Greetings from the Madre Selva Biological Field Station in Peru! We’ve had an eventful first week, beginning with our landing in Iquitos, Peru. Brieanna Lara, Olivia Heath, Aurora Flipinski, and I arrived on the same flight. After disembarking, crossing the tarmac (and making acquaintance with hot humidity), slowly moving through customs, and grabbing our checked bags, we attempted to find an ATM that would allow us to take out local money (the Nuevo Sol) we needed to pay the taxi fare to our hostel. We would be staying a couple of nights in Iquitos before leaving to the Madre Selva.
Immediately, we were accosted by eager cab drivers. It was a bit overwhelming, but we managed to find an ATM and pay for a taxi to our hostel, La Pascana. Most taxis in Iquitos are mototaxis, essentially rickshaws pulled by motorcycles, and most vehicles of personal transportation are motorcycles or scooters. The streets of the city seemed to me a lawless and chaotic flow of traffic, where several vehicles drove abreast but no lanes lent order. Although we viewed it from the relative security of a car, I think it was an exhilarating introduction to Peru for all of us.
We arrived and checked into our hostel. A small kitchen and dining area, along with a front desk, greet visitors on arrival. Behind that, about ten or twenty rooms face an open courtyard. The rooms are pretty small and have two twin-sized beds and a bathroom. The showers, as I grew accustomed to during my stay in Nicaragua, do not have hot water. That’s fine; the cool showers are refreshing in the tropical climate.
Long story short: we three early arrivers spent a couple of days in the city, walking the streets and trying the food. Sam and Destiny were delayed a full day, so instead of getting some acclimatization time like we did, they arrived the morning of our departure to the jungle. Meanwhile, we met Summer Peete, who would be accompanying us on our boat ride to Madre Selva. She was supposed to start volunteering at a public clinic in the town of Yanashi. More on Yanashi in a bit.
The General Manager of Project Amazonas, Fernando, met with us in our hostel on the night of Thursday, the 23rd to discuss the next day’s travel. We would be riding in Project Amazonas’ 26’ covered aluminum speedboat, the Mai-Kai, on the ninety-mile, three-hour trip down the Amazon River. He also informed Summer that the new doctor at the Yanashi clinic was changing policy a bit, and she wouldn’t be able to volunteer there after all. She decided to accompany us to Madre Selva, where she was welcome to lodging, to talk over her options with Devon Graham, President and Scientific Director of Project Amazonas.
The next morning, Sam and Destiny finally showed up. Fernando met us at the hostel and accompanied us to the dock, via mototaxi (my first ride!). I enjoyed the boat ride, despite having to endure an uncomfortable wooden seat for three hours. The wind provided a nice break from the heat, and we were riding on a boat down the Amazon River! It was sort of surreal. I’ve heard about the rainforest and the Amazon River for my entire life, but it always seemed to far away and even mystic and intangible. Now I was here, on the huge, wide river walled in by rainforest on either side.
I’m attaching a map of the area surrounding the Madre Selva. It is on an Amazon tributary, the Rio Orosa. Getting there from the Amazon involves first entering another tributary. Along the banks of this river is the town of Yanashi, the largest community in the immediate area of the Madre Selva. I asked Devon what the population of Yanashi was, and I believe he told me it was 1,000 or so. That gives you a sense of the remoteness of the area. Yanashi is home to the closest medical clinic to the communities surrounding the Madre Selva, and it is twenty to thirty minutes away by speedboat, during the rainy season. During the dryer parts of the year, the water level recedes, making the channel we used impassible and the journey longer. Also understand that the communities have very few motorboats, and no speedboats, and that fuel is expensive. For locals, travel to Yanashi can take hours. That is why Nourish International, Project Amazonas, and the communities are teaming up to build a local clinic.
The Madre Selva Biological Field Station consists of a dining hall, bathroom facility with toilets and showers, two-story classroom building, a dormitory building with ten or so beds, and about eight huts, all on an acre or two of land. The buildings are all wooden platforms with the walls consisting of half wood, half screen, and open, thatched roofs. The dormitory has been occupied by a biology class from the U.S. all week. They left today, May 29th, along with Devon and some project Amazonas staff. It is much quieter, and the degree of our isolation has become much more tangible. It’s actually a pleasant change… anyway, back to our arrival and first week.
The day after our arrival, Devon took us to visit the work site for the first time. The site is a very short boat ride upstream. It is on a hill behind Julio’s (the Madre Selva Groundskeeper) house. Last year’s group had cleared and leveled the small plot of land. It is amazing how fast the plant life had re-colonized. We were given machetes, and started re-clearing. It became apparent how crucial last year’s efforts were. Although the amount of growth in so short a time was impressive, I could tell that getting it back to last year’s state would take only a few days of work. We worked alongside Devon, Julio, and Abram (an assistant groundskeeper and relative to Julio) that afternoon for a couple hours. In the humid heat the work was exhausting, but fun (in my opinion at least). I think our machete handling has been improving rapidly, but that day was the first time many of us had handled the tool, and it was probably amusing to watch from a local perspective. They basically use machetes from early childhood onward.
The next three days of work was much the same. Summer has enthusiastically joined us, at least for now. l was right, the re-clearing was fast. We have already begun the second stage of site preparation, clearing a space for building materials. We want construction to be well underway before we leave, and I think we’re on track!
– Sam W.
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