Do you ever just wake up one morning with a crazy idea and think, yeah i’m going to do that? Well that’s pretty much what I did one morning and within 2 months I had quit my job and was on a solo adventure to Peru. Sometimes things happen in life that you can’t control and it forces you to asses where you are and what you want out of life. Apparently, sometimes the only way to find yourself again is to plunge yourself into a 3 week trip consisting of hundreds of mosquito bites, Pisco sours and extremely bad Spannish speaking! (On my part only may I add).
As an environmental science student and someone who is passionate about rainforest ecosystems and conservation, I signed up to an Amazon Rainforest Conservation volunteer program through volunteerworld.com and packed my bags. Now this article has taken me 2 1/2 years to finally publish as I didn’t know where to start but this really is a ‘brief’ summary…
Why the Amazon? – The sciencey stuff
The Amazon rainforest, often described as the lungs of the earth, is such an essential part of our planet. It contains more than half of the world’s rainforests, a quarter of all flora and fauna species and is essential for controlling climate change (Malhi et al., 2018). The global consequences of deforestation and burning, affect biodiversity, the water cycle, and CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions (Houghton, 2005). Deforestation in the Amazon contributes significantly to the intensification of greenhouse gas emissions as a consequence of the release of carbon from forest biomass and soil (Fearnside, 2006; Huntingford et al., 2004). Excess greenhouse gases act as insulators by absorbing radiated energy, forming a kind of ‘thermal blanket’ around the earth, retaining a greater amount of heat, and preventing it from returning to space. The advance of deforestation could increase temperatures in the Amazon by up to 14 degrees by 2100; this is catastrophic for the planet, resulting in the death not only of the forest but also mankind (Fearnside, 2006; Hegerl, 2006)! Scary stuff.
Inotawa Lodge – The accomodation
I decided to fly into to Cusco, acity in the Peruvian Andes, and spend a couple of days there before heading into the jungle. (Blog about Cusco in progress! Warning…contains llamas, alpacas and boozy walking tours). I met my volunteer guide, Arturo, at the hostel I was staying at and we took a 10 hour night bus to Puerto Maldonado. Often labelled as the gateway to the jungle with boats leaving regually up and down the river taking ecotourists, researchers and volunteers to many of the jungle lodges. As Puerto Maldonado is in the tropical Amazon Basin, the climate is hot and humid at all times. The average annual temperature is 26 °C (79 °F) with the months of August and September being the hottest. Annual rainfall exceeds 1,000 millimetres (3.3 ft). The wet season is from October to April – I visited in February.
Jimmy from the volunteer agency was waiting for us in Peurto Maldonado. We grabbed a quick bite to eat and hopped on a boat to Inotowa Lodge. About an hour down the river from Peurto Maldonado.
Inotawa Expeditions, has been recognised by the Peruvian government as a Private Conservation Area due to its massive biodiversity, holding endemic floral and animal species in danger of extinction. The lodge is Located at the Tambopata river shores in the La Torre Community, buffer zone for the Tambopata National Reserve. Whilst on the boat we could observe monkeys swinging from the trees and take in all of the jungle sights and sounds.
When we arrived I was immediately eaten by mosquitos despite wearing long sleeves and trousers as advsied. A short board walk through the vegetation and I was shown to my cosy jungle bungalow. As it was off-season I had a bungalow all to myslef. Not so good when you have to defend it from the many injects and big jumpy spiders whilst on the loo in the dark, all alone! A memory i’d like to forget. There is no hot water but you really don’t need it. The jungle is so hot and humid at all times. The water is stored in big tubs outside and is definitely not for drinking! Directly opposite my bungalow was a hammock hut which was nice to go and chill out in, read a book and just listen to the sounds.
Another, more favourable, memory that I will never forget is the shear loudness of the jungle at night time. It comes alive. After a storm and the rain has stopped, it will still sound like it is still raining for many hours afterwards as the water percolates down through the thick vegetation.
The lodge has a small shop selling handmade jewellery and a bar and resturant area. We only had electricity in the morning until 1pm and then again in the evening from 5pm until 9pm, that was run from a generator. Somehow they did have the internet and wifi but I think it only worked for a couple hours the whole time I was there so you really are off grid.
The jungle surrounding the lodge
I was lucky enough to be able to join Louis, the local tourguide and the tourists staying at the lodge on some of their expeditions. Louis would conduct jungle night walks, early morning visits to the clay lick to see the macaws, caymen spotting, fruit farm visits and piranha fishing!
Yes that is a picture of a trantula with two of its legs missing! When walking through the jungle you can often spot their hairy butts poking out of their dens in the ground. There is so much wildlife to see, huge purple butterflys, monkeys, jaguars, deer and giant rodents! When I talk about them to people I call them mini capybara as they look like them but not quite as big, unless they were baby ones!!
I joined Louis on a trip to the Tres Chimbadas lake for a spot of piranha fishing. I was not a natural at fishing. It took me to my last bit of bait to finally catch something and it was the size of a goldfish. Louis tried to convince me that we were fishing with monkey meat but he was winding me up as it was beef!
The kapok tree (Ceiba pentandra) is a true jungle giant. It is believed that it can grow up to 13 feet (4 meters) in a single year!
One evening we went out on the river in darkness, to try and spot some caimens. They were really hard to photograph but you could just about make out their beady eyes poking out of the water in the torch light!
A 5am start and 15 minute boat journey up the river to La Torre Clay Lick to watch the maccaws have a morning snack was a great experience. Clay licks are steep walls of red clay caused by erosion along riverbanks. The name comes from the animals they attract: macaws, who flock there by the hundreds to eat the clay every morning.
Scientists don’t know exactly why parrots do this, but they suspect it has something to do with mineral deficiencies that they can obtain from the sodium rich clay. We sat and watched them from a small thatched bird watching type hut. For some reason I can’t find any photos from this trip but I have pinched one from amusingplanet.com to show you what it looks like.
Whilst I was staying at the lodge, a group of Mexican university students were also staying there, in the jungle for 3 months conducting research. They had set up camera traps around the forest to study animal behaviour and were also researching parasitic fungi that attack living organisms casuing death of the host! Nice. I was lucky enough to go out into the jungle with them and see what they were up to.
I also spotted a veilled stinkhorn one evening just next to the restaurant at the lodge. My guess is that it is Phallus indusiatus. They appear at night time and shy away during the day, only living for a matter of hours or days. They also give off a very bleach like aroma! Apparently, an obscure (highly criticised) study states that the smell emanating from these mushrooms can trigger spontaneous orgasms in human females! Can’t say that was my experience!
Given the chance (and a small lottery win) I would do this all over again in a heart beat. Here is some advice should you ever wish to journey here, of which I wish I could have read beforehand…
Lessons to be learnt and general advice
Amazonian spiders are nothing like ‘normal’ ones! They spring around and land on your head and scratch you (yes, scratch!) when you flap around like a little girl trying to get it off. I still have nightmares of people shouting ‘araña’ at me and pointing to my head.
Always bring imodium into the jungle, especially if you intend on drinking Pisco sours beforehand and on arrival! (A raw egg cocktail for anyone not in the know!) Does not mix well with a humid climate and change in diet!
If you visit in the rainy season, bring copious amounts of mosquito repellent and bite cream! They occupy every inch of air and eat you alive.
Learn Spannish! Playing international charades and pointing at stuff gets a bit tedious.
Don’t try and wash any clothing in the shower, it will not dry for days!
Thanks for reading 🙂
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