Jamal Saab - Conservation & Environment, Rainforest Conservation in Peru
After accumulating a few weeks of annual leave from work, it came to that long-awaited time in early 2015 when I was to plan my next adventure. However, browsing through countless pages of holiday destinations and packages, I didn’t get that sense of excitement that I would usually expect. I needed something different, something that I’ve never experienced before that could also be the escape from the norm that I needed. So my research took a new turn.
I have always had an appreciation for the outdoors, so I started looking into programmes for people seeking a memorable life experience outside of hotel rooms and overpriced restaurants. This led me to the Projects Abroad website and the idea had me instantly hooked.
After doing some reading on the website I knew without a doubt that this is what I wanted to do. What an experience! Not only would I have the pleasure of visiting a new destination, but I would also have the privilege of volunteering to help support a great cause. Navigating my way through the Projects Abroad website I narrowed my choice down to a handful of countries but couldn’t come to a decision. I called the number provided on the website and spoke to an advisor which helped me choose based on my interests and experience - I was going to Peru to participate in the Rain Forest Conservation project.
Travelling to Peru
The final leg of my journey was a two hour boat ride to Taricaya Lodge. Clear sky, fresh air and wow, was it hot! The scenery was picturesque, the green jungle on either side of the river, beautiful birds, the refreshing breeze and the calm water. After many conversations, laughter and stories, we finally arrived at Taricaya Lodge, I instantly fell in love, it was beautiful, it was peaceful and it was perfect.
Projects Abroad staff
Rachel, a staff member, made sure we settled in our cabins and introduced me to all staff and volunteers followed by a tour and a quick debrief on what to expect with day to day operation. It was soon dinner time; we all gathered in the dining hall exchanged stories, laughed and enjoyed a traditional Peruvian dish.
Once we had finished, Rachel presented us with a board (which was ready every night), that provided details on the next day’s activities. It outlined the project descriptions, the volunteers assigned to each task, and the staff members supervising.
Rachel proved to be an exceptional guide and support to us all. She was passionate, happy, genuine and incredibly selfless. When passing by Rachel every day I never failed to receive a thumbs up and a huge smile.
It took me no time at all to settle in, and before I knew it Monday had arrived and I was onto my first task, Animal Feeding. We all met at “hammocks” at the centre of the lodge and were picked up by the staff supervisors. We then prepared a range food for the wide variety of animals and were given the opportunity to feed them.
The first week I got to experience a number of activities which included Canopy Walk (bird watching from the highest canopy in South America), Bird Banding (preparing/manufacturing new cages), Insect Project (identifying and researching a wide variety of insects), and Mahogany Project (making various tools and objects using the wood lathes out of mahogany) just to name a few.
Each new project I worked on left me coming away happier for learning a new skill and gaining knowledge, and hugely satisfied for contributing a good thing to this little piece of the world. The great thing about the structure of this program was that you were given the opportunity to experience a variety of activities, and if you preferred one to another you were able to request what project you wanted to be a part of.
I personally found my calling in the manufacture of new enclosures. It was hands on and pretty tough, especially in the heat, although I’m surprised to say it didn’t bother me all that much. I was up every morning at 6am, if not earlier, and could not wait to start my day. The great thing was, day by day I was seeing the difference my hard work was making- which is very rewarding in itself- but of course the appreciation you get from the locals also makes it all worthwhile.
Working up close and personal with a variety of animals was also incredible. Being an animal lover, I spent countless precious hours enjoying the company of monkeys, birds, tapirs, small and big cats, just to name a few.
Weekends in Peru
During my first weekend I was given the option to stay at the lodge or go into town and stay the night. I, for one, had laundry I needed to take care of and also after a long week needed a hot shower! So I packed my things along with about 10-15 volunteers and headed to Puerto Maldonado.
Once we arrived to the Port, we dropped our laundry off at the local laundromat and headed to Hotel Rulman. After settling in, showering and a quick rest, it was off to city centre to find a place to eat. The food back at camp was great, but after a week of eating rice it was good to indulge in a cold soft drink and a burger.
During my stay in town I had the opportunity to get to know my fellow volunteers- I met some amazing locals- and unfortunately had to farewell some unforgettable friends.
Each week and each day was more amazing than the next. My time volunteering in Peru was the best decision I’ve ever made and as my time drew closer to an end I contemplated (more than once) extending my stay indefinitely!
The friendships you make, and the experience you have will be truly unforgettable; and to this day I’m still frequently in contact with Rachel, the staff and volunteers.
One piece of advice I would give is to completely and whole heartedly give yourself to the experience. Try new food, talk to interesting people, face your fears and do things you wouldn’t normally do. Get to know the culture, meet the locals and learn the language (it can’t be worse than mine). You will undoubtedly come back to your life a changed person. Personally, I can say with full confidence that my experience in Peru has made me appreciate my blessings more and has allowed me to view life with a different perspective.
I encourage anyone who wishes to volunteer in environmental or wildlife conservation, or those that are just not sure what they want to do but want to experience something new, to seriously consider volunteering in Peru - it was the best time of my life and I am already planning my next trip back.