by Nathaniel McIntosh, Greenheart Travel Correspondent Scholarship Winner in Peru
The first day at the Amazon Sustainability Project in Peru is spent doing a whole lot of nothing. We get to rest for the first day because we have been traveling a lot over the past few days. I use this time to wander around and explore. This place is really nice and looks just like it does in the pictures. The staff here is also really nice and they are quick to make me feel at home. The Peruvian staff doesn’t speak much English so this provides a good chance for me to teach them some English and for them to teach me some Spanish.
I’m so glad that I already have a small background in Spanish, this makes all of our interactions easier and they are very patient. The food here is all home cooked by a dedicated cook and his assistant, and they do a great job. I still can’t believe that I’m in the Amazon, its all so surreal. I never thought I would be living in the jungle, even if only for a month. Being in the jungle, we don’t have easy access to electricity or Internet. We get electricity and internet 4 days a week for a few hours. The Internet is very slow because we are in the jungle and we have a lot of people that want to use it. Without electricity we also don’t have hot water so all our showers are cold; that will be fun. Of course there’s no washing machine so it’ll be hand washing everything and hanging it out to dry, which will prove to be a challenge because it’s so humid here and still rains somewhat often, even though it’s the dry season.
We start the second day off with a nice long trail walk that takes around 2.5 hours and is around 3 miles. I easily make the walk but I get somewhat tired out for a bit on a few of the big hills and drink 1.5 liters of water. This forest is beautiful! This walk is really just to show us parts of the forest, inform us, and get us used to walking trails. We don’t do anything special on this walk other than check a few camera traps. The camera traps are set up to go off whenever something steps in front of the sensor. We pull out the cameras SD card and check it with my camera and end up seeing some cool animals.
We see pictures of jaguars, armadillos, deer, some giant bird, and a jaguarundi (a small predatory cat). As we walk, Andy, the project’s lead researcher and manager, points out different plants that we should know. We walk by this giant leaf cutter anthill that is maybe 4 feet tall and more than 6 feet in diameter. We see bullet ants, soldier ants, beautiful butterflies and moths, crickets, grasshoppers, poisonous caterpillars (all are here), some awesome birds, and Capuchin monkeys. This walk is a great way to start off the volunteer expedition in the jungle.
On the way back we stop by the Mirador, which has an amazing view of the river and the clay lick that the birds eat to either supplement their mineral content or neutralize toxins in their diet. When we get back to camp we just relax and talk until we go on another walk with Jaz, the assistant manager of the project. The only thing we see are squirrel monkeys, but I am perfectly happy to see these super cute monkeys. We also go to the swamp in a failed attempt to see some birds. When we get back to camp we just relax and talk for the rest of the day. I take my first cold shower today and lets just say that it’s bracing to say the least.
The third day we took a night walk in the forest. On our walk, we catch any frogs we find and put them in plastic bags with leaves to study the next day. We end up walking up a stream for quite a ways. By the end of the walk, my boots had been filled with water more than a few times and my legs were soaking wet, but the walk was awesome! We saw a lot of cicadas molting, large creepy looking spiders, a few cool frogs, lots of grasshoppers and crickets, sucker fish, freshwater shrimp, and more beautiful moths and butterflies. Most exciting of all was that Tom caught a caiman!! We were walking by and he managed to grab it on the third attempt. It was about 4 feet long and not happy to be caught. It was amazing. We all crowded around to touch him, awesome. Tom named him Big Al. This was definitely the highlight of the trip so far. We kept walking down the stream but were not sure when an exit to a trail would appear and were forced to turn back to make sure we got back to camp on time, otherwise a search party would be sent out. Pretty awesome for the third day. This gives me the chance to take my first cold shower in the dark, sweet…
The next morning was spent processing frogs that we caught the night before. This includes writing down where we caught it, what it was on and how high up it was, the Latin name of the species, taking its weight, measuring the snout to butt length, and the time that it was caught. The researchers use this data to study habitat, movement, what species are in the reserve, and to look for new species (they have found 3 new species so far and recorded many species previously not known to be in Manu). This is fun because I get to handle frogs again. The day was spent learning first aid techniques, which was perfect because it was raining all day and we couldn’t go out. We got through primary and secondary first aid information, and learned how to handle situations like someone choking, how to check a person that has injured themselves and is on the ground, CPR, how to tie bandages, splints, and slings, and how to treat a snake bite. We then got into pairs and were sent out while the group came up with a scenario. Each of the pairs then has to come back into the room and figure out how to handle the situation. We made this part a lot of fun. The lessons also come with videos and we read through a “dangers of the jungle” packet. This packet discusses venomous snakes and bugs, dangers of the job, common sense, illnesses and parasites, and storm protocol. Definitely some scary stuff in this packet. Even caterpillars can kill you here, jeez. Moral of the story, pay attention to the jungle or it will eat you.
Sundays are the off day for the camp and no one works. Very nice and relaxing. Everyone goes down to an offshoot of the river to swim and play games. After, we play soccer on a small field in the camp. Past that, we just chill and talk for the rest of the day. Its really nice just relaxing and getting to know the other volunteers.