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“Ecotourism helps our whole community” Mariana explains how everyone benefits

Skimming through the comments book in Xixuaú shows, again and again, how moved visitors are by the chance to glimpse the richness of life in the community and in the rainforest. But the best of it is that the benefits are truly mutual.

When people are wondering how to experience the Amazon, they face a range of choices: a luxury option in a tree-top hotel, camping in the forest, or a river tour with a visit to a local community thrown in. Some of the core activities can be quite similar: exploring the forest on foot or by boat, bird watching at dawn, spotting pink river dolphins, and a night time trip to catch caiman, mesmerised by torchlight on a dark river. Xixuaú has all these activities, but the comments book suggests that visitors experience something truly special at Xixuaú, by being part of a community in some of the most unspoilt forest of the Amazon.

The community certainly gets something special in return: a small but growing sustainable ecotourism enterprise, which they themselves own and control through the Xixuaú Cooperative. Mariana Dantas da Silva lives in Xixuaú with her family and explains her role:

“I like doing different jobs here, including tidying up the community before visitors arrive, working in the kitchen and making jewellery and crafts for them to buy. I always do the cooking for the ecotourists, which is a bit different because I cook them different vegetables from what we eat.”

Mariana is certainly an excellent cook, with fresh fish (including delicious piranha) with rice and salad a regular on the lunch menu and fruit and freshly baked bread for breakfast. The village currently has a group of nine visiting, which means three jobs in the kitchen and more looking after the large, traditional maloca accommodation (work generally done by women), and up to ten jobs as guides on foot in the forest or and paddling canoes through creeks (done by men), all overseen by the men and women of Xixuaú own management team. The success of the community-owned ecotourism business is a priority for everyone, as Mariana tells us:

“I think people here make tourists very welcome. The tourists like to go out in canoes and see the animals: caiman, toucans, the giant river otters, monkeys and even occasionally jaguars. If there's a big group we throw them a party. And ecotourism helps our whole community because we all share the different jobs and receive the benefits from that. It means we can buy things from Manaus like food, medicine, gas for the boats, or whatever the community wants.”