McDaniel’s Forest Online student research teams will be presenting their findings from their 3-week Jan Term expedition to the Peruvian Amazon along the Las Piedras River.
Join us starting at 7 pm to experience the Amazon and the culture within it through our stories about forest protection, wildlife, indigenous communities, and ecotourism. The snack mixer starts at 6:30 pm. The location for the presentation is McDaniel College’s Decker Auditorium in Westminster, Maryland.
To learn more about the Forest Online course and our partners in Peru, check out the student blogs and partner page on this site. To learn more about the Las Piedras, check out this Wikipedia page.
For our Forest Online course project, we want to inform others of the benefits and determents that ecotourism has on the Las Piedras river area. This research trip is done through the environmental department at McDaniel College in Westminster Maryland. This group of four research students are a part of a group of sixteen students going to the Peruvian Rainforest. This group has been tasked with researching Ecotourism in the area. Ecotourism according to the Oxford English Dictionary is, “tourism directed toward exotic, often threatened, natural environments, intended to support conservation efforts and observe wildlife.”. This tourism helps to bring money to places desperately in need of funding. Through our research, we hope to educate the public about the benefits and determents of ecotourism in, especially vulnerable places. This research team will be visiting the Peruvian Amazon as seen on the map above.
Time to meet our research members:
Hi, my name is Megan Gorsuch, and I am a junior studying Kinesiology and Spanish at McDaniel College. I am a member of the swim team and Global Fellows at school. In my free time I enjoy baking desserts and watching Netflix. The Amazon rainforest has always fascinated me because of its high biodiversity and diverse cultural groups. I decided to take this trip to learn more about the forest and immerse myself in a new and different cultural experience. Through visiting, I hope to learn about ecotourism and come back to the United States and educate others about the Amazon and ecotourism within it. I think this trip is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I am so excited to be a part of it!
Hi, my name is Emma Findeisen I am a junior here at McDaniel College. I am currently studying to be a dual major in both History and Environmental Studies with a concentration in Policy and Management. I am also the president of the environmental club here on campus called Green Life. In my free time, I work on a sheep farm not far from campus. I also really enjoy soccer, murder mysteries and traveling. I am really looking forward to this trip to the Peruvian Amazon, I learn about the Amazon all the time and class and I am so excited to actually visit there and hopefully be able to make a difference. Through the trip I hope I am able to gather valuable information as to how everyday people in America and other places can help save the world through their everyday actions. Sometimes it is really hard to save a place so far away from where you live, and one can only dream about visiting. My goal in this trip and through the next couple blog posts is to better educate those who want to help by supporting ecotourism in the Amazon or other threatened natural areas around the world.
Hello, I am Timothy Olson and I am a sophomore here at McDaniel college majoring in Environmental Studies with a specialization in biology. Growing up I was always fascinated with the wide expanse of animals one could find in their own backyard. From the small metallic bee that would land on wild thistles in the garden, to the larger snapping turtles I would see lugging around in pond at my local pond. These animals are extremely fascinating, and I have been teaching about them through Parks and Recreation for seven years now. Working at Fountain Rock Nature Center as a reptile handler, camp counselor, and nature presenter.
As an aspiring wildlife educator, I am going into environmental studies to better understand how the animals I observe impact our planet. What bugs pollinate what plant, what does a certain predatory mammal hunt for food. These small details influence the overall ecosystem, and how can I teach about these impacts.
How does my background influence the trip to Peru? I have constantly urged people to find the wonders in their own backyard because it is harder for people to see more exotic animals; however, I do not want to disregard these animals. For those who can go to exotic areas how can they travel and explore these wonderous places without damaging the world they are visiting. No matter where someone goes, they should try to leave the smallest ecological footprint. Especially in places such as the Amazon as it is getting smaller and smaller largely due to the current affairs relating to ecotourism.
Hi, I’m Chandra! I was born in India in 1998… lol just kidding I won’t start that far back but, I am a junior at McDaniel College, which is a small liberal arts college located in central Maryland. Having grown up in central Maryland as well, I always look forward to any possible chance to take a step out of the familiar but comfortable community I’ve lived in for my whole life. I just semi recently changed my major to Cinema, from my former major biology. This is because I realized I love capturing the beauty of nature rather than learning about it. I also am minoring in environmental science because I do have a deep love for the environment, but I don’t want to be a scientist. I am hoping to eventually become a content producer for an advertising agency for a non-profit agency that helps protect the environment. I think this trip to the Amazon will quite literally a test run of what I want to do in my life.
Background of the Trip:
This trip to the Amazon is a 20-day excursion from Jan 2nd to 22nd. On this trip we will be using our digital storytelling techniques that we will have developed by then to help illustrate a compelling persuasive narrative that conserves the Amazon or educates the public. Prior to the trip a group of selected students from McDaniel College will take an hour and a half class to prep for this trip to the Amazon that covers how travel to the amazon and persuasive storytelling techniques. The students will be broken up upon interest into subgroups in which they will be allotted a camera, GoPro and two tripods in order to collect content in the Amazon regarding there group topic. Come time of the trip we will have a very rigorous schedule upon departure. The research station we will be staying at on the Las Piedras River is pictured on the right courtesy of LPAC research center website.
In the Spring Semester following that January, the same group of students will work together to cut and edit their final product together to create a persuasive and alluring narrative as their final project for a public audience at McDaniel College.
By John McEachern, Austin Newby, and Zach Carnegie
The Amazon rainforest is being deforested at the highest rate in the past 11 years (Elassar, 2019). This rapid and unprecedented loss of some of the most diverse plant and animal life on the planet is caused by many actors such as loggers, miners, and various types of agriculture. Some of this activity is even illegal, overlooked due to the corruption within the systems that govern this beautiful landscape or simply too widespread to be effectively controlled by smaller governments.
Massive and powerful companies call on the native people of this region in the form of cheap labor to clear away large, wildly diverse, swaths of trees to make room for the unsustainable harvesting of any resources they may find. The native people of the region have little choice in how they feed their families, or even just themselves. A growing native population and a severe lack of access to alternative employment opportunities drives these native communities to make a terrible choice. The native population is faced with the choice of either living off of the land and barely surviving or earning enough money to sustain themselves and their loved ones by destroying the place they call home.
So why should you care? Take a second to think about that, and while you’re thinking, you are breathing. This automatic process consumes oxygen and produces CO2. We all rely on oxygen to survive and the rainforests of the Amazon are excellent producers of it. While producing oxygen, the trees and plants also take in and store carbon in their tissue, roots and soil around them. This carbon sequestration is essential in the fight against climate change. These forests are considered the lungs of the world due to the vast amounts of oxygen produced and we should ensure their survival, for our own survival.
While humans around the world rely on the ecological processes of the Amazon, there are many rare and endangered wildlife species who call these forest home, totaling about 30% of the world’s species! (Butler, 2019). Many of these rely on large, undisturbed and intact forests.
Intact forests reduce pressure on animals by limiting human access. With less human presence, less hunting, trapping and harassment occurs. Intact forests are also healthier forests. They provide vast areas of connected wilderness with reduced edge effects. Edge effects can include drier soils due to exposure to the winds and sun as well as different tree and plant composition (for the same reasons). Both of these edge effects, and many more, disrupt the microclimate of dense forests and limit the habitable area for many species. It is important that we protect the habitat for these species not only for their own intrinsic value but for their contributions to humans. Indigenous tribes rely on many plants and animals for survival and traditional medicine. Even modern medicine can be improved by species that have yet to be discovered in the Amazon as over 25% of current modern medicine directly uses plant compounds (Loman, 2016). These are only a few of the many reasons we need to make every effort to protect the portions of the Amazon rainforest that are still intact.
Currently, the Amazon is not yet all clear cuts and mining pits. Vast areas of relatively pristine rainforest still remain, providing habitat for rare, unique and beautiful species and important ecosystem services for human beings locally and all of the world. The future of other areas, on the frontiers of this still intact jungle, are being decided right now. One such region whose future is still not quite visible through the trees is the Las Piedras River in the Department of Madre de Dios in Peru. This region, which contains some of the Amazon’s last intact rainforest, was opened up to a wave of settlement and resource exploitation with the construction of the interoceanic highway between 2006 and 2011. Since then, the Las Piedras has entered into a state of flux, with a number of government concessions being given out, along with permission to manage them for certain land uses.
At the river’s headwaters, reserves for native peoples living in voluntary isolation butt up against logging concessions, with workers on these concessions reporting frequent violations of the reserve’s overwise protected status to cut trees. Further downstream, concessions granted for the harvesting of Brazil nuts offer the potential for a sustainable alternative to more destructive uses of forest. Good harvests require intact forests, but as things currently stand, little money can be made from this industry and concession owners still must cut trees at times to make ends meet. Finally, there is the land owned by conservation groups, such as ArcAmazon. These groups envision a future for the region in which intact forests and the biodiversity they support are protected and local people make their livings off of ecotourism and sustainable use of the forest’s resources.
Each of these land uses represents a glimpse at a possible future for the Las Piedras region and it is into this patchwork of possibilities that we will be entering when we visit in January. As we explore the region with our class, the forest protection group will try to learn about the driver’s deforestation in the region, how and why local people use the forest in a sustainable or unsustainable way, and what can be done to protect these forests for generations to come. The story of the Las Piedras rainforests is happening right now, so stay tuned…
By Jackie Fahrenholz, Kat Dixon, Jessie Titus, Collin Breidenbach
With the holidays quickly approaching, what better gift to give the kids than a trip to see one of the most beautiful birds on the planet in its natural habitat? The Scarlet Macaw is one of the most fascinating animals alive, with breathtaking red, yellow, and blue feathers. Flying at a speed of 35 miles per hour, these birds can be seen in flocks as large as thirty individuals as they search for the hardest nuts in the forest as their beaks have thirteen times the strength of the human bite force. These birds are the largest known species of parrot in the world, with a five-foot wingspan they can travel up to fifteen miles per day. Once found in abundance throughout the Amazon Rainforest, recently they have been seen to decline as their habitat is being destroyed because of trees being cut down.
Although their beautiful flocks are seen less and less frequently, there is an ever increasing opportunity to see the animals through ecotourism companies. Vacations taken to the center of the Amazonian Rainforest will allow families with children of all ages to view these majestic animals. Clay licks, where Macaws congregate to eat minerals and clay to help digestion, are found along the edge of rivers and can be easily accessible by all persons. They visit the clay licks quite often for a source of protein, while they get the rest of their energy from plants and fruits, sometimes devouring a few insects in the process. When having the opportunity to be meters away from these birds in the wild, people generally take notice that the coloration on their feathers is as unique as a human fingerprint, with no two being alike. These birds are also seen as a symbol of faith for a newly married couple as they themselves practice courtship in which they have the same mate for their entire lives. They are one of only a few bird species that stay with their mate after the mating season and raise their chicks together.
To date, six of at least seventeen species of macaws have gone extinct because their homes are being destroyed. These birds are highly dependent on trees for feeding as well as nesting as they typically nest in previously made cavities or holes within trees. Generally speaking, these nooks and crannies are found in areas of older growth trees, which also happen to be a main target for timber companies when extracting lumber from these areas. One mill owned by the Madreacre Group alone manages 850 square miles of forest, making it the largest concession in Peru. In just last year they chopped through 40,000 cubic meters of wood from six different species. One of the main reasons that trees are cut down are for clearings for cattle ranching and for illegal mining concessions according to studies conducted in Peru. The same studies also mention that most of the timber extraction that occurs is illegal, making it impossible to know where in the world the wood product is ending up.
Not only are these animals extremely pretty to look at, they are also play a vital role in the persistence of the forest. Because they are seed predators, the macaws help spread seed pods around the forest allowing for the tree diversity to be seen more often than not and adding to the soil nutrient level. Without these birds, animals that live on the ground that feed on their scraps will also suffer as their food supply with decrease significantly.
The Amazon Rainforest is known to be one of the richest wildlife heavens on Earth despite all that it has undergone within the recent past. By 2030, it is estimated that at the current rate of deforestation, there will be no trees in roughly 27% of the area known to be this world wonder. 1,100 square miles in Peru are estimated to be cut down each year, with 80% conducted under illegal conditions. These actions not only affect wildlife but also account for over half of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Predictions state that after the completion of the Interoceanic Highway that these rates will only continue to increase as the accessibility will increase to access these areas to not only extract timber, but to mine as well. With these predictions at hand, the likelihood that the children of the next generation will be able to see these majestic birds in the wild is going to seemingly be impossible.
Despite the deforestation, the Scarlet Macaws are faring well against the loss of habitat as they are believed to be the most resilient of the parrots within the Amazon Rainforest. It wasn’t until 2019 that the animal was protected under the Endangered Species Act, despite the stress it is under from human pressure. These birds are also now protected at an international scale by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Tourist groups help fund local foundations that work to protect the macaws by helping the animals who have been rescued due to injury, and work to protect the forest from illegal wood extraction.
Those who have visited the Amazon whether it be for vacation, research, or anything in between have claimed that the rainforest has changed their lives. To know that those in the workforce have control over whether or not their children’s children get to see these majestic animals in the wild is a lot of pressure. The world is ours to explore, and provides us with the opportunity to contribute to the conversation actions that are taking place. It’s time to act now to save this extraordinary bird before the plastic pink flamingo in the patch of grass on the suburban front lawn in your local neighborhood is the most natural bird you get the chance to see.
By: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Roles of Women
When people look at me, before I even say a word, and until I do, I believe they expect to encounter someone less than average. Typically, in dominantly white environments, because of my skin color there is the ever-so-slight amazement when I, an afro-Caribbean young woman, begin to speak sans urban accent. When people look at me, generally they expect me to be liberal, an activist, and a feminist- no doubt as a result of the intersectionality of my race, age, and gender. Typically, when I express that I’m still in school, people are shocked that I double major in 2 very challenging subjects. I can only then assume that they expected simplicity and mediocrity instead. In predominantly black environments, when I speak and voice my thoughts and concerns, people often have their assumptions and presumptions about the kind of life I’ve had and how I was raised. Based no doubt on what I look like and sound like, and the color of my skin, overarchingly the assumptions about my life have been so widespread.
When people look at me, they expect a young woman who is quiet, small, earthy, and a world traveler thanks to her military father. Projected to follow her father’s footsteps and protect this country, instead she strives to protect our planet. Someone who will force her hippy values onto you if talk of the environment is brought up. Doesn’t want to work a traditional 9-5 job, wants to break the mold. Once she gets married and has a family all of those “radical” life choices will turn into traditional roles for the family. While my earthy-ness is a part of who I am, it isn’t all of me.
When people look at me, they expect a woman who is following the desires of her parents. I left home to earn a degree after graduating from a small high school in south central Pennsylvania. Born and raised in the stereotypical small-town America, people see a young woman shaped by years of soccer practices and community block parties all mixed to form the perfect ‘girl next door’. People expect me to be daddy’s little girl since I am sandwiched between an older and a younger brother. At first look, you would assume that I am constantly striving to impress my parents and my brothers. Although it is always my hope to make my family proud, these assumptions do not encompass who I am.
When people look at me, they expect someone who hopes to get married, maybe someday soon. They expect me to be quiet and nonassertive. If they stopped making assumptions, they could discount me with, they might see the confident, independent person who shares what is on their mind. Unfortunately, they might have to struggle to see me past all the devices I have adapted to better fit the mold of the person others assume and expect me to be.
All of us carry expectations with us just by being alive. As human beings, and especially as women, we constantly find ourselves at the receiving end of judgement from those around us. Because of where we live, our age, our socio-economic statuses, and even our skin colors, we have been ascribed certain boundaries as to who we are and to what we have accomplished. Just as we typically differ from the presumptions of others in many ways, we can expect that the women of the Amazon have a whole life and way of being that is waiting to be discovered by those concerned to genuinely listen. We are those few. Traveling thousands of miles to hear, see, and understand who the women of the Amazon truly are, and setting aside all expectations we have of them as a people. It is imperative that we take this approach in encountering communities of women in the Amazon in order to see them, unadulteratedly, as they are, and not through our lenses which are tainted and influenced by our own expectations and life experiences.
In January of 2020, we will be journeying all the way to the Las Piedras to challenge our predispositions of women and the roles and expectations culture project onto them. We will be trying to immerse ourselves in the culture by hearing from researches and locals who live within the indigenous communities. We will be conducting additional research to discover the public opinion on our culture and on others as well as talking to women about how they view themselves. We are entering the jungle with curious, open minds, and a plethora of questions we hope to find the answers to. We will base our success on how accurately we are able to encapsulate and represent the culture comparison and communicate it to you, the reader! We will be divulging to you the expectations of education, familial roles, lifestyle, career goals, and unpaid labor.
Indigenous communities were almost invisible in statistics, only recently has census data been collected. The data tells us that Peruvian woman in agriculture have less of almost everything: fewer public services, fewer private services, fewer markets, fewer institutions and less information. And as if this were not enough disadvantage, they also are confronted with discrimination. Women may not even be recognized as community members with full rights, in community meetings the opinions of women usually are not considered, and men end up making the decisions. Statistically very young, girls under the age of 14 start working early. The data shows that women participate in mostly unpaid household and agricultural work. The census data reveals that woman receive less education than males and are expected to marry young. While interviewing these women and hearing their stories we will see if these statistics match up to what their actual livelihoods entail. In addition to our travels, we will dive into what being a woman in the United States by considering our own lives and the lives of the women we know. By living through our intimate experiences and our research, you will be able to see the similarities and difference arise and as you emerge, we hope you will bring new questions and expectations into your own culture. You may not expect to find how far (or not so far) we have come in the freedoms of women in the United States.
How do you think you match up to the expectations? Join the journey into the jungle.
Peru’s Las Piedras River in the SE Amazon Rainforest
The Amazon rainforest is the most biodiverse ecosystem on the planet and has many stories to tell. One of the most insightful stories is the relationship between people and forests. For tens of thousands of years this story has played out in the Amazon as one of the forests dominating the landscape and humanity, but over the last century, the story has changed.
This change is illustrated by my ongoing visits to Peru’s Las Piedras River starting in 2012. It was on this first visit to the wild Las Piedras River that I found only a few scattered small buildings along its banks being consumed by the forest. Less than five years later, those few buildings in the settlement of Lucerna have grown into a town of hundreds of people making their living off the nearby forest through agriculture and logging. The trees that were consuming the buildings have since been pushed back by thousands of acres. Cacao plantations and cattle pastures now dominate the landscape.
One of several buildings in the Lucerna community along the Rio Piedras 2012
Lone Brazil nut tree after recent clearing near the Las Piedras River, Peru
This rapid pace of change in Lucerna is characteristic of contemporary rainforest frontiers in Peru and many other forest frontiers around the world. It is in these landscapes that we find some of the most interesting combinations of nature and people interacting, and often colliding. As a conservation scientist, this interaction and these collisions are of great interest to me as a topic of study to improve forest conservation practices. As a professor, frontier landscapes provide the ideal classroom for students to learn about human relations, including with the natural world.
To this end, The Forest Online 2020 will visit the department of Madre de Dios, Peru from January 2-22. Also known as Peru’s “capital of biodiversity,” Madre de Dios will serve as our guide to better understand what is and ought to be our relationship to each other and to the natural world. In particular, we will explore life on the Las Piedras River and how biological conservation and human development can coexist. We will meet with conservationists, farmers, students, citizens, and many more as we seek to unravel the story of the local people and forests.
Human and jaguar crossing paths in the Las Piedras watershed
Ultimately, this academic and geographic exploration will be undertaken through the eyes of 16 McDaniel College students. Each student is a member of a four-person digital storytelling team. Each team has a theme to focus on including: ecotourism, community, wildlife, and forest protection. The experiences and stories produced by these teams will be shared on this website and other social media platforms over the next six months. The stories that follow this post are designed to help the students develop skills in digital storytelling and to help you to better understand and bear witness to life in the Amazon rainforest in 2020. So stay tuned!
THE TIME IS NOW… You are encouraged to join our expedition to the Peruvian Amazon in January 2020. In this third version of The Forest Online, we will visit three amazing rainforest locations in our pursuit of telling great stories and exploring environmental conservation and sustainable development on Peru’s Amazon frontier.
In addition to visiting the Amazon, the most biodiverse place on Earth, we will stay in an indigenous community, learn permaculture and sustainable agricultural practices with our partners at Camino Verde, and learn about wildlife science and conservation with our partners at the Las Piedras Amazon Center. Before you go to Peru, we will spend seven weeks preparing through classes in storytelling and international travel. After you return from Peru, you will spend seven weeks working on a team to develop high-impact stories designed to tell our story and to change the world.
To learn more, attend the information session on March 6th in Hill Hall 110 at 4pm.
This course is application-based. To arrange an interview, email Dr. Scullion (email@example.com) by April 1st with a short email that explains: (a) why you want to participate in the course and (b) what you would bring to the team?
Interviews will take place the week of April 8th so don’t delay!!
Our main destination of the Las Piedras Amazon Center (LPAC)
One of the most important lessons we learned during our trip to the Las Piedras is about the power of community and a shared mission. Some of our fondest memories stem from the connections we were able to make with people living and working in the Las Piedras watershed. Hearing the impassioned stories of these people reminded us why we were on this journey and had many of us thinking about how to continue our own personal journeys after the trip ended. On the first leg of our trip in Puerto Maldonado we had the opportunity to hear from a few speakers. Their stories helped us begin to understand the extraordinarily diverse issues in this region of the world.
Upriver, our gaze focused on the Las Piedras, we were finally in the region we had begun studying months beforehand. We worked with ArcAmazon’s Las Piedras Amazon Center, the native Amahuacan tribe of Boca Paramanu, Hoja Nueva, and the people of the small town of Lucerna (All of which you can learn more about on the Our Partners page of our website). Many members of our team had never studied Spanish, thus interacting with the native people we met could be a challenge. Thankfully, we learned when two people share a passion, language barriers suddenly become less intimidating. Our team communicated through translators and some with varying levels of Spanish, but we also communicated through sports, dancing, a desire for education, and celebration.
One of the most impactful groups we were able to learn from and with was the Future Leaders/Innovadores of Madre de Dios. This group is sponsored by Wild Forests & Fauna and, like us, they are from a wide variety of backgrounds and all passionate about the environment. We joined them at LPAC for a series of lectures and activities focusing on the environmental impact of the Amazon and how we can work together to build a brighter future.
For the vast majority of our group this trip was the first experience in a jungle environment. For some it was also their first experience without access to a cell connection and internet. We were all visibly unnerved during our first few nights in this new environment. Everything was unfamiliar. Thankfully, with the people we met along the way willing to guide us, we were able to settle into a routine at LPAC. We began to relax and become truly acquainted with the jungle. Things such as the noises, smells, weather, how to maneuver a trail, and general way of life began to feel familiar.
The passion of the people we met and worked with was palpable. So much so, that it increased and solidified our own passion for this forest and its people. A few members of our group are already making plans to return and find more ways to use their skills to develop solutions to the destruction in this region.
By Samantha Wilson, Executive Project Manager; Jason Swartz, Director of Photography & Formatting; Sylvan Greyson, Director of Writing & Editing; and Atticus Rice, Director of Editing & Style.
It begins to rain shortly after you start out on the trail, unsurprising given the heavy clouds that have been creeping up over the canopy this afternoon. Everything around you is saturated with water already, the rainy season in Madre de Dios, Peru often bringing over 400mm of rain per month. Having only just arrived in the rainforest, it still takes you a couple minutes to orient yourself in the immensity of these surroundings. It is an environment that forces its presence to be known and felt, no avoiding the deluge of sensations you encounter with each step into the forest.
Eyes are greeted with a textural tapestry as you try to peer further than the forest’s edge. It feels as if you must walk with eyes forced wide in order to drink up the layers of vine against leaf against spiny bark. But it is not the eye-opening feeling of a city’s neon colours and cloud-topped towers. Instead, it is a glowing green landscape, growth spreading from every cranny and sunny spot, pushing your eyelids open in order to more fully understand it all.
But the sensations of standing as a small human in this forest are incomplete without the sound of rain as it topples from the sky, first onto the leaves and branches above you and then down further still to splat onto your head and shoulders. Through the wild crackling of rain, you hear a distant throaty clamour: howler monkeys hooting out their warning chorus. And beneath it all, you realize, is the whine of a mosquito, undeterred by the rain.
Returning from your ear drums to the feeling of your body as a new sprout among the old-growth and the buttress roots, you notice that while standing in one spot, your feet have sunk down, and your rubber boots are now surrounded by a cool gritty cushion of mud. You try to take a step forward and nearly fall out of your boot, slurpingmud behind you as you move towards drier ground. But nothing is truly dry, you have to remind yourself, as you notice how your rain jacket adheres to your skin, sweat on one side and rain on the other.
You’re brought back to your muddy boots as you take a deep breath through your nose and get a sudden whiff of some tangy putrid Amazon mud. Another breath in reminds you of your newfound mushroom obsession, the wild tendrils and fibrous sponges giving the air a subtle hint of their nutty scent.
You take stock one last time of all that’s around you and then head out on your squelching way, buoyed by the keenness of sensation that the forest lures from you and by the taste of maracuya juice whose biting sweetness lingers from lunch. It’ll be another glorious day of muddy boots and buttress roots.
Sixteen students led by Dr. Jason Scullion had the unique opportunity to visit the Las Piedras region of Peru this past January. Amazing friendships were made within the McDaniel group, with the Peruvians we came into contact with, and with the international researchers and volunteers at ArcAmazon, the outpost where we spent the majority of our time. Eye opening experiences, whether positive or completely shocking, defined this trip for those 16 students who were fortunate enough to explore the Amazon Rainforest. These are some of the experiences we had during our awesome experiential learning course…
Day 1: January 2nd, 2018
The excitement built as we finally began making our journey to Peru. Already off to a rocky start with Dr. Scullion stopped by security!
Day 2: January 3rd, 2018
After four flights, restless sleep, and lots of airplane snacks, we finally made our way to Puerto Maldonado. Culture shock set in as we entered what seemed like a different world. From the market to our hotel, everything was very different.
Day 3: January 4th, 2018
After a night in the city of Puerto Maldonado, we woke up to our first Peruvian-style breakfast. We took a boat ride to Passiflora Camp, a local chakra or farm, where we got our first taste of ecotourism and Peruvian agriculture. Watch out for the mud! And a big plus was pizza for dinner!
Day 4: January 5th, 2018
This was our first introduction to the actual rainforest. We took a boat ride to Boca Paramanu, an indigenous community, and were welcomed by the community. We ate lunch, explored the community, our platforms, and had our butts handed to us in volleyball and soccer. What a great time!
Day 5: January 6th, 2018
We woke up very early for our first hike, rainy ponchos in hand, through the jungle. We got a tour of the agriculture, tried many different fruit, saw the diversity of the rainforest, and got trapped by a flooded path. We had to improvise and swim/raft across.
Day 6: January 7th, 2018
The unrelenting rain gave us a slow start to the morning. However, it gave us the chance to spend time with the matriarch of the community and learn how to weave. After lunch, we were given a tour of the medicinal plant garden by the village shaman, Alberto.
Day 7: January 8th, 2018
The TFO crew had the chance to split up and try different things! One group went on a long but BEAUTIFUL hike through the privately conserved concession, while the other group joined Luis for a chance to learn traditional harvesting and preparation of palmitos (palm hearts). We all met and enjoyed a delicious lunch at Walter’s home.
The evening was filled with celebration, as it was our last night with the community. We gathered for good food and danced the night away!
Day 8: January 9th, 2018
It was hard to finally leave Boca, as we had made such great connections with the community. But, we were off and on our way to the Las Piedras Amazon Center. A long, but enjoyable, 6 hour ride up-river.
Day 9: January 10th, 2018
We started our journey months ago with planning and packing, but today we got the chance to really see everything in person. Months ago before arriving we saw a picture of an overlook of the LPAC concession, and today we climbed up the steep path and saw with our own eyes. It was breathtaking. The Amazon rainforest as it was supposed to be: conserved, protected and thriving, extending for miles in either direction.
Each group got the chance to break up and meet with their research partners at LPAC. With interests ranging from spider monkeys to macaws and everything in between, we had great mentors through our projects.
Day 10: January 11th, 2018
This day started and continued to be a RAINY day! That didn’t stop the TFO crew as we continued to work on and develop our projects. A group of us had the chance to go on the waterfall hike, where we ended at the mouth of a beautiful waterfall. Little did we know that we would be repelling down the side of it! Later we had the chance to go to a cocoa farm at the local community of Lucerna and see how chocolate is made.
Day 11: January 12th, 2018
The highlight of today was the macaw clay lick. It was truly a beautiful sight! There were over one-hundred macaws enjoying a social gathering as they also consumed vital minerals by licking the clay wall. It was a surreal experience seeing so many endangered animals in the same place, protected.
Day 12: January 13th, 2018
Today the TFO crew had the chance to go to Lago Solidad. This was a beautiful lake with an island in the center. We got the chance to explore the island, climb inside a massive strangling fig tree, and raft across the water. Too bad we missed the otters!
Day 13: January 14th, 2018
Today was the start of the Innova Summit! We eagerly prepared and waited for the Innovadores to arrive. The Innova Summit is meant to bring people together who are like minded in protecting the environment and help give them the tools to do this. The Innovadores were all the Peruvian members of the summit. We also had the first of our amazing, and thought-provoking, TEDx talks.
Day 14: January 15th, 2018
We got to learn and understand more about ecology through one of guest speakers. The Innovadores then went to explore the cocoa chakra that we went to previously, while we went on a hike to look at, and collect mushrooms. We even collected a variety that we could cook and eat later on that evening!
Day 15: January 16th, 2018
Another rainy and dull morning was ahead of us. But, one of our TFO crew members gave a great workshop on sensory walks! We also had the chance to work in mixed groups with the Innovadores and create stories for our story slam competition. Even through the barrier of language, we had a great time and created even better stories.
Day 16: January 17th, 2018
We had a sad day. We visited a nearby non-profit called Hoja Nueva. To reach their base camp we had to hike through a deforested section of the forest. It gave us all more of a perspective on what we are trying to protect by allowing us to see what kind of destruction is happening. The sight of the burned forest is hard to forget.
We returned and continued working on our stories. We had our competition, which was truly competitive and fun! We then celebrated our last night together with music and food. The Innovadores became a second family for us.
Day 17: January 18th, 2018
This morning was a sad morning as we bid our final farewells to The Innovadores. We were able to take pictures together and exchange contact info. Since then we have been able to connect with them and exchange pictures and memories.
The rest of the day was a work day that allowed us to finish up our projects and prepare to leave the next morning. Some of our students had the chance to pick up the camera traps with Sam Zwicker. She then went through the footage and showed us some amazing clips of animals in the forest!
Day 18: January 19th, 2018
We had a very early start at around 4AM. We got up, packed the last of our gear, and ate breakfast. We had to say goodbye to Daisy and Carmen, our two amazing cooks, and the staff at LPAC. Then we were on our boat and headed back to Puerto Maldonado.
After our long journey back, we arrived into a bustling city. Pope Francis was in Puerto Maldonado visiting the city. We were able to enjoy the hustle and bustle of the more active city, the nightlife, and enjoyed a meal from an amazing chef who had cooked for the Pope that morning. It was a great end to an amazing trip.
Day 19: January 20th, 2018
This morning was our very last morning in Peru. We began packing and preparing for our long journey home. This would entail 3 flights and about 24-hours of travel time. Some of us went to the market to get last minute gifts for family and friends, other explored the city for one last time. All together, we were excited to head home, but sad to be leaving.
Day 20: January 21st, 2018
We finally landed in Baltimore, after a long day of flying. We were exhausted but happy to have made it back safe and sound. We all had the chance to look back at what we did and why we did it. We thought about what we took out of the trip and what we will always remember.
The Forest Online was an amazing experience. We had the chance to make a difference and support ecotourism and help to conserve the Amazon Rain Forest. At a more personal level, we took away perspective and understanding. We were able to connect first-hand experience with knowledge to create a better understanding on the environment and our roles in it. Many of us would even say they found their happy place out there. Needless to say, the forest made each of us a better person.