Volunteering at an Ecological Reserve in the Amazon

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After taking orientation at the local volunteer organization that I signed up with through IVHQ (Maximo Nevill) I decided to spend my last week volunteering, of 3, in the Kosñipata region of the Amazon rainforest in Peru. They have two jungle programs of which you are randomly assigned to, I was assigned to Chonta Chaka. This area is a small area of the rainforest that is still allowed to be used for agriculture by the Peruvians. This has left the area depleted and many areas need reforestation. I left my Cusco homestay at 4:15am and arrived after 12 hours via a bus that resembled a Uhaul truck, thankfully it only took us 7 on the way back.

We took a zip-line over the river to get to the lodge where we slept dormitory style. Some people were a bit scared by this based on the fact that two people have lost fingers on it. There is no electricity, most people shower in waterfalls, & the nearest wifi is a 30 minute drive away. Due to my general work duties this was the most disconnected I have ever been. It was initially uncomfortable. While I was there, there were a lot of volunteers, more than normal and more than manageable. The lodge also hosts some tourists which can make for crowded quarters, there were 18 of us in one ‘room’. We ate vegetarian meals of breakfast (yogurt & granola), lunch (vegetable soup & pasta), & dinner (rice & vegetables) together. Our job there was to clean pathways to make sure snakes weren’t hidden, to plant seeds for new trees to grow, & to monitor plants and wildlife for any changes. We worked in the mornings and relaxed in the afternoon. Some mornings were more difficult than others, I left wishing I had learned more about my surroundings. We lived with a red howler monkey named Paula & a fluffy disabled dog named princess, who walked the trails better than most of us. Of course there were plenty of other animals near by as well, a porcupine, named Pedro, who would lick the walls of the bathrooms at night for salt and a puma was known hang around near by.

One day 6 of us also took the 45 minute car ride out to a wild life refuge center near Pilcopata with monkeys, parrots, & tiper. We had a blast playing with the monkeys although one happened to fall in love with one of our friends, even attempting to take his clothes off, and would not leave him alone until the minute we had to leave. I spent my 27th birthday here digging in a garden and hanging out with Paula. My new Amazon friends made it special by gathering whatever treats they could in the nearby town, my treats consisted of mint casino cookies, coke, & a potato with a rather large candle shoved in it. A birthday I will never forget. The last night we cooled some beers in the river (cleaning out the town of all of the alcohol) and made a fire pit telling stories and getting to know each other better than anyone else I’ve known for less than a week. I love the bonds that can be made while traveling. It was an experience like I could never explain, exhausting, but amazingly worth while.

What you need for the jungle :

Bug Spray, with deet, unless you want to apply every 30 minutes
Hydrocortisone, because scratching the bites is so good but so so bad
Biodegradable soap/shampoo
Rain boots, although they have pairs you can wear here
Blanket, it can get chilly at night
Head light
Quick drying towel, nothing dries here
DRAMAMINE, the ride back left all of us miserable
A book or two, there is a lot of down time
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