As an amateur woodworker I am continually amazed at the incredible variety and beauty of the woods we work with. I live next to an old oak forest in Oregon and, while the wood I manage to extract from our fallen trees is hard to work with, I am continually amazed at the rich variety of patterns and colors that I find in its depths. Then, when I make of foray to our local wood supplier a whole new world is presented to me. It’s astounding!
I often wonder what my woodworking creations looked like when they were still growing in the soil. I am curious about the tree and how big it is, what the leaves and bark look like, whether or not it grows in a dense forest or an open savanna, and is there anyone tending it as it grows to maturity. What animals does it provide a home, shelter, or food for? I wonder about the process that takes it from a tree to a piece of “furniture” on my workbench. And, as I am sanding on my latest attempted creations, you can imagine that I have plenty of time think about such deep thoughts.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not one to just sit there sanding when I could be looking for the answers to some deep questions. To that end I have come up with a plan to give me some first-hand knowledge about those trees, at least in one part of the world. I would also like to invite anyone who is interested to join me in this adventure.
What I have in mind is a trip to the Peruvian Amazon jungle to visit these incredible trees on their own turf, so to speak. After checking out their jungle habitat and watching the harvesting process we could continue with them on their journey down the river. Once in the city we could visit some sawmills and lumberyards to learn about the processes and techniques used to provide us with our raw materials. We would also be able to get to know the people who are so intimately involved with our woodworking projects yet are never able to see our finished products. They range from the family of the guy who fells the tree right down to the folks who put the lumber on the ships for transport to our local wood shops.
And speaking of these people – who are our silent partners – I think it would be nice to do something for them, also. Considering the fact that most of them live in areas where sanitation is often marginal (or worse) and finding safe drinking water often consumes much of their day, it would be a worthwhile endeavor to teach them how to build inexpensive, highly effective water filters for their homes. The filters I have in mind will clean about fifteen gallons of water per day, which should be plenty for a family to drink and to cook with. In addition this project is really easy for us to do, and will have enormous long-term benefits for them and hopefully, therefore, for our trees.
Here is a brief outline of my thoughts for the project:
• Day one – arrive in Lima, Peru and then fly to Iquitos, rest
• Days two through four – instruct local villages and assist in building water filters
• Day five – travel upstream on various tributaries of the Amazon River approximately 6 hours to see trees in the forest and logging operations, return trip (downstream) should take about two hours, alongside the log rafts on their way to the sawmill
• Days six and seven – visit several sawmills and lumberyards as well as touring in the area
• Fly back to Lima in the afternoon of day seven
• Day eight – there are two options here: fly back home or fly to Cusco for another week of touring, including Spanish colonial ruins, historic Inca sites and ruins, and, finally, Machu Picchu.
Now doesn’t that sound like a dandy trip? If you’re still with me, here are a few more particulars:
• My timeframe for this project is March or April 2012. Since the level of the rivers there varies at least 15 meters every rainy or less-rainy season, they are higher then and it will be much easier and faster to get deep into the forests, where the trees are. The weather, other than the amount of rainfall, doesn’t change much – hot and humid is the rule.
• We will not be roughing-it. We stay in hotels, travel in cars, boats, busses, and tuk-tuks (motorized rick-shaws), and eat in restaurants. After all, there are nearly 1,000,000 people in Iquitos, why not share in their variety of civilization? We may have to have some safely packed picnic lunches when we take the boat up the river.
• No special skills are needed, just an interest in exotic hardwoods and a willingness to get your hands dirty working with the people in the villages.
• Yes, there are snakes and insects in the jungle, but I haven’t been bothered yet, and I’ve been there numerous times. Oh, and they also have pink dolphins in the Amazon River there – really!
Now, regarding my qualifications to put a trip like this together, that’s actually what I do when I am not trying to create giant piles of sawdust. My company, Volunteer Voyages LLC, takes groups of volunteers to various developing countries to do humanitarian projects. At this time we are working in Guatemala, Peru, Argentina, and India. We expect to expand to do projects in Colombia and Thailand in the near future. We already have a project to build water filters Iquitos and the need there is so great that we want to expand to other villages as rapidly as we can. As a wood worker I am continually intrigued about the sources of the log rafts that I see on the rivers each time I am there and I’m really anxious to share that wonder with you.
I anticipate the total cost of this project should be in the neighborhood of $4000 US per person, somewhat less if you don’t include the Cusco excursion. That would include airfares, hotels, meals, ground transportation, and tours. The only extra things you would have to budget for would be souvenirs, tips, and any alcohol you may want to drink. If you have someone who would like to go along for just the second week of tours (I can’t imagine someone who is not interested in the trees, but, oh well) we would be happy to include them for that part for a reduced rate.
To learn more about us and to see what else we have been up to you can check our website at www.volunteer-voyages.com. We don’t have this particular project up on our “Projects” page yet because I’m just inventing it. There is a similar project, though, that is listed as the “Iquitos Water Filters” project in December. If you have specific questions and want a personal answer, call me (provided I’m in the US) at 503 703-4745, or call our Project Coordinator, Sofie, at 503 927-4595. Come and join us – you won’t regret it. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. David