The next morning was a head-throbbing blur of questions from “What have I done?” to “Where in the world is Peru?”
The following month I found myself in a no-frills hotel room near the Lima airport waiting for a woman named Dolly to pick me up in my search for answers.
So far, I had only figured out the answer to the “Where in the world is Peru?” question.
The “What have I done?” answer was still a bit unclear.
The only Dolly I ever knew was a neighbor of my grandmother’s, who smoked filterless Camels and wore a housecoat and curlers to the grocery store. But after a knock on my hotel room door, I was pleasantly surprised to greet a petite, Latina-hip-chick with skinny jeans, big brown eyes, and a trendy haircut. This was definitely not my grandmother’s Dolly. She didn’t exactly strike me as a jungle guide either, but after we hopped a flight to Iquitos and boarded a small outboard river boat heading deep into the Amazon, I discovered there was a lot more to this Dolly than first impressions implied.
Our four-hour ride through the tributary toward Amazonia Expedition’s Tahuayo jungle lodge revealed that Dolly Aravelo Beaver— now donning a ballcap and boots— was an entrepreneur, an adventurer, an activist, a feminist, a humanitarian, and an all-out force of nature.
She was also Dora the Explorer.
Not the slightly-annoying-cartoon-TV-Dora who babysat my kids by singing mind-numbing jingles while I multitasked through nightly dinner prep. Dolly was the updated-ultra-cool-Dora starring in the 2019 summer movie Dora & the Lost City of Gold
. The Quechua speaking, adventure-craving, power-posing, hip-chica who shows how smart girls can handle anything that comes their way, achieve whatever they set their minds to, AND save the day— all at the same time.
Growing up as the slightly rebellious-yet-wholly-progressive daughter of jungle parents who uprooted the family to the city of Iquitos as a way to offer their children more than an elementary education, no sooner did Dolly get her degree in tourism and business than she did an about-face and headed back into the jungle.
Joining her husband— esteemed, eco-scientist Paul Beaver
— in his travel business, they launched Amazonia Expeditions
. Somewhere between ‘glamping’ and Army Ranger survival training, Amazonia Expeditions introduces visitors from the outside world to the biodiversity of this remote-but-vital corner of the world in up-close and experiential ways. By integrating scientific education and investigation with social and ecological preservation, they work in close collaboration with indigenous Tahuayo communities.
Amazonia Expeditions lodging
But in such an isolated region— where education is low and poverty high— Dolly needed a way to create a stronger foundation under the feet of these jungle children. Rather than relocating children out to the city, she built a metaphorical road into the jungle that would bring opportunity for them to grow, thrive, and protect their corner of the planet for future generations to come.
Enter: Angels of the Amazon
Dolly the humanitarian
From the moment our boat pulled up to the dock outside the lodge, Dolly sprang into action— metaphorically zip-lining from one home-grown initiative to the next.
She delivered armloads of school supplies to children served by the education sponsorship
program she spearheaded.
She held meetings with village mothers who sold their handmade beads and baskets to tourists as part of the craft cooperative
she launched. By earning their own money, they were able to put food on the table, as well as purchase vital medical and dental treatment at the village clinic
Yep. The clinic that Dolly established. But while the scope of her programming may have been vast, Dolly’s ‘force of nature’ was simply the personification of the natural world. The natural world that doesn’t need to be told what to do. Like the plant that doesn’t need our advice on how to photosynthesize. Or the tree that doesn’t need our micromanagement on when the buds should bloom and what colors would look best.
Like Mother Nature’s perfectly timed internal systems, Dolly felt a compulsion— a need— and moved toward it. Then she let the questions on what, how, and when to do things simply answer themselves.
Even without margaritas.
Since 2006, Dolly and her team have been empowering these jungle children in a way that not only works within their local ecosystem, but allows them to contribute to the benefit of the larger world beyond.
And the larger world beyond needs them. Urgently.
While they may be living ‘off the map,' these kids are at ground zero of a global climate crisis that is rocking the consciousness of the entire planet. Greenhouse gasses and carbon emissions threaten the atmosphere of millions of species— and, if fifth grade science class taught us anything, it’s that rainforests provide essential carbon sinks to balance things out.
With a land mass more than half the area of the continental U.S., the Amazon rainforest is one of the planet’s best natural defenses against climate change—regulating global temperatures by absorbing about 2.2 billion tons of CO2 emissions per year. But data suggests
about 18% of the forest has already disappeared due to deforestation for industrial and agricultural use— pushing the region dangerously close to a tipping point where the forest will no longer be able to regenerate.
For decades, indigenous communities have been on the verge of extinction at the hands of industrialists happy to trade the long-term sacrifices of others for short-term financial gains for themselves. But this fight for the ‘lungs of the planet’ has now evolved past the natives, past the climate scientists, the environmentalists, and the celebrities. It is now an all-hands-on-deck existential crisis with enormous consequences for everyone. And while climate anxiety
(yep, it’s a thing) may be leading many of us to a global nervous breakdown, it’s the youngest generation that has the most to lose.
Human ecosystem at work
More than any time or situation before, children everywhere need to feel their sense of purpose. They need opportunities to contribute to something larger than themselves— and an indispensable role in protecting their human family.
And they are stepping up.
From skipping school
in more than 100 countries to stalking Houses of Parliament
, young people are doing everything in their power to rock the status quo. And the Tahuayo team is up and running too. With educational support now firmly beneath them, Dolly’s latest initiative— the SANTA program
— engages jungle children in activism training to protect their neighborhood, their rainforest, and their planet.It doesn’t matter how poor or isolated or marginalized or small they may be. Like the mitochondria that supports the cell that supports the leaf that supports the tree that supports the rainforest that supports the world— their role is fundamental and must never be underestimated.
SANTA team member
The Squad Ambiental Niños del Tahuayo en Accion (Children of the Tahuyao for Environmental Action) works to pick up trash, fish plastic out of rivers, and spread the message of sound environmental stewardship to everyone they meet. And while their big city peers do their part to call attention to their generational plight, it’s the SANTA kids’ exclusive access to the most remote corner of the planet that allows this tag-team approach to tackle the environmental challenge from all sides.
In the grand scheme of things, however, the natural world doesn’t need us nearly as much as we need it. Mother Nature always has the last laugh
. But for the sake of our children, it’s only fair that we do what we can to help them out. After all, we brought them here without their permission, and will leave them behind to deal with the consequences of our actions once we are gone.
From what we eat, to how we live, to the policymakers we elect, there are plenty of things we can do to help slow the effects
of climate change— but experiencing the wonder of our natural world might be an important way to start.Discover the Forest
is a public service campaign in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and Dora the Explorer that encourages parents to instill an environmental consciousness in the hearts and minds of their children. From hiking and plant identifying to wildlife tracking, star gazing, and bird watching, their website helps Americans of all ages appreciate the power of nature from wherever they may be.
But— for the eco-adventure of a lifetime, a trip to the Amazon
is just a margarita away.
You’re gonna love Dolly.
No time to travel? Then forget your mosquito repellant, machete, and malaria meds and take a mini-escape to the Amazon in this video series. Led by Amazonia Expeditions’ head guide Javier Anibal Alván Arévalo, you’ll be in good hands.Jungle PrepCuisineDolphins of the AmazonAmazon Research CenterLocal ecosystems
It doesn’t matter how poor or isolated or marginalized or small they may be. Like the mitochondria that supports the cell that supports the leaf that supports the tree that supports the rainforest that supports the world— their role is fundamental and must never be underestimated.
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