It’s the week after graduation, and while most of my classmates are back with their families, spending time once more with old Dartmouth friends, or perhaps even moving to a new city to start next year’s position, I’m about 6,000 miles south of where I was a week ago.
After a hasty 36 hours of packing (much of which was, per usual, outsourced to Mother Nature), I shipped myself off to the Madre de Dios region of Southeast Peru. This is the far western edge of ongoing lowland tropical rainforest that covers 7,000,000 km² of South America, better known as the Amazon.
After a series of four flights, I landed in Puerto Maldonado, a frontier city quickly expanding with a rush of miners and papaya farmers pouring in from the west. I was picked up at the airport by several of the other ASA employees and finally got a chance to match faces to those I had seen online: Eric, the Academic Coordinator, and Joe, my fellow Resident Naturalist. Good to know these are actually real people after all!
After picking up Allison, a visiting primatologist, and grabbing a lil to eat, we hopped in a taxi to head back to the station. Along the way I started to get a sense of the region’s landscape. Surrounding Puerto (Maldonado) are blocks of family farms, mainly growing papaya. Farther out from the city, especially in the north and west, both large- and small-scale mining occurs, all illegally. Plunging further into the forest, selective logging for hardwoods occurs, also almost entirely done illicitly.
After about 40 minutes in the van, we pulled off onto a dirt path, bumping along for about 2 km until we finally reached what I now call home: Fincas las Piedras.
(translates to “farm of the rocks”….ironic because there are almost no rocks, anywhere.)
Reasons why one might not like the rainforest: biting and stinging wasps, deadly spider bites with no cure, blistering heat, pouring rain, dirty clothes, “clean” laundry that is only moderately less dirty, little privacy, no internet, no cell service, no AC, no fridges, no TV, no pong.
Reasons why one might like the rainforest: waking up to the sun rising every day, as the mist settles over vegetation. Constant exposure to new life. Macaws, parrots, toucans flying over every morning. Butterflies, moths and damselflies with blue, purple, pink, green, violet, bronze, scarlet and clear wings that are the most gorgeous creatures you have ever seen, even though you thought the same thing about the one you saw yesterday. The sound of fresh rain dripping off of palm fronds and broad heliconiad leaves. Unmatched stars at night. Delicious homecooked food three times a day. Dunking your head in a cool forest stream after working in the heat all day, and watching a pair of blue-crowned trogans tend their nest just above you.
In short, this place is amazing. The jungle has been and always will be the spot for me.