Giving Back

Voluntarism in the Amazon with The Pachamama Alliance

by Alisa Gould-Simon

All photos by Alisa Gould-Simon

The Pachamama Alliance in Ecuador leads trips in the Amazon to help protect the rain forest and its indigenous people. Alisa Gould-Simon reports on her recent experience.

What was the project? The Pachamama Alliance is a non-profit dedicated to protecting rain forests and the indigenous people who live within them, primarily in South America. Proceeds from their group trips benefit indigenous populations and specifically help rain forest communities in Ecuador protect their land from invading oil companies.

How did you learn about it? My boyfriend and I read about the trip in The New York Times after Googling "Amazon Ecuador Tours." The story we found was extremely moving. Shortly thereafter, we realized this trip was the same one that a good friend had embarked on ten years prior and highly, highly recommend.

Did you have any prior personal connections to the project?I had no prior personal connections, but the connection I'd always imagined I could develop with the rain forest was sparked immediately. By the end of the trip, our group had essentially become an extended family.

Rain Forest

Pachamama Girl

The Band

Rain Forest Canoe

How long were you there? Two weeks.

What did you do? We spent three days getting to know Quito on our own before meeting up with our Pachamama group (the Pacha people) — 20 in total. From there, we spent a few nights with indigenous families in a charming part of the high Andes called San Clemente. It was spectacular. Then we spent five days in the Amazon: four nights at the exceedingly charming Kapawi Ecolodge and one night with the local Achuar community. 

In the jungle, we participated in a shamanic cleansing and took a medicinal tour of the rain forest. We kayaked in hopes of seeing the Amazon's elusive pink dolphins and were successful. We bird-watched and saw the most beautiful parrots I could have ever imagined. After leaving the jungle, we spent a few days mourning our detachment from the forest and basking in beautiful food and hikes in a hacienda near the tallest active volcano in the world, Tungurahua. From there, we returned to Quito and eventually back home.

A feast

Who benefits? The local communities. The ecolodge that we stayed at in the jungle is entirely owned and operated by the Achuar people; profits help the community remain sustainable. In San Clemente, the families that we stayed with benefited both financially as well as psychologically: Our host family explained that they thoroughly enjoy housing guests from various countries since they aren't financially able to travel to these places.

What was the best part? Seeing the pride and joy of the Achuar community and understanding that their lifestyle is not only sustainable and in sync with nature, it's also chock-full of laughter, openness, and honesty.

What was the worst part? Getting violently ill the first night that we met up with the Pachamama group. Thank goodness my cousin is a travel doctor and I'd come prepared with rehydration salts and antibiotics. Within a few days, I was better than ever.

Would you do it again? In a heartbeat.

If you could go back in time and bring one thing with you, what would it be? A few more pairs of everything for the jungle — socks, pants, and T-shirts.


Grinding corn

Who is a trip like this for? Adventurers, nature lovers, and anyone who wants to deeply connect with the indigenous way of life. Or anyone who is looking for a taste of one or all three.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to do this trip? GO!

Has this experience changed the way you think about charitable giving and helping others? Yes. It reminded me that every little bit helps, which is why I set up a Facebook Causes page for my birthday this year and am asking friends to donate to the Pachamama Alliance instead of buying me a drink or a gift. Any and all donations are welcome.

Has this experience changed the way you think about travel? Absolutely. It was a reminder that in risk there is the potential for great reward.

Have you brought any lessons back into your regular life? I'm trying. Slowing down and thinking about my impact on this earth are tops.

The Cows in the Amazon

cute kids 

How can the nice people reading this help? Know that the preservation of the rain forest is essential to the balance of the earth. The Amazon is being threatened every day by oil companies, and if we do not work together to protect it, it will disappear.

What was your favorite moment? Flying over the Amazon and seeing the "endless broccoli" (trees for days) that our guide had told us about. Breathtaking and overwhelmingly beautiful does not even begin to scratch the surface.


Learn more about The Pachamama Alliance

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