29 January 2010

Preparations 8 - A guide to the Pongo!

One week to go and to make the last preparations!
Also La Condamine did not go unprepared down the Amazon river. Already 5 years before his actual departure on 11 May 1743, he was considering the route home along the Amazon. In August 1742 he obtained his Portuguese passports (see A. McConnell, 1991. “La Condamine’s scientific journey down the River Amazon, 1743-1744.” Annals of Science 48: 1-19). From this paper: “Other letters from the Spanish missionary province of Mainas brought the news that the governors of Pará and the Portuguese forts along the lower river had been ordered a year previously to give him all possible help and to safeguard his passage, and were now awaiting his arrival.”

Likewise, we have been looking for assistance, for a guide to the Pongo: Thanks to my colleague, Antoine C., who visited Loja last autumn, we came into contact with Eduardo T., director of tourism in the province of Loja. After showing him our plans he expressed his interest in our La Condamine-journey. Offering his help in guiding us along the route through Peru until the Pongo de Manseriche, he also asked our cooperation in promoting the “Eja Vial #4”-project. We were delighted and, of course, immediately said yes.

Antoine (left) showing Hilbert on the laptop his photographs of the Páramo near Loja. La Condamine, climbing up to ~4000 m (~2000 toises), must have seen this landscape without knowing how special it was…..(páramo is tropical, high-altitudinal grassland above 3000 m).

In his “Voyage sur l’Amazone” La Condamine writes (p.52) about deserted towns that were richly populated with Spaniards less than a century ago. As a reason he suggested that these places were lying too isolated, too far away from the ocean and from the Carthagena-Lima highway (the “Camino Real”). Now, some 270 years later, it appears that this is still the case and that governements are making serious plans to change this situation.

The planned road Eje Vial#4 from the Pacific Ocean to the Amazon is almost identical to the route taken by La Condamine in 1743.

Eje Vial#4 is a joint project of Ecuador and Peru and intends to connect the Pacific coast (Puerta Bolivar) with the Amazon river (port at Sarameriza). Such a road connection of some 630 km (“Una via Trans Oceánica Binacional”) is considered important for the economical development of the north of Peru and the south of Ecuador. The road will pass along a disputed border region north of the Marañon river called the Cenepa drainage basin. Here, to the east of the Cordillera del Cóndor, the army of the two countries fought each other in 1995 with heavy arms and fighter-jets. The Ecuadorian army used Kfir-jets: In 1975 I attended the first demonstration of the Kfir in the Negev desert south of Be’er-Sheva, where I was then working…
In this Cenepa war mortal casualties amounted to a total on both sides of around 500. In October 1998, the presidents of both countries agreed that the demarcation of the frontier should remain as decided in the treaty of Rio de Janeiro of 1942. Now, 12 years later, both countries seem to prefer to build roads instead of army outposts.
But what does this imply? Exploitation of forests and mines, development of oil and gas fields, increased tourism, expansion of agriculture, industries, villages and towns. All the things we have been doing in Europe during the past few hundred years, resulting in our present prosperity. And now, we do not want that the same things happen in Amazonia, because it threatens the biodiversity and the life and culture of indigenous people. From our prosperous position we demand that the biodiversity and the indigenous cultures of the Amazon will be preserved for the future. With what right can we make such a demand? When we are there I hope to come back to this question.

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