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2 Week Specials, Conservation in Peru by Eleanor Chapman

Eleanor Chapman – Conservation in Peru High School Special

A scarlett macaw eating at the Conservation placement

Almost immediately after coming across Taricaya Reserve, I was booking my four-week long stay. I read through all the volunteer stories and watched various videos about the placement, and it’s an understatement to say I was excited to go; I couldn’t think about anything else! I also decided that this trip would be a great way to mark the end of my time in high school, and that it would be a good conversation topic when meeting new people in sixth form.

Travelling to Taricaya

The three flights to Peru seemed endless, but when I finally touched down in Puerto Maldonado, my tiredness was quickly forgotten as I took in the surroundings. Driving through Puerto, I could see how different people’s lives there are, and I was eager to see more of the town. Going over the Madre de Dios River on the bridge was an incredible sight; seeing the vast expanse of the forest truly left me awestruck. My shock at my surroundings continued when the other volunteers and I took the boat journey down the river to the reserve. The first boat journey is an unforgettable one as you are given your first glimpse of your new home and you get to truly appreciate how beautiful nature is.

Arrival at Taricaya

A view of the sunset in Peru

As soon as I stepped into the reserve, I got a community feel. The reserve is spread over a large area and the buildings look welcoming and homely. Any nerves I had from travelling had quickly disappeared. Rachel showed the other volunteers and me to our rooms, and we were then given a quick tour of the main living space.

We were then told that all volunteers had to help unload the boat, and so we assembled ourselves in a kind of chain down the steps and passed up the supplies and food that was needed for the following week. This task sounds simple, but after a day of travelling and minimal sleep, lifting heavy crates and bags was a challenge! However, the task was a great way of getting to know the other volunteers and staff and it made settling in a quick process, as you immediately feel comfortable around everyone. The task also gave us all a glimpse of what life at Taricaya is like, as it showed us that sustainable living is challenging, but also extremely worthwhile.

After unpacking, we had our first meal at Taricaya – spaghetti bolognaise! The food is given in large portions and there is always enough for seconds. It was so nice to eat something other than airplane food! After dinner, we were shown a card game that you "play for plates". The general idea is that the loser has to wash up the plates of everyone who took part in the game, but thankfully for us new volunteers, we had a practice round first!

Also in the evenings, a board is put up showing what activities everyone is doing the following day, as well as meal times. This gave me my first glimpse of what we did at Taricaya, and I was extremely excited to try out all the activities and develop new skills.

My Conservation placement

A volunteer feeding a tapir

Each day brought new and exciting tasks, and I quickly got used to the daily routines. Many activities around Taricaya are done almost daily, such as animal feeding and cage cleaning, but there are some that depend on what needs doing at the time, like repairing walkways and mending roofs. Whatever activity you’re given, you are guaranteed to have fun, even if the work is tough.

My first activity was butterfly catching and I discovered that I had a skill for catching butterflies in huge nets – who knew? After we’d walked around for a while, we took the butterflies back to the butterfly house to release them along with the butterflies that the reserve breeds themselves. Seeing so many butterflies in one place was a truly amazing sight, and despite this only being the morning of my first day, I knew that I was going to love it at Taricaya.

I was lucky enough to be at Taricaya for the beginning of the turtle programme, and this involved volunteers camping at turtle beach overnight and looking for turtle nests to take back to Taricaya to bury in the artificial beach. The programme is helping to repopulate the Yellow Spotted Amazon River Turtle (Taricaya Turtle) species and the artificial beach is used to ensure the eggs don’t get eaten by predators. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any nests when I camped, but one set of volunteers brought back 10 nests in one night, which was the new record!

Each activity introduced new skills to me and I definitely grew in confidence during my time in Peru. I began to really appreciate the simple things in life and waking up every day to the wildlife around us made the experience truly incredible, as it was like a constant reminder of how amazing nature is.

My favourite memories

The beautiful nature at Taricaya Reserve

It’s so hard to choose just one aspect of my stay at Taricaya and say that it was my favourite, as each day brought new memories that I will cherish and remember, but one of my favourite memories was the Taricaya Games. I was lucky enough to be at Taricaya when the "games" were on, and they were basically different group races and activities, which were scored. What made it even better was that I was on the winning team!

I also loved the mahogany programme, as I got to make something from mahogany wood and keep it as a reminder! The programme promotes the use of spare mahogany wood and encourages locals to use it rather than waste it, and it was great to do the programme myself. As well as this, I loved meeting so many amazing people from all over the world and getting to know them all. I’ve made some life-long friends with whom I remain in contact with.

Leaving Peru

When the day of my departure arrived, I couldn’t believe how quickly the past 4 weeks had gone and yet it also amazed me that I felt as though I had been at Taricaya for much longer. The boat journey back to Puerto Maldonado left me as in awe as it did the first time and I was truly sad to be leaving.

I stayed in Puerto for a few hours before being taken to the airport and this allowed me to do some final souvenir shopping. I also had time to catch up with my friends and family.

Overall, my experience in Peru was truly indescribable in terms of how amazing it was and I don’t think writing about it does it justice; it’s something you have to experience first-hand to truly grasp how it feels. I’m planning on returning to Taricaya in the coming years to see what has changed and what hasn’t, but I will never forget my first adventure there, and I feel truly honoured to have been able to experience it.

Eleanor Chapman

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