Traveling through the Andean Amazon in search of conserving the source of the Amazon River
By Virgilio Viana
In October 2023, I once again embarked on a journey to the source of the Amazon River. I’ve already had the opportunity to visit this place twice, and this third time was very different, because the inspiration I had nine years ago is getting closer to being realized: turning the area of the source of the Amazon River into a protected area.
The river´s source is located on a mountain sacred to the Incas, called Nevado Mismi, in the province of Caylloma, more than 77 kilometers from the city of Arequipa in Peru. The journey to get there is long and arduous. However, before I tell you a little about the journey to the source, it’s important to highlight a few points that I observed during this new expedition.
The ice that used to remain on top of mountains and take months to melt is now completely gone in just one week.
Photo: Bruna Martins
Climate change is affecting the Andean Amazon
One of the main problems that is causing water shortages in many towns throughout the Andean Amazon is the rapid melting of glaciers due to global warming.
Glaciers are of great importance in the lives of Andean populations, as it is through their melting that lagoons are formed and agricultural activities are viable. However, with the total melting of the ice at the top of the mountains, it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain activities that depend on water. The ice that used to remain on mountain tops and take months to melt is now completely gone in just a week.
This situation shows us how important it is to create strategies for adapting to climate change in the Andes. Many villages have been abandoned by their residents in the hope of finding a better life elsewhere.
I would point out that this problem is being experienced throughout the Andes, not in one specific part. This shows us that the Amazon is being affected on several fronts by the impacts of climate change.
Many villages have been abandoned by their residents in the hope of finding a better life elsewhere.
Photo: Bruna Martins
The quest to conserve the source of the Amazon River
In 2014, I took part in an expedition to the source of the Amazon River. During that journey, in conversation with the guide of the activity, I asked if that place was a protected area, and he told me ‘no’. At that moment, a shiver ran through my body and I had an inspiration: to make that place a protected area.
Expedition in 2014 to the source of the Amazon River.
The source of the Amazon River is located in an almost desert-like area. The wind is strong and the air very thin. Not to mention the altitude of over 5,000 meters above sea level. You walk for a while and have to stop because you run out of air. But it’s a spectacular place full of meaning.
After traveling by plane, car and on foot, having the opportunity to come face to face with the source of the great Amazon River is something unique.
It’s also very satisfying to know that the dream I envisioned nine years ago is now close to becoming an imminent reality. And for this to happen, we now have the support of various people and institutions in Peru who are helping to make the creation of this protected area at the site of the source a reality.
The conservation of the Amazon is something to be thought about together, and I’m not just talking about the Brazilian Amazon that we know, but all of them. The creation of plans to adapt to climate change is urgent for the whole world. In this part of Peru, we can only see part of the huge impact that these changes are having. Now imagine in the rest of the world, where assistance is slow to arrive and people have to learn to cope on their own.
So I very much hope that this is just the beginning of a great transformation that will benefit the conservation of this spring, which I believe is one of the most precious in the world. And it will also have an impact on the lives of the people who live in and care for the Andean Amazon.