Alex Prior - Conservation & Environment, Amazon Rainforest Conservation in Peru
If wildlife is your thing, then Taricaya will be your thing. If meeting excellent, like-minded people from all around the world appeals, then Taricaya will appeal. If having the time of your life is top of your gap year to-do list, then Taricaya should really be top of your gap year to-do list. From the minute I arrived at the lodge, surrounded on three sides by dense jungle, and on the fourth, a huge piranha-packed river, I knew that my stay here would be unforgettable.
However, this incredible moment only came after the massive journey to get to this most remote of locations. An incredible experience in itself. An overnight stay in bustling Lima was quite a shock after such a peaceful flight over 'the pond' from Heathrow. Thankfully this short stay went without a hitch and before I knew it, I was in another plane swooping down over the Sacred Valley to re-fuel in Cusco. The next leg of the journey (Cusco to Puerto Maldonado) was where I first realised how isolated my home for the next 3 months would be...an area of incomprehensible size stretching as far as the eye could see in every direction, covered in what looked just like broccoli. The only things breaking up this vastness of green were brown rivers of all different sizes, snaking off into the distance, and the sad sight of acres of land stripped of trees. However, it did make me all the more eager to do my bit and begin work on the conservation projects at Taricaya.
The frontier town of Puerto Maldonado was the next stop, where I was met by the friendly face of Nando, one of the founders of Taricaya who I would quickly come to respect immensely for his knowledge and friendly personality. Along with a few other volunteers, we swiftly arrived at the port via the amazing motorcycle taxi service running throughout Puerto. Before long we were speeding down the Madre de Dios River, passing locals in canoes going about their daily lives. I remember spending the whole hour-and-a-half staring in amazement at the strange and beautiful scenery all around me. Then we arrived! I was warmly welcomed by the other volunteers, staff and animals which Taricaya was temporarily home to. The hard work soon began; my first job being to help re-clear one of the many jungle pathways in the vast network of trails used for animal observations (one of the most important of many jobs to be done at Taricaya). However, it wasn't all hard work.
Something I always enjoyed, and was lucky enough to experience quite a few times, was caiman catching. We would all go out in the boat, with Stuart (another founder of Taricaya) at the front, waiting for the unmistakeable amber glint of Caiman eyes to shine in the torch lit darkness. With the boat in the more than capable hands of Eugenio, a local staff member commonly known as 'jungle master', we would gently edge towards the two beady eyes whilst Stuart would hang from the front of the boat ready to make his move when the moment came. On successful occasions when Stuart was quicker than the Caiman (pretty much all the time, right Stu?), we would all have the chance to hold it and see for ourselves what had been said in the preceding talk.
The food at the lodge was fairly basic, and it's fair to say that I'll never look at rice or beans in the same way again. At some point during my stay however, an oven was installed in the kitchen, which widened our culinary capabilities no end.
Whilst I was at the lodge, a typical day would have involved a short, early morning trek to one of the highest canopy tree houses in South America to enjoy the waking rainforest and carry out observations for 2 hours. After breakfast, another short stroll down to Taricaya's very own pilot farm to train the resident Donkeys would see us racing them through the various tracks around the farm. After re-grouping over lunch, we would go our separate ways to carry out the afternoon's activities. This might have involved crossing the river to work with Percy (a local farmer), or maybe work on the construction of a new lodge building. Whatever the work, I was always ready to leap into the creak to cool off afterwards.
However, not everyday was a typical day. There were several trips to various places around the area. One such trip took us to Lake Sandoval, a beautiful protected lake in the Tambopata national park, where the main attraction is the elusive family of giant Otters. I was very lucky to see not only the Otters very clearly, but also a host of other wildlife like a large black Caiman, Howler monkey's, many amazing birds and some huge Tarantulas.
At weekends, it was back to Puerto Maldonado.an interesting little town, which I very quickly began to love. Being such a small and secluded town, everything you need is very close to hand, and in my opinion, anything not available from the market is not worth having. Many of my hours in Puerto were spent getting wrinkly skin in the pool and eating as much ice cream and cake as I could manage in the incredible café on the main square. Clubbing was always an interesting experience here and I have some amazing memories of dancing to the unforgettable beat of the very popular reggaeton music.
I took part in some amazing and worthwhile work, met some incredibly good people and enjoyed myself immensely. I'll never forget the time I spent here, and one day I really hope to return to Taricaya and see the progress that's been made.