|Sunday 15th September
The first of three waves of Red Devil Task Force (RDTF) helicopter flights from Riberalta to Puerto Araona was completed this morning. In negotiations with the leaders of the RDTF regarding the flight plans from Riberalta to Puerto Araona it was determined that due to a refuelling issue the flight path would take the team from Riberalta to Cobija (where the aircraft could refuel) and then onto Puerto Araona. Among the RDTF helicopter pilots, Gunther finds a fellow countryman (Czech Republic) - Rolando Ivan Sanchez Houzvicka who was born to a Bolivian father and a Czech mother. The second wave would have to wait until the next day so the rest of the ICE2002 team that remained in Riberalta took a boat trip along the Rio Beni and Rio Madre De Dios, led by Dr.Bob, to look at sediment patterns in river cuts.
The US Embassy provided invaluable assistance to the ICE2002 effort and assumed responsibility for the support scheduling of the Bolivian Air Force and the RDTF helicopter support. Without this support the expedition would not have accomplished its goals.
The flight from Cobija would reveal the results of deforestation and became more apparent as we flew closer to the Bolivia-Brazil border. The rainforest seemed endless through the haze created by the many active fires as each road that we passed was flanked by stretches of burned or burning rainforest. Travelling across the Rio Madre de Dios provided the passengers with a stunning vista of the meandering waterway and the incredibly dense rainforest.
Upon arrival at Puerto Araona, none of the Araona villagers came out to meet the ICE2002 team and this was in stark contrast to the 1998 expedition when the entire village was there to greet us. This luke warm welcome was interpreted to be associated with the appearance of the RDTF (which represent the government) in contrast to the 1998 expedition during which we arrived in private fixed wing airplanes that the Araona were familiar with. There was a palpable tension upon our entry into Puerto Araona, home of the Araona indigenous tribe located at the headwaters of the Rio Manupari. The Araona tribe numbers about 150, down from 15,000, after the era of the rubber barons decimated their population. To begin negotiations for the partnership between ICE2002 and the village of Puerto Araona TimK and Duglas (the chief of the Araona tribe) met and spent many hours discussing the details. Afterwards, all the villagers gathered in private to debate the situation. In the end, it was decided that the Araona would be compensated for their support of the expedition and for providing a site at the village for camping and for logistical support. The village would receive sugar and rice as well as an office in Riberalta where they could advance their indigenous status with fellow organizations. In addition, there would be a Cessena plane trip from the village to Riberalta and back, and the bus fare for the group to travel to Ixiamus to attend an indigenous territorial meeting.