Making a Living in the Amazon

I own several companies which are involved with the sustainable harvesting of rainforest botanicals in the Amazon rainforest; formulating and manufacturing nutritional and herbal supplements; wholesale sales of herbal products and formulas into health food stores and to health practitioners; and bulk sales of medicinal plants to manufacturers in the natural products industry. I started these companies after my first trip to the rainforest in Peru where I went to find a medicinal plant that was being used for cancer. Now, ten years later, I am harvesting and providing over 100 rainforest medicinal plants to the U.S., European and Far East markets. It's been quite a journey and I have never had so much fun and adventure nor felt so much purpose in what I do.

Carving a business out of the jungles of the Amazon has been interesting to say the least. Even for me, it's been an odd departure from the other businesses that I've owned. Here's a picture of my office. I always enjoy seeing the look on people's faces when they first come into my office. It's not every day you see an arsenal of jungle weapons hanging behind a businesswoman's desk - especially within easy reach! I wonder why it makes the salesmen nervous?

My day-to-day job varies greatly which is how I like it since I get bored easily. One week I might be on a speaking circuit, talking or teaching about the rainforest and herbal medicine, the next in the jungle and other times I'm at my office doing the corporate thing. I enjoy teaching courses and workshops on herbal medicine and teaching practitioners and just regular folks how to use herbs and natural medicine to positively affect their health.

Usually what intrigues people most (and what I enjoy most) is my job in the jungle. In my work with Raintree, I set up harvesting of the rainforest botanicals my companies create markets for and work hands-on with various indigenous Indian tribal groups as well as remote jungle communities. When people hear that, usually the movie "Medicine Man" comes to mind. While it's true that unacculturated tribes like the one depicted in the movie exist, most tribal groups in the Amazon rainforest have suffered and continue to suffer the loss of their culture from outside forces.

All of the pictures following represent the various Indian groups that are in the Amazon that I work with. The levels of acculturation of these different tribes are obvious from the pictures. The indigenous peoples of the rainforest, with whom I have had the great honor of knowing, are on the whole a wonderful, loyal, ethical, honest, curious, spiritual people who are struggling to protect their families and their way of life as their lands are being invaded and the rainforest is being destroyed around them. I am thankful that I can play a small role in helping them with their struggle in the work that I do.

To see more pictures of the Indian tribes I work with,
go to the Photo Gallery.

I do many things in my jungle travels but, wherever I go, I find that I am always teaching people about the medicinal plants and how to use them. I sometimes take clients, camera crews and researchers along with me when I travel (when they can convince me!) but mostly I just travel with two or three employees from one of my South American offices. I can travel light and quick that way with a minimum of fuss. And yes, I get many many offers from people wanting to experience the rainforest who want to paddle my canoe or carry my backpack just so they can tag along!

Mostly I limit the people I take with me due to safety factors, traveling logistics, and truthfully, many just don't realize the hardships encountered in real jungletrekking. It's hot, it's humid, there are LOTS of bugs, snakes, and other things that bite, and creature-level westernized comforts are non existent. It is pretty physically taxing to many Americans (even if you think you are in good shape!)

Tents are pretty worthless in the rainforest mostly because the ground is always soft and wet (and that's where many of the bugs hang out anyway!). My "camp" in the jungle when traveling between villages is usually just a small fire and my hammock slung between two trees along the side of the river I am traveling on. I have special hammocks with built-in mosquito netting and if it's raining (as it often does in a rainforest) I just sling a tarp over the whole contraption to stay dry (mostly). It's much more comfortable than sleeping on the ground once you get used to it.

What ever village or tribe I stay with along my travels I live as they do, eat what they eat, and adopt their customs as much as possible. Again, for most Americans this can be a hardship since tribal food/fare is rather different. Normally when I hit a village it's time for a party to welcome me back and the party foods are bought out... large white grubs, organ meats from various animals, and a special alcoholic drink that's fermented with saliva during it's preparation. I lose about 5 pounds a week while in the jungle and I am used to it and eat just about everything... others don't fare quite so well! The most common daily fare is fish caught in the river (yep, I'm a great fisherwoman especially when hungry!), rice, bananas, and a tuberous root called manioc or yucca.

In most meztito and indian villages there is a dwelling reserved for visitors or guests where I sling my hammock, otherwise I am hosted and stay with the chief or shaman of the village. Several of the tribes that do harvesting for me and that I visit live in one single large pullapa or enclosure where everyone sleeps together under one roof yet still in family group areas inside.

Mostly in the rainforest, houses are open air affairs with just a raised floor
and a woven palm thatch roof with maybe one side wall. Hammocks are the
normal bed for most everyone and they are slung between supporting beams
of the roof and then taken down during the day.

Sometimes you just need a roof to help dry out everything you own that's been wet for days!

Most of the traveling I do is by boat, although when I am in an hurry or need to get somewhere quick I charter small planes and helicopters. But most always I end up on the river in a boat eventually... big boats, little boats, and even indian dugout canoes. Where I am going, the season and it resulting water levels in the rivers, and other factors decide which boat I take. Many times I start out in one of my big boats like one of the ones on the left below and end up in traveling in the small outboard motor canoe when we run into low water or a road block like the one on the right. During rainy season, many of the large trees along the river banks will topple over and slow you down! It's just easier to scootch under or lift a small boat over one of these Amazon roadblocks!

    And always no matter where I am, there is time to explore the jungle and it's many plants with the
    medicine men, shamans and their entourage of helpers and apprentices.

    Sometimes you have to climb to the top of a 10 story street just to have a view like this!
    Poking your head out of the top of the canopy and looking around is pretty cool and worth the climb!

    Other times you can get to the top of the canopy with rope systems and even man-built
    canopy walkway systems like the one below shot at the research center, ACEER, in Peru.

    If you'd like to know more about my company and the products I've developed
    using the wonderful plants of the Amazon, you can check out The Raintree Nutrition Website.

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