Pigs, sugar, and trees! Oh my!

Santa Rita (the rural Amazonian community part of my trip): One of the first observations I made (besides the almost-unbearable heat and humidity) was the sound. I was expecting jungle sounds, like the birds chirping in the background of Glass Animals songs (http://soundcloud.com/glassanimals/pools). It wasn’t, but it was just as soothing: a natural, indistinguishable white noise created mostly by bugs. (Think of a million crickets and beetles singing at different It was a soothing soundscape, at least, until we went to sleep (in hammocks underneath just a thatched roof; no walls) and the pigs started screaming. “Screaming” is not an exaggeration: another friend had the same thought I did that one of the pigs was giving birth. Alas, we did not wake up to piglets. Just a realization that we would have one more night of screaming pigs.

In reality, (just like most of the pains and inconveniences I’ve encountered on my trip so far), it’s worth it. Although the village was busy with Plurinational Games (sort of like kids’ olympics for indigenous villages, which means there were hundreds of children from other communities crowded into this one community), we got a taste of rural Amazonian life and how it differs from rural Andean life, which is what we saw in Lake Titicaca. I planted some corn and sugar cane in the soft, dark soil and went swimming in a pond that sees an occasional alligator. We made rice flour bread by hand, including crushing the rice into flour before adding yeast and water. Those were some easy comparisons to the potatoes, high mountains, and cold climate of Lake Titicaca. But another comparison which I don’t necessarily want to write publicly is the difference in culture. We only stayed in Santa Rita for a couple days, which is one part of why I don’t want to draw conclusions about their culture, especially considering how preoccupied the community was with the games. The other part is that I don’t want to draw conclusions on Amazonian culture in Bolivia from just one community. However, I’m going to note what I saw: motorcycles, many young adults that drive daily to university study, and almost no “traditional” clothing. Essentially, I saw less of a traditional influence than what I saw at Lake Titicaca. But does that really mean anything coming from a North American who stayed there for a little more than two days? I’m not sure.

Later in the week, while speaking with a local ecofeminist about tourism, she also noted that Amazonian communities tend to have weaker traditional connections than Aymara communities, which are known for some of the strongest connections to their traditions of indigenous communities in Bolivia (the community we visited in Lake Titicaca is Aymara). For this reason, she noted that Amazonian community cultures are oftentimes most affected by globalization and tourism – especially with the number of foreigners that have entered with the purpose of deforestation. Considering Bolivia is one of the only countries in the world that still has a majority indigenous population and the fact that it is home to a section of rainforest more diverse than the entirety of Costa Rica, deforestation is killing megadiversity at both the ecological and cultural level. It might make you re-think the next time you argue, “Humans are meant to eat meat!”, because most of deforested land in Bolivia isn’t destroyed to use the trees, but to make room for agricultural and livestock land. Another unsuspecting source of deforestation? Cocaine. A kilo of cocaine destroys the equivalent of 3 square meters of some of the most diverse virgin rainforest in the world (to make room for the tons of coca leaves required to process cocaine). So no, it’s not those extra paper towels that are killing rainforests. In fact, even if everybody in the United States eliminated their personal waste, municipal and business waste would still be almost as overwhelming to our system. If you really want to save the rainforest, don’t think you’re doing so with double-sided printing and air hand dryers. (Although a more sustainable lifestyle never hurts.) Maybe consider the larger systemic problems of today, from food systems to drug consumption.

From pigs to soccer to a new definition of “save the trees”, I guess I learned more than I thought I would in just two days at a preoccupied village.

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