Recently, Your Perfect Peru sat down with Steve Cox, one of the co-founders of International Expeditions, a pioneer of travel to the Amazon region of Peru, and one of the original practitioners of what is today recognized as eco-tourism or sustainable tourism.
Your Perfect Peru: While your company, International Expeditions, made a name for itself by offering trips to the Amazon region, you weren’t the first to do so, is that right?
Steve Cox: Yes, that’s true. There was someone out of New York offering trips to the region, but they were mostly for scientists or academics. He wasn’t a great marketer, because he titled his tour, “The Green Hell.”
YPP: So tell us about the origins of International Expeditions.
SC: Well, Richard Ryel and I opened the company almost 40 years ago, in 1980. He was a scientist, and I was more of a travel guy. We loved the Amazon region, and wanted to help preserve it. We thought about creating a non-profit, but at the time, it was too complex. So we decided we would open a travel company, and just put the earnings into the projects that are important. And conservation and education in the Amazon region of Peru is what it would be.
YPP: What’s an early example of how International Expeditions implemented sustainable tourism techniques.
SC: Well, in the 1990’s, we were also taking trips to Belize. There were farmers there who would chase off or kill howler monkeys who were getting into their crops. We started taking travelers to see them (the howler monkeys). The families would make lunch. We made donations, and our guests made donations. We spread the money among the families in the village. Pretty soon, we had protected the howler monkeys, and the village had gotten a really good income from simply not killing them.
YPP: Tell us about your early work in Peru.
SC: In the early 1990’s, we began offering one-week workshops would allow travelers to learn from local and international rainforest experts, and develop a deep appreciation of the Amazon rainforest. Every cent that was earned through that was put into the projects. At that point we created our non-profit, the ACEER (Amazon Center for Environment, Education and Research) Foundation, to administer this.
YPP: The workshops, were they effective?
SC: Absolutely. We estimate the revenue from the workshops has allowed ACEER to protect almost one million acres of rainforest.
YPP: And you have a clean water program, as well, right?
SC: Yes, we were able to put clean water in many of the schools in remote Amazon villages, but the kids were still getting internal parasites, because after school, they would go home and drink water straight out of the river, that looks like chocolate milk, and is full of everything you can imagine.
So our NGO partners started experimenting with these clean water towers. Each village would get one, and each tower can treat 220 liters of water a day. Dirty water goes in, and clean water comes out. And with this clean water, the villagers were able to make jams and marmalades, and sell them in the markets in Iquitos. It’s not a lot of money, but it’s enough of an income to stop the need to go into the forest and cut trees for revenue.
YPP: Any parting thoughts?
SC: We can’t do everything in the world, but what we can do, we need to do, and we need to do it well.
If you would like to travel to the Peruvian Amazon with International Expeditions, check out the trips below.