This two-part series chronicles the efforts of Osa Conservation and Amazon Conservation Team to learn from one another’s conservation strategies through staff visits to each other’s field sites and the ensuing exchange of knowledge and experience.
My trip to Costa Rica and the Osa Peninsula
by Wilmar Diaz Bahamón, Field Projects Manager, ACT Colombia
I was born in the countryside. As a child I explored my small town walking for hours in the bush following ant trails, playing in fish streams and climbing trees to pick wild fruit like guavas, uvillas, guamas and sapodilla. When I was 10 years old, my parents decided to move to the city — I was in shock — I missed my time as an explorer looking for animal and plant species. Upon completing high school, I enrolled at the University of the Amazon and majored in Agro-ecological Engineering. While in college, I reconnected with my childhood and I wanted to learn as much as possible about the wild, be it through research, seminars, workshops or through exchanges with others (which , in my opinion, is the best way to grow and learn).
When I finished my studies in 2006, I started working with communities; but whenever there was a call for proposals, scholarships, or an opportunity to participate in national and international level workshops, I applied. I deepened my knowledge and started doing coursework for my Master’s in Agroforestry.
In May 2010, I was hired by ACT-Colombia. ACT was implementing the Landscape Conservation Project with indigenous and rural communities in the buffer zone of Alto Fragua Indi Wasi National Park in the Belen de los Andaquíes and San José del Fragua communities in Caquetá. Day after day I learned from the local people and began to really understand the land where I grew up. ACT gave me the opportunity to grow as a professional and as a person. In June 2013 I was invited to go to Costa Rica to give a presentation at a conference organized by the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE) in San José. There, Liliana Madrigal, Co-founder of Amazon Conservation Team, suggested that I travel to Puerto Jimenez to learn from the experience of Osa Conservation and exchange knowledge that I could apply upon my return to Caquetá. I did not hesitate, and readily agreed.
I traveled from San Jose to Puerto Jimenez on a small plane. I did not take my eyes off the window admiring the majestic forests that were connected from the sea to the mountains. When we landed in Puerto Jiménez, Dennis Vasquez of Osa Conservation was waiting for me. Dennis drove us for 40 minutes to Cerro Osa where I met Agustin. Agustin is a local expert who was to share his knowledge about seed collection techniques and show me the OC grounds. I was reminded of my childhood days when I climbed trees to pick fruit, but this time I was going to do it using another technique.
Agustin was my guide for a week walking in the forest for hours. I was amazed to see how many young people voluntarily contributed to protecting turtles, planting trees, and doing research in the area; I was impressed to see foreigners visiting Cerro Osa for the purpose of planting trees and enjoying the beauty of the forest. Time went by very fast but we took advantage of the night hours to share stories with Agustin, and in return to answer his questions and concerns. He was curious to know about the Colombian Amazon, it’s people, their culture, their ways of life — I wanted Agustin to come with me so I could reciprocate the experience and show him my territory and to have him live the same experience I was having in Osa, but I felt helpless because it was not up to me to make that happen.
Upon my return to Colombia, I talked to Carolina Gil, Director of ACT- Colombia about the experience, and I proposed we invite Agustin so he could visit the indigenous communities, to exchange knowledge and share his expertise in the techniques used to collect seeds. The proposal was approved and Agustin packed his bags, overcame the fear of traveling and in October 2013 he came to Colombia, where he stayed for 10 days. During his trip he toured Bogota and Florencia, Caquetá and rode on a high speed Amazonian boat in order to get to the remote villages of the Huitotos and Coreguajes Indians. There he would share his knowledge with the communities and ACT’s technical staff. Agustin was the center of attention for his abilities, and for being from “another country.” Agustin was intrigued at the ways communities lived, for example, he did not understand why before climbing a tree, the Indians put a handful of green powder in their mouth; we explained that it was pulverized coca leaf — an ancient indigenous practice.
Soon, it was time for Agustin to return to Costa Rica, but before leaving, he was showered with gifts – baskets, necklaces and everyone wanted a photo with him. “Agustin, the man who shared with us another way to climb trees — we used to scratch our chest and belly when we climbed like monkeys; Agustin, with his ropes and other equipment showed us a more practical, simple and comfortable way to climb much higher without the risk of skinning ourselves so much” said Elias in his “maloka” or sacred meeting place for indigenous people while they were conducting the evaluation of the workshop.
I believe that these exchanges are invaluable, the travel to other countries, experiencing different cultures, meeting people, seeing the way communities live, opens our minds, makes us grow as people and as professionals. The exchanges allow us to share knowledge and continue contributing to the conservation and development of our countries. Thanks to all who made this possible – these are life stories that fill us with knowledge, joy and love for what we do.