Flintoff's Road To Nowhere - Part 2


 

Every four of five days, an electric storm burst over us, bringing welcome respite from the blanket of heat and the humidity. We could see, hear and smell these storms coming hours before they arrived. The wind quickened, the temperature dropped and with a detonation of thunder, the clouds burst open. The rain tamped down the dust on the Highway, but it also turned the dirt to a gummy mud that clung to our tyres, which made pedaling even more arduous.

By Rob Penn

Tuesday 13th March 2018

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Approaching the town of Apui, our halfway point, the hills flattened and the jungle edged further and further away from the road. Clouds of smoke blackened the sky in all directions, where de-forested scrub was being burnt off to sow grass seed on marginal land. Legally, landowners in the Brazilian Amazon are required to retain forest on 80% of their property. Few do, though. Agriculture requires wholesale forest clearance and ranching is currently the greatest single cause of deforestation in the Amazon. The Sky Rainforest Rescue project, run by WWF in the western state of Acre, promotes agricultural initiatives that leave the trees standing. Such initiatives are vital now. 

‘What would you rather have, beef or trees?’ Freddie asked me as we approached Fazenda Macil, a vast cattle ranch near Apui managed by Jose Lucio. For me the answer is trees, but we stayed with Jose Lucio for two nights and it was hard not to admire his independent, pioneering spirit. It did feel a bit like sleeping with the enemy, though.

Elsewhere, we found small signs that the global importance of the Amazon rainforest is being recognized locally. We spent a day with Paulo, who moved here when the Highway was first built. He has given up ranching and instead signed up to a government plan for sustainable forestry management. Under the scheme, Paulo is allowed to selectively fell 10% of the trees on his land: thus, he extracts the more valuable timber trees while the great biological intricacy of the rainforest remains substantially intact.

 

Getting my hair cut in the town of Humaita, Cosmo the barber told us that, ‘Brazilians do not know Brazil properly. We need better teaching at school, to tell the children why it is important to preserve the forest, and what might happen in the future if things carry on like this.’

The final 200km of our journey to Labrea were the worst. The midday heat became unbearable, the humidity intensified and the road deteriorated to a cratered quagmire.

Reaching the Purus River was a great relief, and in the relief I was able to reflect on what a tough but magical journey it had been: the warmth of these frontier people, the generosity we experienced every day, the stature and beauty of the trees, the butterflies on the Highway, the stars, swimming in the rivers and the electric storms had been a pleasure to behold. I had also come to understand that this vast region, the Amazon, is even more unique and important than I’d previously appreciated – and that the threats to the rainforest are manifest now.

The two-part series, Flintoff’s Road To Nowhere was on Sky 1 HD.

For more information about Sky Rainforest Rescue, go to sky.com/rainforestrescue

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