Erin Gray - Conservation & Environment, Amazon Rainforest Conservation in Peru
On my very first Google search for ‘volunteering abroad’, Projects Abroad appeared in the first five hits on my Internet page. And with good reason! Projects Abroad was a brilliant program. They had the most diverse number of offered placements that I’d seen, answered all of my questions for my preparation to leave for my placement, and were merely a phone call or e-mail away if I needed them while abroad. I don’t think I could have possibly picked a program where I felt more looked after and safe, one of the most important things I was looking for as I traveled to a foreign country.
If I had one tip for future volunteers, it would be this: never go anywhere without your camera. My first day at the Taricaya Rescue Center, I went without my camera, instead wanting to just focus on getting to know my new environment and learning the activities I’d be working on for three months. But at my very first activity, Animal Feeding, I immediately regretted it when the tapirs wandered up to take the bananas right from my hand. Of course, it was an experience that I would repeat many times before I left but to miss the first time was so disappointing!
Conservation Work in Peru
From that day on my camera went with me everywhere I went and that way, I was able to capture a million other experiences: playing with baby Spider Monkeys, bird watching on the observation platforms, releasing hundreds of baby turtles into the river, and using a single machete to cut down trees. Not a day went by that I didn’t take at least ten pictures and I returned home with over 1,500 photos. Trust me, it is worth a little risk to your camera to keep it on you at all times.
The wide variety of animals at Taricaya amazed me. Howler monkeys, Spider monkeys, Capuchins, Squirrel monkeys, tapirs, parrots and macaws, Peccary pigs, and wild cats, to name a few. The opportunity to get up close with these animals was amazing. Even just entering to feed them can be an adventure, usually from monkeys jumping on you, eager to grab a banana from your bowl. Training and playing with the animals was some of the most fun I’ve ever had.
Volunteering with animals
One of my favorite memories related to the animals is releasing the baby turtles. Egg collecting happens earlier in the summer and they hatch in the fall, so I arrived just in time to assist with the release. We filled three huge tubs with over two hundred baby turtles (and this was still when barely half of our nests had hatched) and loaded them into a boat. We headed up river and reached the beach where the eggs were originally found. I was one of the lucky volunteers who actually got to overturn a tub.
Watching all of the little turtles come running out of the tubs, heading straight for the river’s edge, knowing instinctively where to go, was amazing beyond words. Even though the weather was wet and windy, even though it was following a long day of exhaustive activities and we were all hungry for dinner, it was a thrilling experience and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Of course, there is a lot more to Taricaya than just the animals. One of the things I loved most about this placement is that no two days are the same. There are a wide variety of activities and they change every day depending on what has priority to get done that day. We built new enclosures for animals that will one day be released, planted trees and worked with the local community on their agriculture and impact on the forest, gathered information about local floral and fauna, and so much more.
Maintenance and building work
Out of all of the activities, I was surprised how much I came to love building. During my three months there, we worked on a new cage for the Howler monkeys, a set of new enclosures for other monkeys, and a brand new two-story Animal Kitchen and Animal Hospital. Only the Howler monkey enclosure was completed before I left but to see it completely finished and housing the monkeys filled me with so much satisfaction. It was a thrill to see it go from a cleared area of the forest to a tall home for the monkeys.
Plus Taricaya is just plain fun! Even working and sweating in the humidity and the sun, I had a blast with the staff and my fellow volunteers. Swimming in the river, taking walks along the paths, playing cards and other games, watching movies, playing soccer/football at the local hang-out Amazon Planet, and trying to hold conversations while a thunderstorm pounds on the roof above; we had plenty of laughs.
Living in the jungle with other volunteers
While other programs offer a placement with a host family, which gives you an amazing view of the people and culture you’re living among, I loved the opportunity to live with the other volunteers and staff. I made so many friends from around the world, and I was glad to be working alongside people who were experiencing the same things as me for the first time. It felt like a community, all of us working together to get things accomplished. To those who didn’t mind the early hours and put their all into the activities, I was honored to work beside them.
I can’t recommend Projects Abroad, and the Peru Conservation Program at Taricaya in particular, enough to anyone interested in volunteering abroad. Already a few of my friends have found projects of interest and are saving their money for their own trips. I learned so much, had many wonderful experiences and adventures, and made numerous friends from around the world.
Even if I am able to take another journey with Projects Abroad, which I would love to do one day, I know I would never be able to repeat this experience and, personally, I wouldn’t want to even try. It was unique and will never be forgotten. Everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy their own irreplaceable adventure, wherever they decide to go.