Back in 2009 I left my old job as a lab technician pushing rabbit blood through a syringe to volunteer with a conservation company in the Amazon Rainforest in Peru. It was the first time I’d ever been away from home without being on a school trip.
That’s where I lived for three months. No doors, no windows, no electricity or phone lines, no hot water, no McDonald’s just round the corner. The photo shows one “dorm”, I suppose you could call it, with six beds up top and a bit of storage space below for muddy, wet clothes, where wasp’s nests may or may not have formed inside certain people’s trousers. There were two other identical dorms. There was also a similarly-styled bathroom area and a “main pod” which was made up of the kitchen/pantry area connected to a dining/communal area.
We had a generator which we powered up, say, once a week, through which we could connect a laptop to the Internet to email home to let loved ones know we hadn’t yet been eaten by a puma. I always ended such messages with a smiley face. 🙂
Cockroaches were the main enemy on a day to day basis. More than once did I creep into the bathroom after dark to detect the slick surface of cockroach shell glinting in the moonlight on top of somebody’s toothbrush they’d left out. The first time you accidentally left your toothbrush out became an initiation right because after your first slip up, you’d make sure to buy spares next time you were in the closest town, Salvacion. And new guys came and went all the time – scientists, researchers, new volunteers, hell, we had a whole film crew there for a month or so – which meant there were always new victims to tease at breakfast.
Being squeamish about the roaches passes the first time you grab the spray and go nuts screaming “die bitch die!” while spraying the roach skittering away to a safe hole. The roach would eventually stop, flounder around a bit, then finally cease moving entirely. It’s amazing how fast any moral high ground you might occupy about killing things falls at the wayside when you find a cockroach has nibbled its way inside a packet of Fruit Pastilles you’ve been saving for two months as a precious home comfort. We still ate those Pastilles though, nibble-holes be damned.
There’s also the bugs, especially after dark. After we’d eaten and it became dark, we’d crack out the candles and sit around playing cards. There wasn’t much else to do. After a few months we started entertaining ourselves by torturing bugs in the candle flame. I’m not mentally unstable, I assure you, and it wasn’t me who started it. Besides, the bugs mostly flew into the flame themselves, flapped a bit, then fell into the wax at the bottom. We just then encouraged them to make a return visit into the light.
Apart from roaches and other bugs, the rain was the biggest problem. I arrived at the start of March, still in the wet season. Most of our work was done outside – macaw-watching at the claylick at dawn, tagging certain things on the trails, biogarden work at our base and in Salvacion – and when it rained it really rained so we had to stay inside. It was frustrating but watching torrential downpours never got old.
For those curious, I organised the trip through http://travellersworldwide.com/, whose website doesn’t look like it’s been updated since 2002.
I’ll post more about specific jungle activities in the future, especially on some of our “expeditions”.