Come meet us in person!

Join us for in-person storytelling, with tons of multimedia: video clips of puma, interviews with people who live in the rainforest, pictures of monkeys, and Q&A about much, much more.

Thursday, March 31st, in Decker auditorium (adjacent to Lewis Hall of Science on McDaniel campus).

All welcome! Free and open to the public.

monkey with child
photo by Sami Wilson

First visit? Check out: Intro postMeet the team – Our January itinerary – Conservation and development – Familiar strangers

Familiar Strangers in the Forest

IMG_2054Deep in the heart of the Amazon jungle, an eclectic group spread across rough-hewn benches on a packed-earth floor, sipping fresh-made tea. They were gathered at a new site for conservation and education, the Las Piedras Amazon Center (LPAC). Rain drummed against a large tarp roof as the group of participants, from all over the world, sat elbow-to-elbow:

  • Twelve American college students, from many different disciplines
  • Nine Future Leaders—young Peruvian professionals and college students
  • Six local partners, from scientists to support staff
  • Two volunteers from Europe, accomplished professionals eager to share their expertise

The participants were gathered for a two-day workshop, focused on learning and telling some of the stories of the Madre de Dios rainforest, one of the most biodiverse places on earth. They were gathered to dialogue across political and cultural borders–an important task, requiring both small steps and big leaps of confidence.

The conversation focused on the intersection of ecotourism, sustainable farming, and wildlife conservation and kicked off with a panel discussion led by Dr. Jason Scullion (president of Wild Forest and Fauna), Luis Garcia (president of ARCAmazon), and Romulo (president of Palma Reale). Each panel member shared their nonprofit’s history and its mission.

They explained afresh that the challenges each of their organizations face share many commonalities: their dedication to the region and its diversity, the momentary setbacks their missions have faced, and what they hope to achieve. At each step of the way, they answered many student questions–about sustainability and opportunities, about environmental impact and networking potentials, about the rainforest and its inhabitants.

The incredible work showcased was invigorating; the interest in everyone’s faces was clear. Each new facet of the discussion hinted at the enormous promise the Las Piedras Amazon Center has for bringing far-flung people together.

For the next day of the workshop, everyone moved around and joined one of five different teams. Their objective? Simply to “tell a story, focusing on first impressions of the rainforest with the outside world.”

Introductions began, conversations started. As each group set to work, the writers had to work through different expectations of storytelling, different languages, different experiences and beliefs. Together, they wrote their stories in both English and Spanish, refining them in multiple stages with additional facts and context.

There was back and forth between people who had just met each other for the first time, brought together in an unfamiliar environment by their admiration for the beauty and thrill of the wild. There was a lot of awkward translation and searching for words, sustained by friendly smiles and genuine interest in how the other person saw the world. And as they worked, they discovered how many commonalities they had with each other, how familiar these former “strangers” began to feel.


The workshop leaders initially thought that everyone would focus on their own stories, their own experiences. While those factors influenced the participants’ storytelling decisions, what was written was more imaginative, more surprising, than they first expected.

Read them here for yourself:

Of course, it’s hard to change the world in just two days of workshops. But stories were written on more than just paper as people shared email addresses and social media contacts. New narratives were written and the groundwork laid for many sequels to come–relationships that would give rise to new plotlines bridging continents, new character arcs in the endeavor to conserve the rainforest and support its inhabitants.

The Story of the Visitor

A collaborative story written during a creative writing workshop between the Forest Online and Wild Forest and Fauna’s Future Leaders program. Written by Vanessa, Sami, Ian, and Lua.

Rose sat in the boat, feeling the waves of the Las Piedras river roll off of the side of her boat, causing it to sway gently on the water. She tilted her head back, smelling the fresh breeze. Rose had never been to the jungle before, and the fresh oxygen that filled her lungs was intoxicating.

The ground was earthy and muddy, her boots slipped back slightly with every step that she climbed. Rose’s eyes took in the sights and her fingers absorbed each texture that they encountered. She had read a little bit about the rainforest before coming, and she practiced identifying the trees as trudged thought the mud. A walking palm, which could move two to three meters over the course of hundreds of years, on her right. A sheep frog “baa’d” on her left, expanding its navy belly rhythmically.

Rose was curious about the rainforest, and had read about the various birds in the forest. She wanted to see macaws. She heard of a claylick nearby, and walked the claylick, striding though the green ferns and the lush grasses. She arrived, and was overwhelmed by the beauty of the birds. She sweat heavily, because she had never experienced humidity like this before—but the work was worth it to see the hundred of red birds eating the clay next to her.

Continue reading “The Story of the Visitor”

More from Machu Picchu

sami 821
photo by Sami


Coming from a family of outdoors enthusiasts who love to hike, I have gotten to see many amazing sights in nature growing up.  However, the hike up the Intipunku, or Puerta del Sol, trail at Machu Picchu was absolutely the most breathtaking hike I have ever gone on.  The weather changed quickly as we rose to the top, with clouds rushing up out of the valley.  When the view was clear, we could slowly see Machu Picchu getting farther and farther away from us as the air became more refreshing.

Though the hike was a little tiring because of the high altitude, the view of Machu Picchu and the surrounding valley from the top were unbeatable.  We were able to take some time for personal reflection among the clouds, lush vegetation, and ancient ruins – and we could not be more thankful for that.


Getting up at 4:30 is never easy, yet knowing the good to that is to come is enough to pull you straight up to your feet. The plan is to ride a bus to the mountains of Machu Picchu, and that is exactly what we did.

Our first stop was to a town called “Ojanta y Tambo” which translates to “a town to relax and enjoy”. We walked around for a short while to study the architecture, and learned that the town was built for the Incas to have a place to relax amidst their advents.

Shortly after we boarded a train that would streamline us to our final destination. During the ride, it was brought to our attention by Dr. Scullion to notice the ascending of trees up the side of mountains. We learned that the trees were migrating up the side as a result of climate change. Who would have thought trees to be so intelligent?

When we arrived to Machu Picchu, we didn’t hesitate to begin the ascent to the top where we could see the “Sun Gate”. We were all reminded of the challenges of hiking in the altitude. Once we got to the top though, it was all worth it. There might be some merit to the saying that the best view is from the top.

Upon descending there were still a few landmarks that could be seen.

We were guided through the maze of many of of the ruins in the mountains. Amidst the ruins was a temple called “The Temple of Condor,” Giovanna explained that the Condor, or vulture is representative of raising the soul and spirit to the celestial realm. There was once a time when the condors flew freely in the mountains. And now, they have been hunted for the value of their feathers which are thought to have powerful energetic properties.

Machu Picchu Updates Coming Soon!

Machu Piccu (Photo Credit: Luke Fisher)
Machu Piccu (Photo Credit: Luke Fisher)

The Forest Online Team had an amazing day exploring one of the world’s greatest wonders, Machu Picchu.

(Photo Credit : Luke FIsher)
(Photo Credit : Luke Fisher)

Stay tuned for updates as we take you through our long and winding trip through the Inca Trail from the Urubamba Valley to the “big mountain.”

(Photo Credit: Luke Fisher)
Machu Picchu This Way ! (Photo Credit: Luke Fisher)




Blogging is just one part of our mission. While we’re starting out touring the Andes and learning more about the environmental, cultural, and economic history there, our main destination is a new conservation and ecotourism site in the Madre de Dios area of the Amazon rainforest.

Once there, our students will be doing research in four main teams:

  • Wildlife
  • Ecotourism
  • Forest Protection
  • Community interactions

If you scroll down the blog feed below, you can read about some of the background context the teams have been learning about, so far.

End products of their work in the rainforest will include writing, videos, photos, think-tank sessions with local partners, and much more. Stay tuned! We’ll keep the updates coming, whenever we have access to the internet…and once we get back, the stories will continue.



Some first impressions



That equation probably looks as confusing as some of us feel from jetlag and altitude sickness. Have you ever felt like altitude entered your soul like lead? Maybe it’s just me!

IMG_6141We drink a lot of water and Mate Coca. The Coca leaves (the tea helps relieve altitude sickness) float in the tea cup and we have some time to reflect. Cusco is shockingly comfortable to me. I’m not sure why. It is a city built into the hills. There are lots of brick buildings and this reminds me of my house, but not of a city. So what exactly is it? We certainly do not have the traditional Incan rock walls lining streets back home, which are wicked cool by the way.

But for now, the equation consists of the numbers of our flights and after much travel, Spanish chatting, throwing up, and temporarily misplaced luggage we finally reach our equal sign: we are in Peru.


My first impressions of this trip were really formed while sitting in the airport in San Salvador, feeling the sun on my face for the first time in months and trying to wrap my mind around the fact that I was in a different country. I’ve been on so many planes in my life, but there was something mesmerizing about flying into another country for the first time. Everything was so surreally picturesque through the tiny airplane window. The clouds were perfectly fluffy on top, flat on the bottom, levitating over the landscape like a Dali painting. I couldn’t help feeling like an alien.

The feeling intensified upon entering Lima – I saw familiar things, but they were just different enough to disorient and overwhelm me. It was only once we had arrived in Cusco that I felt my sense of adventure begin to awaken, and I felt less like an alien wandering the winding cobblestone streets.



The excitement for what was to come overshadowed the grueling experience of a long day of traveling. It first began to feel like reality as we flew from Lima to Cusco, over the majestic and diverse Andes mountains. The landscape was unlike anything that could be seen in the States. Nestled in the heart of the beautiful Andes mountains among the steep cliffs, exposed rock and scattered vegetation, the city looked just how I wanted it to.

It was a pleasant mix of more old than new; Spanish colonial architecture on top of massive stone Inca ruins. Among the crumbling infrastructure and poor neighborhoods, the narrow cobblestone alleyways and unexpected wide expanses of mountain landscapes above the shallow city skyline were awe-worthy and inviting. Everywhere we looked, there was an image worth capturing. I felt that I was in the perfect place as the sun soothed my exhausted body and the cool breeze made me feel more awake than I have felt in ages, even after only an hour of sleep the night before.

Hotel balcony view after arrival
Hotel balcony view after arrival


We’re here!


The team landed in Lima this evening after a long day of travel. We’re in a hotel next to the airport tonight, then off to Cusco tomorrow. Updates to follow!


Interested in our itinerary? Here’s a sneak peek:

  • Departure: 10:10 am on Saturday, January 2nd
  • January 3: 8:40 am flight to Cusco and explore city
  • January 4: Visit the Sacred Valley
  • January 5: Machu Picchu
  • January 6: 12 hour bus ride to Puerto Maldonado
  • January 7-8: Stay in local hostel and tour the city/meet with people
  • January 8: truck and boat ride to Las Piedras Amazon Center
  • January 9-13: Forest Online site visits and data collection
  • January 14-17: meet with Future Leaders to talk about storytelling and brainstorm about opportunities and challenges for conservation
  • January 18-21: Wrap up fieldwork
  • January 22: leave Puerto Maldonado 12:55 pm flight to Lima
  • January 23: 3:40 am departure

What’s this all about? Check out the intro post