A few weeks ago we arrived to our home within the jungle of Pilcopata, Peru. Our time here includes being approached by bugs of all shapes and sizes, becoming completely drenched in sweat and loving it, bonding with ACCA staff through late-afternoon volleyball and soccer games, and overall pure bliss. Living within the Amazon Basin has been something beyond words.
Our classroom overlooks a fishpond surrounded by the striking colors and sounds of birds. Each day I am woken early in the morning by the music of insects. During the day, we hike among the trails of Villa Carmen, drinking water out of bamboo, learning the medicinal values of the plants, and performing studies like trapping dung beetles to measure the biodiversity and richness within the area. Occasionally we head out into nearby villages, practicing archery and handicraft traditions with indigenous communities. In our free time, we have the opportunities to head into town, grab some delicious bananas at the market, and cool down with some of the best juice I have ever had. And the next day, we get up and do it all over again.
Our past few weeks have been focused on the critters and crawlers that surround us. For our tropical ecology course, we had an amazing day of catching butterflies, which brought nothing but great memories from when I was growing up. We learned how to measure their wingspans and we learned to apply how their wing sizes are correlated to both how fast they move and how they adapt to predation. For the same class, we had an amazing opportunity to head into the darkness of the night and catch bats. This was one of the coolest experiences I have ever had. Our professor, Adrian Tejedor, wrote his thesis on bats, and we learned SO much about them and their ecological adaptions. One of the bats looked like something straight out of a horror movie. Never in my life had I ever seen a bat that large… it was AMAZING!!
The highlight of my time in Peru was having the chance to visit Manu Wildlife Center in the lowland jungle. We got there by means of an 8-hour boat ride down the Madre de Dios River. Upon arriving, we were released into the wilderness (within limits of course) in search of primates for our conservation science class. There were monkeys all around us and I was definitely feeling a strong connection to Jane Goodall that day. When the sights and sounds of the monkeys were not inspiring us with awe, we were pleasantly distracted by the sights of the largest trees I’ve seen in my life, as well as some creatures of the night; including a poison tree frog, tarantula, and wolf spider. We also got a visit from the somewhat domesticated tapir named Vanessa at our lodge. Manu was an amazing experience that I will never forget, but it was also great to arrive back at Villa Carmen after another wonderful trip down the river.
Each day it is unbelievable to think about all of the opportunities we have experienced within Peru and I cannot believe it is already halfway over. Experiences like hiking around the Andes, petting llamas, visiting historic ruins, and meeting 13 students from around the country have all contributed to the wonderful memories. It is almost more unbelievable to think that we still have half our trip left to soak up the uniqueness of this beautiful country. We are all full of excitement living here in the jungle at Villa Carmen, and I am personally even more excited for the breathtaking moments that are soon to come! Next step… Directed Research!