STINASU - The Development of Eco-Tourism

So this first stage of the journey and the beautiful location that I find myself in this morning is about eco-tourism and how its development might help to protect and preserve the rainforest and its inhabitants. In the simplest sense it is quite easy to work out the logic behind eco-tourism. After all, it is far less damaging to extract hard earn dollars from a tourist's pocket than it is to extract slow grown hard wood from the forest! STINASU (the Foundation for Nature Preservation in Suriname) plays a key role in the development of this area. Not only are they responsible for many of the National Parks within Suriname, but, from what I already know through research, they seem to have applied a management system that combines: education, access and research facities that work in close collaboration with local tribal communities. (The Kwinti, a Maroon tribe live in this area which is called Raleighvallen. Max will explain more in the coming days).

Raleighvallen Nature Reserve is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. It's a strange statement to make, especially considering we only arrived yesterday. However, shortly after breakfast I took a trip to the rivers edge and sat in silence watching as the junge around me re-awoke my senses. Howler monkeys calling to each other across the mist covered canopy. It was strange, after so long planning and researching, to finally be transported back to nature.

A short boat trip in a peroc (traditional canoe) took us and a small group of Eco-tourists up river past a glistening waterfall to the starting point of our 3 hour hike through the jungle to the base of Voltzburg.

It didn't take long before Jay, Max and I found ourselves struggling along the trail, sweat pouring off our faces. The only comparison I can think of is: try placing your face in front of the spout of a boilng kettle whilst doing squats with a fridge freezer on your back! It wasn't that the trail was particularly gruelling. It was more the weight of our equipment- strangly high tech and out of place in such an overwhelmingly natural and pristine enviroment. The rest of the group, including a young girl of around 8 (complete with sombero) seemed to take it in their stride. Listening attentively as our STINASU guide (Samu: Amerindian for I am Indian) took time to point out medicinal plants, animal tracks and things of interest along the way.

After about three hours we emerged from the jungle into a clearing- The tourist group lead by Samu went off ahead to climb the trail leading up above the forest to the top of Voltzberg peak (250 metres). Quickly dropping off our equipment at a small wooden hut close to the base of the mountain that Stinasu offers to different research groups, we followed behind.

The climb was amazing, grabbing at roots and vines making our way up the mountain. It is hard to express in words the feelings I had as finally, reaching the top, I looked out over the jungle (hopefully the pictures and video will give you an idea). 360 degrees of unbroken primary jungle ... for hundreds of miles nothing but nature ... The Central Suriname Nature Reserve (CSNR) of which Raleighvallen is just a small part covers an area of over 1,600,000 hectares (1.6 million) of protected rainforest. It is one of the largest nature reserves in South America and forms part of the, larger still, Guyana Shield....the largest area of undisturbed tropical rainforest left in the world today. People call it the lungs of the earth ... I can see why. I lost mine on the way up the mountain. No seriously, it was amazing, truly breathtaking

Night thought!

If Suriname's government, or any other government for that matter, were to rely solely on eco-tourism to suppy a financial alternative to clear cutting forest for timber, then the beautiful jungle paths that we passed along in silence this morning would have to become motorways jammed with traffic heading through the forest. And the simple accomodation (mostly made of cut branches) would have to be replaced with five star hotels. And even then, if all this where done, it would still only supply a small fraction of what is needed to convince the government of countries in need of money that one time exploitation is no longer the most viable option.

Eco-tourism and its development is only part of the long term management programs at work here in Suriname. Stinasu along with other key organisations such as METS- the movement for the development of eco tourism (who we will meet later in the trip) are at work. From my talks with Mr John Sijpenhof- Raleighvallen park's coordinator- STINASU is very much about preserving the beauty of these areas, supplying access to those who wish to remind themselves of the integral part nature plays in their life, providing facilities for researchers wishing to study the many species endemic to the area. They have involved local tribal communities as guides and advisers... "It is a collaboration. The Quinti know the forest and its ways, if we have a problem we ask them to help. They talk to the forest spirits for us, make offerings" says John. It's seems like a model example..?

The tourist I met today had an amazing time. We parted company on top of the mountain as we will be staying in the research lodge tonight (with two primatologists). Tomorrow we'll be hacking through virgin forest with guides travelling along a newly cut route to a nearby mountain called Von Stockholm... It's a new trail...



The Riches of the Forest


Runningman Calling

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