Laura Poe - Rainforest Conservation in Peru
Having tossed and turned over where to go and what to do for my gap year, the opportunity to live in the rainforest just seemed stupid to turn down. So in January my South American adventure began. Stepping off the plane after flying over a vast amount of trees and what one can only call an enormous river with endless tributaries all disappearing into the distance, I realized that I had actually arrived in the rainforest. It was pouring and the tarmac of the runway was ankle deep in water, and although I knew it was the rainforest I had assumed that South America would be hot and sunny.
Met by Rich from Projects Abroad we made our way into Puerto Maldonado to meet some fellow volunteers with whom we then rickshawed our way to the port. This was my first experience of true Peruvian lifestyle, and haphazard timings....although we meant to leave the port at 4pm it wasn’t until an hour or so later that we set off on what was to become a well known trip downstream along the Madre de Dios towards Taricaya lodge my home for the next 3 months. The trip although I lost count of the times I made it never failed to amaze me, in the small wooden motored canoe, the endless density of the jungle, the locals living their lives on the banks and the noise is just a small part of this huge adventure.
Taricaya lodge itself is endlessly changing with the help of volunteers like you and me. The projects set up are part of the day to day routine and whilst I was there we managed to build (with the help of a few local carpenters!) 3 new bungalows and 3 new animal enclosures, along with the other projects including trail clearing, donkey training, coffee (planting, collecting, and shelling), flower cutting (to sell in the local market), lodge maintenance (feeding and cleaning the animals), and observations twice a day (5.30am and pm!) at the three platforms.
One of these platforms is the highest canopy walkway in South America, measuring 90m long and 42m high it’s a rather daunting experience as you walk along a rickety bridge built by volunteers such as you but the view from the top is something else! Although some activities may be hard work, with the other volunteers and staff a lot of fun can be had! From Caiman hunting at night with lodge manager, Stuart, to trips to Oxbow lakes such as Lake Sandoval where the main attraction is the wild otters, the creek rope swing and bridge also brought about a fair bit of entertainment as well as the amazing candle lit jungle parties, card games and gossip sessions that were had most evenings.
Weekends and the trip up the river to Puerto was made early on the Saturday morning. This little town soon became one of our favorite places, with the motorbike taxis, the endless market stalls, delicious ice-cream, pizza and steaks, intermittent internet, Brombus and the pool and of course the incredible Saturday nights out in Witities involving copious amounts of Cabo Blanco (Peruvian rum) and reggaeton music. Sunday afternoon and it’s back to the lodge which when I first arrived was told ‘will feel like home in no time’ this statement never became true as the similarities between living in the jungle and Dorset are somewhat inexistent! But the principle is there and returning to your mosquito netted and bamboo room never fails to amaze and excite, but it’s not until it’s time to leave that you realize quite how much there is to miss. From the environment and animals to the sounds and the mozzy bites but most of all the people you meet.
Buts it’s not any one of these things that makes visiting this place so incredible it’s the privilege that not every tourist gets, not only are you seeing and living in the jungle, experiencing the day to day life of locals you are also getting the chance to help, and meet likeminded people who you will remain friends with. This trip as a whole is one not to be turned down and if you take it will never be forgotten. My next 3 months of travel were just as fantastic but having the experience in the jungle was a fantastic way to prepare me for the adventures that followed.