Volunteer Abroad - Peru, Volunteer Abroad Programs

A Jungle Birthday in the Amazon

by Nathaniel McIntosh, Greenheart Travel Correspondent Scholarship Winner in Peru

Monday and Tuesday of this week are spent building bio-gardens for the town’s school. This is really cool because we get the kids involved in the work and get to show them what goes into building a bio-garden. The kids are armed with tools just like we are and this makes the work go much faster. We have to start by clearing an overgrown area of land to just dirt.

The kids help with machetes… I choose to work on the opposite side of the plot than the kids. This makes me very nervous at first but since these kids were raised into this lifestyle, they are efficient and safe with them. I really like that this gets the kids involved because it shows them how to prepare and take care of a bio-garden and grow their own food. The school plans on having competitions between the different grade levels on who can grow the most successful bio-garden. First we clear the plot of land then we bring in rocks and wood to make the borders of the plant beds. After, we get the glorious task of bringing heavy sacks of ash and sawdust from houses and shops down the street from the school. Although we work very hard in the morning, we are lucky enough to finish early each day. We use this time to eat ice cream and do a whole lot of nothing. : )

Today is Wednesday and IT’S MY BIRTHDAY!!! Spending my birthday in the Amazon is one awesome way to celebrate. However, this doesn’t save me from doing work. I have to wake up at 4:30 am to head to secondary forest (about a 40 minute walk) to do mist netting. This proves to be much more fruitful than last time because we aren’t attacked by as many flying pests and we catch 12 birds. For the first part of the morning, there is way less waiting around between net checks because there are so many birds to process and release. Even though this tapers off around 8:30, the morning is still really nice. I turned 22 in the jungle, haha awesome.

Here is an example of us volunteers processing and releasing birds we are studying in the jungle.

The down part of this morning is that there was no granola made for our breakfast and we only get a few packets of crackers to hold us over till lunch at 12:30. Seeing as to how I love food, this is not how I wanted my birthday breakfast to go. Oh well, when I get back to camp at 11:30 I find that the researcher working on her masters degree has drawn me a very nice birthday card and given me a bag of candy. : ) Now this is what I’m talking about. This kindred candy lover knows me too well already. The afternoon is spent lazily looking for and cutting down bamboo for more amphibian bamboo traps then lounging at the hammocks. Even though dinner is supposed to be a surprise, I end up helping make it because I’m scheduled for it and I want to.

The oven broke earlier in the week so I was pretty disappointed at not being able to have cake but surprise! Pan made cake for dessert tonight. This awesome two-layered cake is preceded by the best pasta with chicken I could ask for. They fill the gap between the two cakes with an amazing dulce de leche icing and even write “Feliz Cumpleanos Nate” on the cake in blue icing (because blue is my favorite color). I eat a portion and a half of each and don’t regret it one bit. The group even sings for me before we cut the cake. Even though the staff and other volunteers have only known me for two and a half weeks, they do an awesome job of making me feel special on my birthday. : ) Best jungle birthday ever.

Thursday morning is spent doing more work at the bio-garden for the school in Salvacion. We have to clear another plot of land to add another set of plant beds. Even though this is a half-day and we have the help of the kids, it is hard work in very hot weather. We get the afternoon off because of our hard morning and late night ahead of us. The night is spent doing more leaf litter plots, which aren’t so bad other than the moths and cicadas that keep slapping me in the face. The only thing that bugs me about tonight, however, is not the bugs but the fact that I have to wake up really early the next morning and wont get a lot of sleep because we will be out late. Oh well, I can sleep later. It’s all in the name of science!!

Friday morning is spent doing more mist netting all the way out in primary forest, this is about an hour walk away with more than a few hills. Because it’s a long walk, we have to leave at 4:45, which requires me to get up at 4:10. The spot we choose to process the birds is up a hill and is quite a bit of a work out. Nothing like a good morning workout to start my day. We are lucky enough to catch 18 birds this morning, which is a great pull. We even manage to catch a Rufous Motmot, which are very pretty birds and the biggest one we’ve caught so far. Great start to the day but I’m looking forward to a nap after lunch.

I spend the afternoon doing Spanglish with the cook, Alcides, who is one of my favorite staff members. After dinner we go out to do a few more leaf litter plots then walk almost an hour out to the mammal clay lick to see if we can find anything cool. This walk isn’t very fruitful as we don’t find anything other than a few tapir prints and see a few blurs that must have been bats. At least we got to see what the clay lick looks like. I am ecstatic to learn that we are foregoing the last few leaf litter plots because people have to wake up early in the morning.

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