With over a year’s worth of waiting, fundraising and general preparation the 20th July finally arrived. I, along with the rest of my fire left Heathrow airport and travelled via Madrid to Iquitos, Peru. Even though we knew the climate and conditions would be extreme, nothing could have prepared us for the tropical warmth, mosquitoes and manic road-race from the airport into town.
Our expedition was split into three phases all of which stretched across the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve where the rivers Ucayali and Maranon meet to form the River Amazon. The first phase consisted of jungle camp craft training where we learnt the vital skills that we would need for the next three weeks including machete use, camp building in torrential rain and darkness and how to avoid the wide range of snakes and spiders which we soon found were in no shortage. The first week was also our trekking phase and for me this was the most challenging both physically and mentally. The 80 litre rucksacks we were carrying soon became our worst enemies and every step was an effort, but it was during these long, tiring days where we pushed ourselves to the limit and we learnt the importance of teamwork and keeping team morale high by any means.
Our trekking phase ended on arrival at Zakarita where we picked up our canoes – which we found were simply hollowed out trees. After various emergency capsize drills we started paddling down the Yanayaquillo River where we would eventually return to San Martin. It was only now once we were out of the thick canopy of the rainforest that we could really appreciate the true vastness and beauty of it and the huge numbers of birds and wildlife that appeared to be everywhere. During this week we completed our Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award and learnt about the CARE projects (Creating Awareness in the Rainforest Environment).
Our final phase, the science phase, was based around a Cocha which in English translates to lake. Here we focused on conservation and collected baseline data on key species such as the pink river dolphin. The purpose was to help the managers of Peru’s natural resources, as the pattern of biodiversity of a key species can be used as an indicator of overall biodiversity. Before completing the surveys we were trained on survey techniques such as conducting transects, identification skills and the use of GPS systems for tracking purposes. During this research phase we had the opportunity to see Jaguar tracks, numerous species of monkeys and Caiman (although these surveys had to be conducted at night and had varying degrees of success.)
The expedition was absolutely amazing – something I won’t be forgetting for a very long time. I have learnt a great deal from the experiences I have been through, not just about myself personally but also about how vital teamwork and being able to rely on others can be. I was shocked to find out how little is needed to survive and how the rainforest can provide literally anything and everything as long as you know where to look for and find it. At first, being completely dependent on the other members of the fire felt strange as we barely knew one another, but in such a situation we soon learnt to work well together efficiently and quickly and I feel we all matured significantly as a result.
It was a fantastic expedition and I would like to thank the Ulysses Trust for supporting me.