Richard Breakspear - Rainforest Conservation in Peru
I had always wanted to go to the rainforest - one of the greatest ecosystems on Earth, Projects Abroad's Rainforest Project in the Peruvian Amazon at Taricaya, Puerto Maldonado provided a means to do so and take part in a very worthwhile activity at the same time.
I arrived in Peru from Mexico, and spent the previous night in Cusco, flying out to Puerto Maldonado that morning. It was early August, and I'd be spending the next month at Taricaya. I was met at the airport there by a Projects Abroad representative, Puerto Maldonado Airport is quite a surreal place, being so small and not like an airport at all. Puerto Maldonado is in part an attractive jungle town, and part shanty town, it has a feeling like a wild-west frontier town - probably because it basically is, due to its isolation and reliance on natural resources. From here we caught a motor-rickshaw to the port on the Rio Madre de Dios (River Mother of God) and set off for Taricaya, which is nearly 2 hours downstream. On the way to the camp we saw whole flocks of Macaws, Eagles, Tamarin monkeys, Turtles as well as many other birds. The rainforest here is particularly biodiverse, due to the slope down from the Andes providing a range of ecosystems as the climate changes from snow-capped mountain peaks to the humid rainforest at Puerto Maldonado in the Amazon basin.
At Taricaya, there are several buildings (wood with palm leaf roofs), arranged around a central area. Two of these provide bedrooms (2 people to a room, reasonably sized), another is the kitchen/dinning area and one the study/communal room. The camp is situated just on the edge of the river, by a small creek. All of the staff here are very friendly, and live at Taricaya too. Fernando the Co-Owner of the lodge speaks very good English. The lodge has a group of Spider Monkeys which will someday be released into the forest, but for now hang around the camp causing mischief by climbing through any gap in the buildings and stealing any loose food, or watching you have a shower or using the toilet! When I was there in the dry season the river was at its lowest point, so we tried to swim across, however after getting 1/3 way across and realising how far downstream we had drifted we decided to walk back along a sand bar in the river and give up on that idea!
One fantastic activity is walking through the jungle at night, when it takes on a whole different feel, and all the nocturnal animals can be heard. 2 kilometres behind the lodge is a small observation hut, where it is possible to sleep overnight and periodically observe all the animals that come out, in this quieter part of the rainforest. One unique aspect of the project is the isolation - the camp is alone in its piece of the rainforest, providing a totally different environment to back home, after 9pm there's no electricity from the generator, so evenings generally involved Jungle Rum, candles and extensive guitar/card playing. Up-river from the lodge is Lago Sandoval, an Ox-bow cut-off of the main river, spectacularly rich in wildlife, which is well worth visiting during your time here.
I had a fantastic time on the project, it was an amazing experience, (hopefully not a once in a lifetime one), as I'd love to go back. I feel I gained an awful lot from this project - a huge sense of 'team' builds up, and its very satisfying to come here and know that you can adapt to the conditions in the rainforest, compared to the luxuries of home. The work at Taricaya involved various conservation projects, one of which was to catalogue the wildlife found there to present a dossier to the Peruvian authorities to establish the area as a protected reserve. Watches were carried out at designated times/places and the wildlife observed recorded. Other activities included clearing new observation trails and helping with some of the construction of the buildings. I felt that the work at Taricaya was appreciated by the people in Puerto Maldonado, as the rainforest is their most precious resource, full of biodiversity and responsible for a lot of tourism income, that is not to say that it is without tension, after all logging and farming are also important industries here that can come into conflict with conservation. The lodge at Taricaya is different to the many tourist lodges littered along the Rio Madre de Dios at Puerto Maldonado, as volunteers stay here for a longer time and interact with the local economy, unlike the commercial lodges, where rich tourists fly in for a few days, and then leave, contributing little to the area, most of the money associated with this being expatriated by the travel companies.
To anyone thinking of visiting here I would say: Do! It is definitely worth learning at least some basic Spanish before you come (useful at airport, and obviously at the lodge). Mosquito Repellent (50% DEET) is about the one thing you really need to bring from home (the local versions seem to be 0% effective), everything else you can generally find in Puerto Maldonado.