Kimberley Smith - High School Specials, Conservation in Peru
Decision to go to Taricaya
After breaking my neck last summer, I decided I wanted to make the most of the 2012 summer. I wanted to be involved with something different, originally around horses – however, I then found about Taricaya and the Conservation project in Peru.
After sweet talking the money out of my parents (again, making up for last summer!) – Peru was booked! I got in touch with other British High School Special volunteers on the same project, and despite being on an earlier first flight to them, we met in Madrid and were from that point inseparable. After joining forces with our transatlantic cousins (a very chatty Canadian and a cat-obsessed American) in Puerto Maldonado, we suddenly became the ‘Taricats’ – it was this group which remained joined at the hip for the entire project.
In Taricaya after 24 hours of traveling
When we first arrived in Taricaya, after a long 24 hours of traveling, we were greeted by a group of about 20 volunteers. Firstly we were all a bit shocked at how relaxed everyone was about being in the rainforest, and then we settled into the routine, we soon had no problems with jumping off rope swings from the river banks into the Madre de Dios River. “GUYS, GUESS WHAT? WE’RE IN PERU!”
The placement itself was incredible, it had everything, from bird banding to jaguar feeding. However, every day was always different, I’ll always remember the tension as the activities board went up every day, and how all 30 volunteers would crowd around it praying that they wouldn’t have to clean out the Tapir pool. The Tapirs were the most amazing animals, during my time in Taricaya, we finished the creation of the new Tapir cage, which was by this point absolutely huge.
On the first night of the Tapirs being in their new cage, volunteers had the chance to sit on the bridge and watch. All was well until the mention of a certain little jungle devil, well, not so little... Tapir watch soon became Tarantula watch! Despite the Tapirs being incredibly awesome, the highlight for me had to be the Howler Monkeys, who made some very interesting noises. I can’t end this without a mention of the parrots. The parrots had an extraordinarily wide vocabulary, from saying hello, hola and agua, to ariba and many unmentionable words that have been picked up on along the way!
The routine wasn’t easy to adjust to, many mornings involved waking up just before five in order to make it to the hammocks for 5:15 bird banding sessions! Breakfast was anywhere between 6 and 9, and ranged between egg, doughnuts and cereal... The animal kitchen had a much wider variety of fruit than the volunteer kitchen, but then again... The animals didn’t get doughnuts! Despite a 4 hour gap over the hottest part of the day, there was always something to do – although I spent a LOT of those hours asleep in the shade of the hammocks. Well, falling out of the hammocks – same thing!
You would have thought that being somewhere so isolated, there would be no access to other resources, however, boats went into Puerto for various supplies several times throughout the week, and there’s a small shop/bar about a 1km walk away, where soccer matches were often organized in the 4 hour gaps. The thrill of finding they sold chocolate had to be one of many high points – after a particularly long day, nothing was better than Inca Cola and Oreos!
When we first entered our rooms, I was with the talkative Canadian, and two other Brits. We had two bunk beds, and our first move was to attempt to put up our mosquito nets before it was dark. How many Brits does it take to put up a mosquito net? No idea... We had to get the Canadian to do it! We were useless, and that was definitely a sign of things to come... We must have spent 15 minutes trying to figure out how to open the door! The rooms had wooden floors, and mesh walls – which were wonderful as we could shout to the room next door if we suddenly ran out of shampoo! One morning we woke up to find a rather colorful frog in our room... The girl who discovered it must have then proceeded to wake up the rest of Peru with her squealing!
Back to home
Naturally, the worst part of the entire experience was coming home. Throughout our time in Taricaya, we had seen volunteers come and go, they came smiling and left in tears. On the day we left, about 15 of us went at once... It was a horrible moment, even the Canadian was quiet, which was rare even in her sleep! The flights home were quiet, and I think at some point when no one was looking, we all cried a little on the plane home.
Since coming home, a day hasn’t gone by without me making a Peru quote, and the saddest part is that none of my family understand the underlying jokes. Michael and his not so irrational fear of Tapirs. Emily, Vish, Alex and evasive, elusive Will! Georgie falling out of her hammock – and of course... Trumpy, the resident bird, (now with a taste for werthers originals!)
The Taricats have definitely changed me (seriously... I was talking in a Canadian accent for almost a month when I got home!) I miss the Taricats, although the Brits still meet up from time to time. I can definitely say that this summer has been every bit as incredible as I had hoped!