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.