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On October 22, 1994, participants in the ecotour/workshop "Pharmacy from the Rainforest," left Miami for Peru. Under the direction of three sponsoring organizations [American Botanical Council (ABC), Texas Pharmacy Foundation (TPF) and International Expeditions (IE)], this group was to take part in a series of classes set in the most spectacular classroom in the world -- the Amazon rain forest. The workshop presenters included some of the most distinguished leaders in the fields of pharamacognosy, botany, biology, and ethnobotany.

One hundred-ten people, representing a variety of ages and occupations, trekking through the jungle in Peru laden with backpacks, water bottles, cameras, and a thirst for sights of strange but familiar plants, made up the expedition.

Thirty-seven pharmacists were able to receive up to a year's worth of continuing education credits for their participation in what can only be described as a "once-in-a-lifetime event." It was a rare privilege to walk through the rainforest with scientists of the stature of Dr. James A. Duke, Dr. Varro Tyler, Dr. Walter Lewis, Dr. Memory Elvin-Lewis, Dr. Hardy Eshbaugh, and Dr. Mark Plotkin. Upon arrival at the base camp at Explorama Lodge on the Amazon River two-and-a-half hours downriver by boat from Iquitos, the main group of adventurers divided into smaller units of 12-15, allowing establishment of lasting friendships and "jungle bonding," as one traveler expressed it.

The days were full, with a morning rainforest walk at 6 a.m., three-hour morning classroom lectures, a bountifully healthful lunch of fresh vegetables and local fish, and a further class session in the afternoon, followed by guided walks through the rainforest to visit a local shaman, herb gardens, the aguadiente (rum) factory -- a medicinal must. Evenings were filled with buffet dinners, again featuring local foods, in the Explorama dining hall, and slide presentations by Dr. Rosita Arvigo of Ix Chel preserve in Belize and Mark Blumenthal of ABC.

Following a stay at Explorama, participants spent a day at the Amazon Center for Environmental Education and Research (ACEER) where, in addition to workshops, the highlight was an early-morning walk on the unique and spectacular quarter-mile canopy walkway 12 stories above the jungle floor. Picture a stroll high in the tree tops with copious numbers of epiphytes and bromeliads within hand's reach, butterflies not visible from the lower levels, lianas cascading from moss-laden branches of century-old trees, and the view over the rolling greenery as the sun struck the multi-colored foliage -- an experience never to be forgotten by anyone who trod the length and platforms of this remarkable structure.

Explornapo Camp, a lodge on the Napo River -- an Amazon tributary -- offered yet another group of classes in ornithology combined with a bird-spotting walk, ethnography of the indigenous population, and late-night canoe cruises on the river (with cayman and monkey watching) highlights. Sleeping on a palm floor on a mattress covered with opaque mosquito netting while listening to a tropical rain squall and viewing the spectacular lightning display may not seem like a luxury, but it was an experience few will soon forget.

The groups reunited for the final evening which was spent back at the base camp for a farewell buffet and evening program. Friendships and contacts made during this exciting and enlightening trip will remain long after the initial memories have faded. We returned home with an enriched appreciation of the importance of preserving the phytomedicinal treasures of the rainforest.

Dr. Walter Lewis explained the Global Gridmap, a hand-held battery-powered sensor device as small as a Walkman. This high-tech unit, connecting with a minimum of four Earth-orbiting satellites, pinpoints an exact position on the globe. Ethnobotanists are now using this technology in the rain forest and other areas to record a specific location and altitude for plants discovered. Positioning of Explorama Lodge per satellite GPS: South 3 degrees, 26 minutes 479 seconds (or 26' 28.8"); West 72 degrees 50 minutes 970' seconds (or 50' 58.2"); altitude 116 meters above sea level.

This educational opportunity came about as a result of a survey taken the Texas Pharmacy Foundation of 500 of its members, which showed that 74 percent of the pharmacist were interested in more information on herbal medicine. As a result of this survey, ABC and TPF, have joined to develop a series of Pharmacy Continuing Education courses in phytomedicine, of which the Peruvian Amazon trip is a part.

In a series of ensuing conversations between Wayne Ewen, Senior Director of Continuing Education of TPF and Mark Bluxmenthal, Executive Director of the American Botanical Council (ABC), the concept of a cooperative trip to the Peruvian rain forest was born. The theme and focus of the expedition, available to pharmacists and laypersons alike, was "Pharmacy from the Rainforest," exploration of the medicinal plants native to the area which are or could be used in modern health care.

Article copyright American Botanical Council.


By Penny King and Barbara Johnston