There are few places worldwide more exciting than the headwaters of the Amazon, a rich biodiversity hotspot on the fringes of the ancient Inca Empire, not far from the World Heritage site of Machu Picchu in Peru. I have to admit this is an honor for me, a Peruvian ecological anthropologist, to have been chosen as the Center Director for a promising new SFS field station.
It’s even more rewarding to receive 12 enthusiastic students from the U.S. We’re housed in an old and enchanting rainforest hacienda now turned into a biological conservation and research center run by the prestigious Amazon Conservation Association, our partner in this fabled country in South America.
During the first few days, our staff and faculty have started a comprehensive set of courses, all of which involve almost daily excursions through forested trails and running rivers full of rich vegetation and fauna. Dr. Adrian Tejedor, Resident Lecturer in Tropical Ecology, conducts the field visits which open our eyes to the wonders of the fabulous natural world. Dr. Mauricio Herrera, in charge of the Political Ecology course, presents to us daily on the challenges of conservation of the vast treasures of this remote corner of the Amazon watershed. I myself, having worked with the native indigenous population of the region, am in charge of pointing out the traditional knowledge of the medicinal properties of an interminable vegetal pharmacy.
Living conditions in this enchanted site are charming, seasoned by two fantastic cooks and magnificent views of the nearby Andean peaks which contrast with the greenery that surrounds us.
Next week we will embark downriver to the famous Manu National Park, a vast virgin territory which holds world records in terms of birds – particularly dozens of hummingbird species – and butterflies, and is a unique habitat of myriad other animal and plant species that dazzle our curiosity.
As I write these lines in the early evening, students are preparing their field reports. A distant thunderstorm lights the forest, silencing the orchestra of frogs, cicadas, and others, all of which perform an incredible symphony that fills the night with wonders.
This is just the beginning of our adventure, one which will remain forever in our memories of this unforgettable experience.