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.
McDaniel College students from all academic disciplines and backgrounds are needed to build an interdisciplinary team with a range of skills and interests. We will work together for 8 months, go to the Amazon rainforest for Jan Term 2018, and design and launch a public interest media project. Interested?
Attend the Information Session on March 1st at 4pm (Hill Hall 110)
This year-long course explores the diversity of people and nature through the lens of the Amazon rainforest. In this second iteration of the Forest Online, we visit the rainforest of Peru’s Las Piedras watershed to understand the changes taking place and to gather stories about the region’s people, cultures, and forests. Along the way, we will meet farmers, conservationists, scientists, young leaders, and indigenous people. The culmination of our travels and research is a collaboration with local and international organizations to design and launch a media project.
The Forest Online is a unique interdisciplinary course of McDaniel College, featuring a two-credit January term trip to Perú, bookended with seven-week one-credit seminars in the fall and spring. The course fulfills International (Western) and Scientific Inquiry McDaniel Plan tag and is part of the Encompass Distinction. Students from all academic disciplines and backgrounds are being sought to build an interdisciplinary team with a range of skills and interests.
THE LOCATION AND ITINERARY
The heart of the class is a three-week trip to Perú to explore the forests and communities of the semi-remote region of Madre De Dios and the watershed of the Las Piedras River. Our itinerary includes visiting the region’s bustling capital of Puerto Maldonado and staying at two rainforest sites, the Las Piedras Amazon Center (LPAC) and the native community of Boca Paria Manu. At each site, we will engage in scientific research, media development, and intercultural learning. In Boca Paria Manu, we will learn from native people how they use rainforest plants and make a living from the forest. At LPAC, we will work with young Peruvian leaders on a collaborative project designed to advance local-to-global sustainable development.
To arrange an interview, email Dr. Scullion (firstname.lastname@example.org) ~100 words that explain (a) why you want to participate and (b) what you would bring to the team?
Before leaving, we, the Forest Protection Team, were beyond excited to hear about and see pictures of some of the amazing experiences we would get to have in the rainforest of Madre de Dios, Perú. As a group composed of three Environmental Studies majors, we were a little bit more than excited about our mission: deep in la selva (the rainforest), we would visit LPAC (the Las Piedras Amazon Center, run by ARCAmazon) where we were to experience the jungle from the perspective of a forest ranger and take a firsthand approach to learn more about what it takes to protect this wild and beautiful place.
During our time at LPAC, we learned so much and were able to experience conservation on the front line. During our stay, we went on night hikes where we saw sleeping butterflies, birds nestled in the ground, and insects of all varieties (most jungle critters like to come out at night when the heat of the sun isn’t beating down on them). During the day, we got to see an unimaginable number of trees and plants. Sometimes just closing our eyes – at night or during the daytime – and experiencing the sounds of the jungle was enough to make us appreciate the amazing biodiversity of the surrounding forest.
One of our greatest adventures was a hike and overnight camping trip with the forest ranger, Harry, who was very experienced at pitching tents (even ones that hang from trees!), starting a fire (which is rather difficult in a rainforest), and navigating the concession’s boundaries. Harry also took us to a corn field in the middle of the jungle, where we learned about the difficulty of protecting the concession from outsiders. It was saddening to learn of the reality of the situation – the people who are destroying the forest for agriculture are just trying to make a living and survive. We were, however, left with a note of hope when we visited the neighboring concession. Here, a nonprofit called Hoja Nueva is experimenting with agroforestry and biochar as sustainable agricultural solutions and is working with the local community to demonstrate and teach these alternate methods.
We accomplished so much more than our original mission of learning about forest protection from the perspective of a ranger. We didn’t just experience the rainforest and all of its complexities – we became full-fledged participants in an environment so profoundly zoetic that we couldn’t help but feel a calling, stronger than any we have ever felt before, to ensure that this untamed paradise continues to thrive.
This is a creative nonfiction story inspired by events from our time at the jungle. The story was written shortly after our visit to the Lookout.
We begin another day in the jungle. The air is humid and the temperature’s high; there’s a morning breeze that dances around camp, reminding us of the rain from the night before, and the rain yet to come—if it comes. Everyone begins to wake up, some of them more easily than others. The early birds are already up and about with their day, meanwhile the night owls, like me, can barely lift the bug net to put a leg outside of bed. All around camp the noises of bugs and birds can be heard, echoing the whining and complaining of the few humans that have ventured—that have invaded—this not-so-virgin land; a land discovered but barely touched.
We make our way to the kitchen, where most of us immediately sit down and start fanning ourselves with old maps of the concession that lay around the table. We know our fanning is in vane, but those few seconds of cold air are so necessary to stay awake.
Josh and Scullion tell us the plans for the day; today, it seems, we will not be doing much. There will be a few hikes here and there, and at the end of the day we will go to this place call the Lookout to watch the sun set. Everyone pretends to be excited about another day of hikes and heat.
* * *
The day passes by between mindless walking and conversation about topics of no use; we talk about the experiences from days previous, we chat about the days to come, we create scenarios of life after the jungle, and, most importantly, we ask each other the questions we’re afraid of asking.
The purpose of the Ecotourism group was to work as mediators between the three other groups. We listened to their concerns and kept their respected objectives in mind as we assessed the situation at ARC Amazon.
We consider Ecotourism a viable solution for the diverse set of problems that each group faces. We understand the importance of protecting the jungle, but we also find it necessary to allow the native Peruvians to profit from their own land. We aspired to find the perfect balance between protecting the jungle, while serving the community by establishing a profitable ecotourist attraction at the ARCAmazon concession.
When we arrived in the jungle, we participated in and evaluated the activities that a paying ecotourist would engage in. We reflected on this experience and came to the conclusion that ARCAmazon would have to be apprehensive and thoughtful when making future decisions to avoid overpopulation of tourists, which could disrupt the stasis of the environment. We interviewed volunteers, workers, and community members what their personal definition of ecotourism was, and what it could mean for the future of ARCAmazon. Because we questioned people of different backgrounds and dispositions, where their personal purpose at ARCAmazon ranged from being a cook to a volunteer forest ranger, we found a common consensus in their compassion for the future of the jungle and Peru. Their response was overwhelming yet insightful as it created clarity. It spoke to our initial goals of ARC Amazon and it provided direction for the future of the organization. The future is looking up and ARCAmazon has already laid the foundation upon which they will build a sustainable ecotourism destination for nature-lovers and travelers alike.
Read previous content from the Ecotourism Team below:
During our time traveling in Peru and especially during the three days we spent with members of the Lucerna and Palma Real communities, we reflected a lot about the role of communities in conservation. We knew going into the trip that working with communities is essential for successful conservation, but we did not know many specifics. The complexity of the relationship between conservation and communities became clear very fast. It involves balancing the goals of everyone involved, education, job options, and the influence of both local and global economics. On top of that, the challenges of conservation are different in every community.
Despite these complexities, we left Peru with a large dose of hope to carry us through the rest of our class and to inspire us to continue to try to make a difference in the world. The people we met were well informed about the social, economic, and political problems relevant to them, and they wanted to improve their lives. They were open to new ways of agriculture, and some of them were actively trying to change their communities’ practices to be more sustainable. It wasn’t Westerners coming into their territory and telling them how to change; it was Peruvians acting on their own beliefs, passions, and abilities to instigate change, and to a large extent, ARCAmazon is a tool for them and their goals.
Members of the Lucerna and Palma Real communities (and the Peruvians who we met in general) taught us something important: conservation, just like most aspects of life, is most possible when people help each other. It requires selflessness, not just towards the environment but also towards the people that need the environment to survive.
Conservation, in a word, requires ayni.
PS- Here is the video that Luke made for our group starring some members of the Lucerna and Palma Real Communities.
Coming back from the Amazon, some key take-aways would be just how diverse the biodiversity in the rainforest actually is. In the morning we would hear the sound of howler monkeys, and then during the day we would see lots of colorful insects and birds. More than just insects and birds, we would also be exposed to a wide range of different organic life including trees, plants, and rainforest canopy. To think that our actions can have a direct impact on the wellbeing of the wild forest and fauna in the Peruvian rainforest is incredible. Staying hopeful about rainforest preservation is important. More specifically, the birds in the Amazon rainforest were what drew me in for closer examination. Aldo, who was one of our guides is a bird expert, and explained a lot about birds, such as the harpy eagle, one of the largest birds in Peru. Some of the sites we saw of flocks of Macaws gathered at the Macaw claylicks were beautiful, and as a result I did become interested in different species of birds. For what we couldn’t see with our own eyes, we would cross logs and rivers, and go on long treks and hikes through the forest to set up camera traps. This helped us to see life like jaguars and pumas, while at nighttime we could experience nocturnal wildlife. by: Ian Yoshioka
Our goal as the wildlife crew was to observe as much wildlife as possible. Seems simple, right? Well, in trying to do this, I learned to stop looking. The wildlife of the jungle taught me how to see and stop looking. While wading through swamps of oxbow lakes or sloshing through thick, jungle floor mud, I realized that wildlife has no obligation to perform for my camera. Despite wanting great shots to share back home, in fact, I didn’t want a performance after all. However, when I did take the time to genuinely see what was there, Mother nature blew me away with astounding beauty in moments of spontaneous awe. Those moments that stopped me in my tracks — capuchins and other monkey species frolicking through camp, the tracks of the animals unseen, sharing it with influential people — are among my most cherished memories. Even the minutes I spent simply standing still and feeling the energy of the forest, can give me the chills from thousands of miles away. When I really get down to it and try to synthesize my experience as a wildlife researcher, I am left with this thought: while I was learning to see differently, the rainforest helped me find deep tranquility. by: Christina DeJoseph