I was an 18-year-old American girl, fresh out of high school and I decided to take a gap year. By July 2011, I was flying to Peru to volunteer in the Amazon rainforest with Projects Abroad. It was the start of my gap year and I was incredibly excited for this new adventure!
My Conservation Project
After a 2-hour boat ride down the Madre de Dios River, we arrived at the banks of Taricaya. Here, I was greeted by international volunteers and rescued wildlife. Each day held new excursions, including many activities such as animal feeding, trail clearing, bird watching, turtle rescuing, butterfly catching, fruit collecting, cage making – and the list goes on! All of the activities we participated in took place within the jungle and contributed to the bigger picture of conserving this majestic environment that few people have ever experienced.
Jaguars, parrots, tapirs, monkeys, marguays and more resided temporarily in Taricaya to be rehabilitated before being released back into the wild. We had the privilege of creating their meals every day and feeding them. When entering the cage of the howler monkeys and spider monkeys, they would sit on your shoulders and happily receive the food you gave them. It was quite the bonding experience!
Trail clearing consisted of clearing trails with actual machetes; on the other hand, butterfly catching resulted in prancing through the trails with butterfly nets in an attempt to catch them and document them. Bird watching brought us to platforms in different levels of the trees where we documented the different types of birds that would surround us with their presence or calls.
One of the favourite activities was the many nights of the Tortuga. A few volunteers and staff would go to the nearby island and spend the night in tents, up until 2am when we went and searched for turtle nests. Once we found the nests, we would dig up the eggs to save them from being eaten or sold by locals. The following morning, we would safely nest them into our artificial beaches and await their arrival! This was a very rewarding activity because we could see the tangible difference we were making by saving these innocent turtles.
On weekends, we had the option to head into town and treat ourselves to some western food and meet the locals through having a try at karaoke. Weekends were a good way to relax from the rewarding work of the weekdays and a good opportunity to get the laundry cleaned for the upcoming week.
For volunteers who stayed at the placement on the weekends, there were an abundance of trails to be explored and Spanish to be practiced. In the evenings, one could sit in the hammocks with volunteers from all walks of life and talk of their culture and what brought them to the depths of the Peruvian rainforest. We all bonded, despite language and culture barrier, for we were all here for the same reason: to conserve the rainforest together.
The night before I had to depart, I organised a paint fight as a send-off. When all was said and done, we all looked as if we were the rainbow. It was a magical departure. It was an amazing experience to be surrounded by people who cared about the same things that I did. You learn about yourself, others, and the world when volunteering on such a project. If you step outside your comfort zone, many a wonderful experience can come your way.