Volunteering in the Peruvian Amazon!
Preparing for your volunteer adventure can be both exciting and a little overwhelming. Trying to think about what to expect when you arrive, what the work will actually be like.
Our Volunteer Coordinator, Rosie, recently went and enjoyed her own volunteer adventure at the Peru Amazon Conservation Project! She shares her volunteer experience so that you can gain an insight into what life is like as an Amazon Conservation Volunteer.
Starting the Amazon Conservation Volunteer Adventure
"The first day is pretty relaxed, generally just for arriving to Cusco and meeting everyone. Once everyone had been picked up from the airport and checked into our Cusco accommodation it was just free time to explore the city and rest up a bit.
After a nice breakfast at the accommodation Tuesday morning we were met by more staff from the project. They went through orientation for a few hours with us; we learnt all about the project, the amazon, the research taking place and about the learning centre that would be our base while volunteering. After lunch we were takien on a town tour to get to know the city a bit more, including a visit to San Pedro market. It was also our last chance to grab anything we might need or want in the jungle!
Journey to the Amazon for our Volunteer Adventure
Wednesday started bright and early with a 5:30am departure for the exciting journey into the jungle! Once all our luggage was secured on the top of the mini van we piled into van with our small overnight bags and packed snacked provided for us. The long trip was split up by small stops along the way; the first of which is at a small village called Oropesa (the bread capital). We indulged in some of Peru’s finest woodfired bread, then headed to some Inka Ruins; where if you are lucky enough you will see the endemic giant hummingbird!
A few hours later another we stopped again in town called Paucartambo. Here we learnt about traditional Peruvian celebrations, and ancient Amazonian practices at a small local museum.
After this we began the descent into the cloud forest. At this stage the change in climate became apparent as the humidity increased and altitude decreased. We regularly made impromptu stops to have a closer look at any wildlife that we spotted. We also enjoyed a stop in a nice spot to enjoy the lunch that had been packed for us before continuing the journey.
A night in the Cloud Forest
The first leg of the trip (although pleasantly broken up by interesting pit-stops and meal breaks) was a long 10 hours along bumpy and windy roads. However it was worth it! Traveling this way through the forest allows you to fully appreciate the varying eco-systems and breath-taking scenery; lots of rolling mountains and lush green foliage.
We arrived at our bungalow in the cloud forest at around 4:30pm. After zip-lining across the river to the bungalow it was a much needed chance to freshen up, stretch the legs and explore the surroundings. It was also a good chance to get to know my fellow volunteers a little better. We played card games and relaxed in the cute bungalows until it was time for our very delicious dinner and dessert.
Thursday morning was another early start (5:30am). We took a short 10 minute hike to try to catch the mating song and dance of the beautiful Andean Cock-of-the-Rock birds. A surreal way to start the day surrounded by the beautiful sounds of the rainforest. After breakfast we jumped on the zip-line back over the river and piled back into the van.
Luckily today’s journey in the van was only a few hours, before we arrived at the boat that would be our last leg of the journey.
Arriving to the Amazon Conservation Learning Centre.
After a 45 minute boat trip down the Amazon basin (with amazing views on both sides) we finally arrived at the learning centre that would be our home for the duration of our volunteer adventure.
Arriving at the base like entering a dream; beautiful bungalows perched next to the river nestled between lush green forests with the constant buzzing of wildlife all around. Although the bungalows are basic, they are very beautiful and are equipped with everything you need. At the base there is a variety of long-term staff and researchers, interns and volunteers. Everyone at the base is referred to as the community; it really gives an extra sense of belonging while there.
The rest of the day was pretty relaxed. We were given a tour of the base and the community ground rules were explained to us ‘newbies’. We also went through the schedule of tasks for the coming days. At this stage we were asked to hand over any food items they may have brought; this is not to confiscate it but rather to keep them safe from little critters getting into them in our rooms.
We received training in tropical ecology, species identification (auditory calls, foot prints, visual markers and flight patterns), compass and GPS use, emergency first response procedures, data recording, processing findings, and a range of other conservation methods. Everything we would need for our tasks including being trained to properly use a machete.
Amazon Conservation Volunteer Duties
No 2 days at the project were the same. Volunteers work alongside the permanent staff and researchers to assist with a range of research projects being undertaken. Some days start quite early with 5:30am tasks, and there are some tasks carried out into the evenings and nights. The early evenings and early morning were something I thought I would have a very hard time getting used to; as I am a bit of a night owl who likes to sleep in. I found that the heat and long days are so exhausting that it is very easy to sleep; in-fact I had some of the best sleeps of my life. And waking up to the beautiful sounds of the Amazon Jungle is really something special.
Some of the projects I got to assist with included; monitoring macaws, butterfly species identification, wildlife & amphibian monitoring and helping in the bio-garden in a near by village.
Dinner time was a great time of the day because most of the community (unless doing night research) will be brought together. Everyone has a chance to share stories of how their research projects are going, facts that they had learnt that day or share tales of encounters with wild animals they have had. Everyone there is passionate about their work: it is extremely inspiring to hear people talk about their passions, why they are there and how they got there.
Other Activities at the Project
There are regular talks and debates held by staff members, where you will be able to learn more about different local species, plants, eco-systems, indigenous groups, and everything else in between! There is also opportunities to learn some Spanish; the community does Spanish class twice a week and volunteers are more than welcome to join.
Group community meetings are also help regularly held to talk about any issues people have experienced or things that could be improved upon. There was so much going on, it was a truly insightful experience!
Sundays were free to relax or play games with the fellow volunteers!
Schedule Example of Duties while Volunteering in the Amazon
Here is an example of some of the activities that take place during the day: (don’t worry, if you have the early morning shift you won’t have the night shift, and if you have a night shift you won’t have the early morning shift the next day).
5:30am: Visit the clay lick to monitor the Blue headed Macaws
7:00am: Breakfast. After breakfast the community breaks off into smaller groups to do different conservation activities or check camera traps. The days are generally long and if your group is doing research at one of the areas further away you will most likely take a packed lunch to enjoy in the jungle.
12:30pm: Lunch (Usually hot chips, chicken, quinoa and vegetables)
1:30 – 3:00pm: After lunch there is usually time to rest, study or relax around the campsite.
3:00 -5:00pm: Work in the bio-garden or Spanglish lessons while helping with dinner in the kitchen.
6:30pm: Dinner time. (Always something delicious like stew or stir-fry with rice or potatoes). There is a bar you can purchase drinks from if you wish; however there is a limit of 3 per day!
7:30 – 8:00 pm: Camp leader explains what activities everyone will be ding the following day.
8:00 – 9:00 pm: Night transect for amphibians and return to lodge with amphibian bounty.
9:00pm: Shower, hot chocolate (yum) then bed.
My Tips for Preparing for your Amazon Volunteer Adventure
The project is in a very remote location. Once you are there, there are no stores or shops you can stop by to get things you may have forgot. So make sure you are nice and prepared. Read you orientation guide well is my biggest tip! Here a few things I think are essential to remember;
- Travel Insurance: Not something physical to take, but it is required so don’t forget to purchase it like I nearly did!
- Compass and whistle: You will be spending a lot of time doing walking through the rainforest: these will come in handy.
- Binoculars: While it is not required it sure is helpful when you are doing activities such as bird-watching to have your own.
- Snacks! The meal portions provided are large, however you are doing a lot of physical activity in hot conditions. You will probably get hungry easily (like I did) so it's good to have some extra snacks with you! Also if you like spicy food, bring some hot sauce!
- Coffee (if you are a coffee lover): There is limited coffee available so if you’re a coffee lover like me bring your own!!
- Essentials: Head torch/torch, toothbrush, toothbrush/paste, water bottle, towel, pajamas, change of clothes, camera.
- Bring a Hobby: There is downtime, especially on Sunday as this is your free day. I suggest bringing a book, some music to listen to or take up knitting.
- Power pack: There is limited power while volunteering.
- Clothes (obviously): You want to protect yourself from insects, plants and the sun as much as possible I would recommend loose fitting long shirts and pants. If they’re quick drying even better! Don’t forget your rain jacket and swimmers either.
- Torch and Headlamp. So you can see where you’re stepping in the dark.
Other Things to Remember!
There are a few other things I wish I had properly considered before going to the project. As a conservation project right in a heart of the Amazon, it is important to be as eco-friendly as possible! Make sure that any soaps, shampoos, conditioner & laundry powder you bring is biodegradable. Also don’t bring a DEET based insect repellent! DEET is a toxic chemical insect repellent which not only harms human skin but is also deadly to most of the wildlife in the area including frogs and butterflies. Natural insect sprays can be just as effective in warning off annoying bugs without being detrimental to the environment.
Thoughts on my Amazon Conservation Volunteer Adventure!
Overall this was a truly memorable experience. There are lots of different project that you can get involved in. The staff at the project get know each individual and their motives for being there, their experiences & skills and what they want to get out of their experience. They very helpful in trying to let you get the most out of you time there!
I learnt so much fascinating information and got to live out my own real-life David Attenborough adventure. I would highly recommend this experience for anyone who has an interest in environmental conservation." - Rosie, Volunteer Development Coordinator.
If you would like to help conservation effort in the amazon or at any of our other conservation projects, get in contact to find you how you can help!