Leora Winkler - High School Specials, Conservation in Peru
In today’s world, our environmental state is a hot topic and one that many do not know what to do about. Although I had joined my school’s “eco club”, I knew I wanted to do more, which was what led me to decide to make the arduous journey to the Amazon, and see just how much I could do!
Luckily I was able to get an overnight flight, and was therefore fresh faced and lively upon arrival in Puerto Maldonado. The immense wave of heat hit me like a brick wall. As I was stepping off the plane it became clear to me I would not need the jumpers I had so carefully packed. Nando, one of the founders of Taricaya, and Maria, his daughter and one of the volunteer coordinators, took me and the other volunteers from the airport to their home for a quick lunch. It was then off to the Taricaya Lodge!
The boat ride there had all of us new volunteers observing our surroundings with a look of sheer amazement painted across our faces. The towering trees, colorful birds, and silky-brown waters truly made me realize that this was not Toronto, and there was much adventure to come.
From the first day at Taricaya, it was clear this was not going to be a walk in the so called “Amazonian park”. We would receive the day’s plan and tasks the night before, and the anticipation would start to build. One of my favorite tasks for those 5:45am wakeup calls was bird watching, as it allowed you to take in the gorgeous sunrise that blessed the area, while looking at anything from Macaws, to Hummingbirds, to the oh-so-popular Yellow Rumped Casique. If you were lucky, you would be able to undertake this activity up at the Canopy Walkway, the highest canopy in all of South America. From there, you could see tree tops for what seemed like forever, and look down at the Madre De Dios river, with all her twists and turns.
Unfortunately, not all responsibilities at Taricaya were ones I looked forward to. One of the daunting tasks was the infamous Trail Clearing. I remember the first time I had to perform this mammoth task. Alejandro, one of the staff, handed me and the other volunteers machetes, and then began to walk off into the great abyss that is the Amazon. All seemed well until we learned that we would have to be getting down on our hands and knees and hacking away at the many weeds and shrubs that are constantly growing into the of labyrinth of trails around the area. For what seemed like hours upon hours, I hacked, chopped, and dismembered many a plant, with buckets of sweat and many machete blisters as proof of my commitment to the job. Although it was something I was not totally gung-ho about, I am comforted in knowing that I helped better the area, and was doing what I set out to do- make a difference in some small way.
Something that everyone looked forward to was the legendary caiman hunt that Stuart, one of the founders of Taricaya, took us on one night. We all piled into the boat to see just how talented Stuart was at wrestling wildlife. His flair for caiman catching was soon revealed, when he pulled a 1½ foot long caiman from the banks of the river with his bare hands, and held it with what looked like no strain at all while we all snapped shots and asked a multitude of questions.
My time at Taricaya seemed to zoom by in what I thought could have been mere seconds. Whether it was feeding the animals, putting up bird nets, or becoming a skilled wielder of both a machete and pickaxe, I will not soon forget the many memories I have from there. I truly believe that Taricaya is at the forefront of fighting our current environmental crisis and I am happy I was able to take part in such a valiant effort.