Hannah Jardine - Rainforest Conservation in Peru
I had noticed an advertisement for Projects Abroad in one of my college e-mail newsletters and within ten minutes of browsing their website I knew I had to travel to Taricaya Ecological Reserve in Peru this summer. Since I was a child, it has been my dream to travel to the rainforest and work with animals, and the Conservation project in Peru couldn’t have been a more perfect match for me.
I have always been the adventurous one out of my group of friends, but when I told everyone that I would be travelling to Peru for two weeks to live and work in the rainforest, they still couldn’t believe it. “So you’re going to be living in the middle of the jungle…with no electricity? And no hot water? And tarantulas?!” My response every time was, “Yeah! Doesn’t that sound amazing?”
When I arrived I was surprised at how much I felt at home. The Projects Abroad staff treated me like family and I felt comfortable from the moment I arrived, even though I was travelling alone in a place where hardly anyone around me spoke English. After disembarking from the plane, I hopped into the back of a cozy, broken in jeep with traces of jungle all over it inside and out. Pretty soon, I was on a canoe travelling down the Madre de Dios River, still unable to believe that I was actually about to spend two weeks in the Amazon Rainforest.
At the end of my first day at Taricaya, the director took all of the new arrivals on an eco-walk so we could learn about all of the species of plants found on the reserve that are so vital to the rainforest ecosystem. The range of plant life in the rainforest is so extremely diverse. I absolutely loved hearing about all of the different survival adaptations that each plant has developed. It was so interesting to see a tree that can “walk” towards light and a tree that is nicknamed the “iron” tree because it is the color of oxidized iron and is as hard as metal. With activities like the eco-walk and talks throughout the week and even before each activity, Projects Abroad made sure that all of the volunteers were extremely educated about the rainforest, what we were doing, and why our help was so important and so appreciated.
Working at Taricaya was to me hardly work at all. Despite having to wake up as early as 5:15 some days and having jobs such as carrying sand or farming potatoes, I enjoyed every second of every activity. What’s great about Taricaya is that every day you are assigned to two or three different activities with two or three other volunteers each time. By the end of the week, you have done about ten or more different activities and have worked with just about every volunteer and staff member. Also, each week some projects are completed, and new ones begin. Even though you are living in the middle of the rainforest, secluded from civilization, life at Taricaya is far from monotonous.
One night during the first week of my stay, the group, led by the director of Taricaya, went out on the river in search for Caimans, a reptile closely related to alligators and crocodiles. At night, caimans can be found on the banks of the river. They are easily spotted because their eyes glow orange when a flashlight is shone on them. After being warned that the last time the staff took the volunteers out to look for caimans it was about two hours before they found one, our group spotted one about 100 feet away from Taricaya’s dock! We slowly and quietly approached the shore in our canoe and our director hopped out and carefully took hold of the beautiful creature and brought it on board for us to admire.
It was a small black caiman. After plenty of pictures, we returned the animal to the water and continued our search. Remarkably, within only ten minutes we had found another caiman, this time a smooth fronted caiman. The director pointed out the differences between the species. The second animal was much smaller, much more aggressive, and had a much more rigid back. It was amazing to see these wild animals up close and personal and to learn so much about this species of reptile that I had surprisingly never even heard of before this trip.
Over the next two weeks, the incredible experiences just kept on adding up. I was able to feed baby spider monkeys by hand, have hungry capuchins crawl all over my neck, and watch russet backed oropendolas create a nest. I saw the most beautiful sunsets and the most interesting creatures. I was able to see wild squirrel monkeys hopping from tree to tree and even hold a gorgeous wild rainbow boa constrictor that had broken into the parrot cage with intentions of having an easy dinner. When I look back on all of the pictures I took, I still can’t believe I was actually there. The trip was just that unbelievable.