Volunteer Abroad - Peru, Volunteer Abroad Programs

Experiencing Full Immersion in Nature at the Amazon Project

by Nathaniel McIntosh, Greenheart Travel Correspondent Scholarship Winner in Peru

Monday is spent back out at the bio gardens in Salvacion. However, we leave a little early because we have something planned for after dinner and need some time in the afternoon to rest and relax. They try not to work us like pack mules. Today, we finished putting up a roof on our second house. It’s so amazing to see how the blank canvas of land is transformed to a beautiful place for a garden.

We don’t plant anything today; we just prepare 6 beds for planting and finish putting up the roof supports and plastic cover over it. Luckily for us, the weather is on our side and most of the day is cool and overcast. Nonetheless, this is tiring work. When we get back to camp, we get to relax until dinner. Great time to take a nap in the hammocks. After dinner, we go on our first leaf litter plot walk in the jungle. There are six of us and we only do a few plots but it still takes us 3 hours. To do a leaf litter plot, we start by setting up a 5×5 meter square next to the trail. We take some initial vegetation measurements then jump right in and get dirty. We have to get on our hands and knees (with gloves, pants, long sleeves, and rubber boots) and dig through the leaves, dirt, twigs, and roots. We do this to look mainly for amphibians but we will note any other animals that we see. Unfortunately, we only catch 2 frogs, but at least one of them was a poison dart frog.

I spend Tuesday walking through primary, secondary, and destroyed forest checking butterfly traps. In each forest type, there are 3 butterfly nets raised at high, medium, and low levels. Each trap is in the shape of a cylinder with a tray at the bottom to hold bait, which is fermented bananas. The traps are always left up and checked every morning.

When we pull the traps down we take out all the butterflies and record sex, species, and location then we mark their wings with a marker to note location found. This allows us to study whether some species are more common in a particular forest type and if they tend to move between the forest types a lot. This trip is pretty uneventful because we only catch 6 butterflies. After lunch, we get to work in the project’s bio garden because there are people visiting later in the week to look at our bio garden work, as well as our efforts in Salvacion. The bio garden has fallen into disarray because no one has been giving it any attention. We get to pull weeds all afternoon!

My Wednesday is entirely dedicated to taking canopy photos with a few staff members. This requires us to walk all across the jungle to 40 different spots to point a camera straight up and take a photo. These photos are always taken from the same spot, facing the same direction, and at similar times each month. This is a very time consuming task that requires A LOT of walking around. Even though it doesn’t seem like much use when you are actually doing it, it looks amazing when you look at a series of pictures. This project has been going on for years.

It’s awesome when you look at a series of these photos because you can see how the canopy changes over time. The researchers use this data to study how the canopy changes from season to season and from year to year. They can also use this data to see how climate has impacted the forest.

Thursday turns out to be a very busy day for me. It starts with me waking up at 4:30 so we can go to the culpa and watch the birds at the clay lick. Luckily they land this time and we get to see a barred forest falcon as well as some turkey vultures. After breakfast we head to the bio garden to line the paths with big stones. This task is pretty much left to Tom and I. We get the joyous task of bring stones from the nearby stream with a crappy old wheel barrel. I throw all the heavy stones from the stream up 10 feet to the path above because it easier than carrying them all up. Glad I’m pretty fit. Tom gets to wheel them back to the bio garden and I help him with this task near the end. It’s about this time when I start thinking about bedtime.

Fortunately, I have to help make lunch so I get to leave a little early to wash up. After lunch I have more Spanglish and rest until dinner. I take my rest in the form of lying in a hammock while listening to the call of the cicadas, birds, and monkeys as well as the sound of the river flowing by at the bottom of the cliff. After dinner we leave to do night transects on the farthest trail in this part of the reserve. It takes an hour to get there. Once there, we climb what seems like a mountain to have dinner at the viewpoint. The climb is hard work but the view makes it all worthwhile. Sadly the climb killed my usually large appetite. That’s a first. The transects out this far are pretty rough. We manage to catch 12 frogs, see another 6, and catch a cat-eyed snake. Really cool overall but largely exhausting. I don’t get to sleep that night until 11:30. What a long but pleasantly active day. Sleep feels very well deserved and comes as a nice reprieve.

Friday is very relaxed for me because of the very active day before. We just check butterfly traps in the morning, which proves to be much more exciting than last time because we catch 46 butterflies. We have taken to calling this activity catching butts. After lunch, I get to relax then do a little Spanglish and chill for the rest of the day.

I get to spend Saturday morning cutting bamboo in the bamboo forest and lugging it back to camp so we can saw it down to size. We need to make more bamboo traps that will hold water and allow us to catch amphibians. We need 60 but only make 20 today. It’s hard to find bamboo that will cut down to the right size from joint to joint. After lunch we set up the mist nets in their new locations and head back to camp to relax for the rest of the day.

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