Emma Ciric - Rainforest Conservation in Peru
I had just finished school in Toronto and was about to go to university to pursue a degree in zoology. I’d always wanted to be a field researcher, but I was worried that once I finished my degree and got out there, I wouldn’t enjoy it. I decided to volunteer with Projects Abroad after seeing their presentation at an expo, naturally with a Conservation project. I had several choices, but in the end I picked Peru, because a chance to go to the Amazon rainforest might well be a once in a lifetime experience.
My placement lasted for a month and I arrived in Puerto Maldonado in August, during the height of the dry season. I was lucky enough to arrive with several volunteers at once, so I quickly made friends. Our volunteer coordinator, Elvira, was waiting for us directly outside the airport when we arrived. It was incredibly hot and humid, very different from how cold it had been in Lima!
My Conservation Project
We had lunch at Elvira’s house before setting off that afternoon for Taricaya. Since it was a Sunday, the boat alongside us was carrying our entire supply of food and gasoline for that week. We arrived at the lodge after an hour and were immediately put to work! All 30 or so volunteers formed a human chain and we had to pass the supplies up the bank to each other. Most of the items weighed several kilograms and some were so heavy that I couldn’t lift them alone. As it was Sunday evening, that was our only task for the night. After that, we settled into our four-person cabins, had dinner, and turned in early.
The basic routine of the week was either two or three chores throughout the entire day. Tuesdays and Thursdays, we would wake up at 5:30am, work for two or three hours and stop for breakfast. A second chore would begin at around 9:30am, which would then conclude at midday. There were no chores between 12pm and 3pm on any day, because that was the hottest part of the day. Usually we would take siestas on the hammocks, read, or talk during this time. After that, it was just one more chore until dinnertime. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the day started a little later; we would wake up at 9:30am and only do two chores.
The work we did at Taricaya was varied, because it was the dry season much of the work revolved around construction. My very first job, and the last one before I left, was constructing and painting a new cage for Simba the puma. I repaired boats, sawed wood, cleared forest for a new farm and repaired old fences. This took a lot of physical effort, especially cementing and hammering.
Physical work was one of the chief aspects of the project, even when construction wasn’t involved. For instance, we had to find and cut down fruits and vegetation to feed the animals at the Taricaya rescue center, and then carry them back. One of my favourite chores was helping Salvador, an entomologist writing a book on the insects of Peru. We would go out on walks with him a few times a week to catch specimens for his studies. There are a lot of weird, big, and fascinating bugs in Peru and it helped me get over my insectophobia!
Taricaya is largely a rescue centre, so there were plenty of opportunities to get close to very beautiful and exotic animals, like big cats, tapirs and spider monkeys. Duties included feeding them, cleaning and redecorating cages and general maintenance around the centre. We would also go out on long hikes through the jungle to look for a troupe of spider monkeys that had been released into the wild and check up on their behaviour.
Another of my favourite duties was hunting for turtle eggs. Taricaya was founded mainly to save the endangered Taricaya turtle and eggs are laid in the dry season. We would leave in the evening for an island further down the river and camp all night there while searching for turtle eggs. When I went we didn’t find any eggs, but I got to see dozens of caimans, various kinds of birds and the sunrise on the river, so it was still a fantastic experience.
During the weekend in Taricaya, you have two choices - stay at the lodge and just relax for two days or head to Puerto Maldonado. Puerto is not a small town and it has many restaurants, clubs and interesting places in general, such as the Plaza de Armas, the Obelisk and a huge market that sells anything from clothes to soap to toys to DVDs. There are a few hostels and hotels to stay at and the city itself is fairly safe!
I was in Taricaya for only a month, which was much too short. I was very heartbroken when I had to leave. But I loved the things I did and I can definitely say I’d enjoy being a field researcher, having had plenty of experience in the Amazon. I feel very privileged to have gone on this trip and I’m happy to have met so many open-minded people who are interested in the world, some of whom I made very good friends with. It was definitely unforgettable and I consider it one of the best things I’ve done in my life.