An Andean saddle-back tamarin in Manu Wildlife Center, Peru.
It was in Baltimore’s National Aquarium that I began dreaming of science and exploration. I was constantly in awe of all the plants and animals there were, and I spent hours staring at sharks, dancing with the dolphins, and walking among the butterflies. I imagined I was one of the workers scuba diving, or wrestling snakes, or swimming with the sharks in the tanks.
More than anything, I spent a lot of time in particular in the rainforest exhibit; brilliant colors exploded all around me and exotic sounds filled the air and made my young senses tingle with adventure. While the aquarium was only one leaf on my environmental-future tree, it was key in enveloping me with a sense of adventure and a fascination with nature at a young age and getting me to where I am now — in the middle of the Peruvian Amazon.
Now my life actually is the exhibit — macaws screech overhead most hours of the day, frogs chirp to the drum of rain, and the sunrises and sunsets are some of the most beautiful I have ever seen, as the Amazon jungle breathes and sighs to the rhythm of life. My classmates and I have spent the last two months everywhere from the lowlands of the Amazon to the glaciers of the highlands. Classes and dancing in the rain have filled our days, and every day is a new incredible experience. But after all this time, the wonder of it all seems to have faded into the background, as life in the jungle ceases to be this experience little kids dream of and is now just our everyday life.
Macaws at a clay cliff salt lick at the Manu Wildlife Center, Peru.
Student Kana Yamamoto looks for monkeys during a Conservation Science field lab.
It takes something magnificent for the realization of the world around me to slam back into my consciousness and make that sense of wonder come to the forefront of my mind. Standing in the forests of Manu National Park, one of the most biodiverse places in the world, I was reminded how small I am by how big and powerful the trees and life are around me. Parrots and toucans screeched overhead as spider monkeys crashed through these mountainous trees.
All of a sudden, I was 8 years old again staring into the rainforest exhibit and thinking how incredibly amazing the place I was standing in was — except this time, I was in the real thing. Hours passed while collecting data for our conservation science class and hiking to one of the last standing mahogany trees, and I fell in love with my semester abroad all over again. It is like the jungle knew exactly what I needed after weeks of travel and before final exams — it gave me wonder.
An Andean saddle-back tamarin watches our group at the Manu Wildlife Center, Peru.
Part of the SFS Peru Fall 2015 group en route to Manu Wildlife Center on the Madre de Dios River, one of the main tributaries to the Amazon River.
→ Biodiversity & Development in the Andes-Amazon Semester Program in Peru