Sarah Barrell: In the Amazon, you can't see the trees for the wood

Travel Notes

Money does grow on trees...or at least under them. The Amazon has featured a good deal in the news in recent weeks, most stories examining the value of the world's largest rainforest if denuded as agricultural land or penetrated for oil or gas.

In The Independent last week, Johann Hari looked at the situation in Ecuador, a poverty-stricken country that is asking world leaders to make good on old promises to pay half of what its 4,000 miles of pristine Amazon forest is worth in oil revenue, in order that it can afford to leave said oil in the ground.

Meanwhile, Brazil has changed conservation laws that govern farming in its lion's share of the Amazon. The most controversial of these allows small-scale farmers to be exempt from replanting deforested land. In the year that it's taken for this ruling to be debated, Amazon deforestation has increased six-fold, many believe fuelled by its promise of amnesty for previously farmed land.

But these stories get brushed aside: "old" news of deforestation consigned to the passe pile of platitudes alongside "save the whale" and "stop global warming". But I took a "tabaco" flight last week, a small tube of a plane from Leticia in the Colombian Amazon, to Bogota, where it was impossible to ignore the reality.

During this two-hour ride over a thick-pile carpet of mesmerising green-on-green, I spoke to a travel guide who had done an MSc in Environmental and Resource Management. In other settings these worthy sounding words might have caused instant narcolepsy in this air passenger, but with the trees breathing life into the skies around us, I paid rapt attention.

My co-passenger, one Jorge Triana, had just completed his WWF-sponsored thesis on the value of the Brazilian Amazon to Dutch investors. Like Stanford professors and altruistic economists before him, Jorge had used a complex set of mathematical tools to look at patterns of deforestation, degradation and trends in conservation. And, like many before him, he had come to a figure that showed, dramatically, how many times more valuable the Amazon is to humanity if we don't chop it down. We need long-term investment, rather than a slash, stash and spend mentality: a simple formula no one seems willing to bank on.

Is this where tourism can lend a small hand? True, we need to burn fossil fuels to get visitors into the Amazon, but with advances in biofuel planes and the possibility of carbon off-setting (which would ideally come out of the huge taxes we now pay on top of our airfares), it seems to me that tourists can bring more to a region than they take away.

In Colombia's little-visited Amazon, I stayed in rural maloca (traditional community huts) sleeping in hammocks and travelling on foot with a local guide. Small-scale tourism initiatives like this won't ever deliver the dollars that logging, soy or cocaine production do but, if done carefully, they offer Amazon communities viable, sustainable and legal ways to earn a living that focus entirely on keeping the forest intact. And they offer visitors first-hand insight into an incredible part of the world that has been reduced, for many, to just another complex debate.

Do you have a travel issue? Email sundaytravel@independent.co.uk

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late singer Whitney Houston, poses at the premiere of
people
News
people
News
The frequency with which we lie and our ability to get away with it both increase to young adulthood then decline with age, possibly because of changes that occur in the brain
scienceRoger Dobson knows the true story, from Pinocchio to Pollard
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Life and Style
health
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

    £14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

    Recruitment Genius: Network Executive - Adrenalin Sports - OTE £21,000

    £19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for an exciting...

    Guru Careers: Product Manager / Product Marketing Manager / Product Owner

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product Owner is required to jo...

    Guru Careers: Carpenter / Maintenance Operator

    £25k plus Benefits: Guru Careers: A Carpenter and Maintenance Operator is need...

    Day In a Page

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen