Thursday, September 27, 2012

Souvenir Savvy

Years ago, when I set off on a boat to explore 300 miles of the Amazon River, I was eager to preserve every moment of my great adventure. I wanted to take a million pictures and bring back as much Amazon stuff as possible. Not only did I want to give friends and family a tangible connection to my journey, I also wanted to hold on to things that would remind me ... as if I could forget.

The boat that carried me from Iquitos, Peru to Tabatinga, Brazil and back. Photo courtesy of EcoAdventures, Inc.

I bought and bartered for carvings, masks, jewelry, and other native pretties. I even bought a framed butterfly from a boy in Iquitos that has been with me all these years, traveling from wall to wall as I moved back and forth across the country. In retrospect, I have some remorse about buying the butterfly. At the time, I thought I was conscientiously collecting my souvenirs - no feathers, bones, claws, or other endangered animal parts that might contribute to the destruction of the region's incredible biodiversity. Buying the butterfly was legal, but maybe it would've been best left behind.

All these years later, the souvenirs that have meant the most are my photos (almost a million) and the memories that remain fresh in my mind. I can still picture my first view of the river as I flew over it, coiling like a glossy constrictor through dark miles of jungle on a moonlit night.

You can't buy that.

In a roundabout way, I'm suggesting that we make wise decisions while wandering those intoxicating marketplaces which beckon when we're abroad. Every penny we spend can help support a local economy, but it can also have far-reaching effects on fragile ecosystems

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