working in tourism was something simple. But it’s not. The objective of working in tourism and the design/model of Posada Amazonas has been to involve the community. The goal is to expand employment opportunities and improve the quality of life for those in the community.
When the Posada opened, members of the community came with the intention to be trained for different positions. Once trained, they didn’t want to start working. Working at the Posada was a different reality than the one they had imagined; working at Posada is vastly different than the traditional way of life they were accustomed to. For example, community members that work on their farm may wake up at 6:00am, head back to their homes and go back to work later that afternoon–they make their own schedule. Slowly, everyone began to realize that the work was different and at the end of it all served to improve their quality of life. We’ve all seen the benefits and 80% of the community works directly/indirectly at the Posada. They feel happy to see the fruits of their labor, especially as new projects are planned.
I think the activities being developed like the fish farm will be successful because they offer a glimpse into our traditional way of life. As tourism expands and increases here, these activities will become more and more successful. We hope to use the profits to improve the education children receive and supplement it with our cultural teachings. It is my hope that the community will see how important culture is, because without it you have nothing.
Gilbert: In my own opinion, it is doing well. We started having better services in our community and developing many things. Everyone is getting a better benefit for his family. By having better opportunities in their family they will continue to teach new generations. At the same time, though, we have to maintain our culture and the environment.
The community receives 60% of the profit from Posada Amazonas and that money is split between families. It has been difficult investing the money. The guides were trying to think long-term (10 years ago) but the developments really only started taking place a few years ago… it has been delayed. In response, the guides have realized it is time to become leaders in the community and change things, ultimately showing the community members the truth of what’s going on and what is going to be the best way forward for future generations. The fish farm project will invest 50% of its profits back into the community but we are still unsure of how much money that activity will make.
– Marcela De Campos