Exhausted, hungry and slightly delirious from two to three flights and over 15 hours of travelling, we boarded a bus as strangers. Bogged down by bags full of gear for future adventures, we gazed out the window at the place we were to call home for the next 103 days. We pulled into a driveway and were face to face with a sign wielding a familiar logo, SFS.
After that one-hour drive, I unloaded that bus with not just a group of friends, but a powerful group of colleagues about to tackle a life changing expedition. With bellies full of snacks from our awesome SAM (student affairs manager) Jo, we were welcomed to a breath-taking facility by a group of professional, compassionate, and efficient people. I signed up for an abroad program in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest and my expectations were to be uncomfortable, stressed and a little bit hungry. I have never been so wrong. The beds are super comfortable, schedules are accommodating, and we have amazing food cooked by Juan and Milka. They are not only good cooks but a force to be reckoned with during our afternoon volleyball games.
Orientation commenced and we got a feel for the general schedules and patterns of everyday life here at the Center for Amazon Studies. We got used to the lights flickering every now and again and unlike the water we shower in, our hearts and minds warmed up to the change in lifestyle. Internet is only available on occasion, but I’ve learned it’s an experience us millennials need to face; we are too connected to our technology. I see now that going without it is truly not a big deal, especially whilst surrounded by such amazing life of all shapes and sizes.
Every night, I gather a group of friends to explore the campus in search of awesome bugs and wildlife. During the days we have homework, we do it together and discuss scientific papers with people who have various sets of knowledge. I’m the bug/frog/reptile girl but we have a mammal girl, many plant girls, ecology girls, anthropology girls and one mushroom-loving “fungi” named Henry (see what I did there).
We took a group walk to our neighboring town, Cahuide and got to see the Itaya River. It was hot, but that’s the price you pay for getting to experience one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. We watched locals play soccer and volleyball and picked up some snacks before returning. We also took a trip into Iquitos where we got to see an indigenous people museum and a rubber boom boat museum- two subjects we learned about in our political ecology and language/culture of Peru class.
We also visited the Belen Market, a network of streets pulsing with people selling items I have never seen before. For our conservation science course, we had to locate a list of items and interact with people to find out how much they are selling it for, what it is and how it was harvested/collected. We concluded that many of the vendors there do not know how things are collected but only purchase them for resale. There were exotic meats like caiman, what looked like guinea pig, giant squid, suri (grubs-like creatures served roasted on a stick), turtle eggs, armadillo, crabs, and various fish like pleco and shovel-nose catfish. There were also many people selling homeopathic remedies to certain ailments like wounds (sangre del grado) which is a plant that secretes a red latex. When rubbed into skin it turns white and then you scratch it off like glue and seal your wound with it. There was Boa oil that is supposed to help heal broken bones, Colubre oil that helps with stomach issues and oje that helps with parasites. We even got to see what tree it came from during our excursion on the trails during our tropical ecology class.
All in all, we are one week in and things are only looking up. I am looking forward to finishing this semester of classes in a dynamic setting with very interesting people before moving into our directed research project. SFS has been all that I dreamed of and then some, expect to hear from me again for a final reflections post come December!