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Thursday, January 10, 2013

NECAmazon: student blog entries

Below are blog entries for Days #3-6, each one prepared by a pair of students. I encourage you to read them to gain the students' perspectives on the trip.


January 13th, 2013
Meagan Farris, Samantha Dube

Day 3: Zipping into the Darkness

The day began at 6:30 am when we left the lodge by speed boat, towing the dugout canoes. On the way we encountered glimpses of river dolphins. We arrived at a secluded area and transferred into dugout canoes. Two students and one guide to each canoe, plus a machete. We proceeded into a channel that is only accessed during the wet season. The channel was tight and we hit branches and trees often. A machete was used to clear the way. Meagan and Sophie’s guide used the machete to make him own path. Many birds were spotted including; black collared hawk, horned screamer, watson, light colored hawk, orange cheeked parrots, and blue headed parrots. Samantha, Eric and their guide hung back from the group and with much patience spotted a pygmy marmoset. We then arrived at a viewing platform, and the group re-gathered for a break and to enjoy the view.
 Next we got back in the canoes and found a large tree called a fichus. It grows outward instead of upward to survive. It resembles a giant jungle gym, haha! (no pun intended). We were able to pull up next to it and we all climbed around on its branches. Luckily no one fell in the water below. We returned to the speed boat and headed back to the lodge. More of the same species of birds were spotted on the way back.
After lunch our trek to the zip line platforms was a combination of short canoe rides and hikes. Once we arrived we were all in complete awe of how high the platform stood. It was a little over a hundred and forty feet. Some were skeptical at first but everybody eventually made it to the top. At the top we were all anchored on short leashes for safety (Morganne’s was the shortest, I guess the guides know her now). At the top, everywhere you looked all you could see was jungle. One by one we all zoomed across the canopy to the next platform. There was a total of three platforms that we zipped to. At the last platform we repelled down a hundred and twenty feet to the “safe” ground of the jungle. We continued our trek back to the lodge for dinner.
 Later that night we returned to the area we explored earlier today. On the boat ride over the sky was filled with mesmerizing stars as far as you could see, and we identified many constellations. Once we reached our destination we filed two by two in our canoes and made our way into the darkness which was filled with dangerous noises. We saw many critters including; banded South American water snake, white bellied rat, pink toed tarantula, black caiman, spectacled caiman, glass frogs, bi-colored porcupine, horned screamer, boat billed heron, and Oscar fish. The guides were eager to catch baby caiman which we could hold. Once captured, the babies let out a cry to their mothers, which sounded like “o wow”. The mother caiman (eight feet long) poked its head out and we slowly backed away because black caiman are notorious for attacking. After a sixteen hour day we were all exhausted and headed back to the lodge to rest up before tomorrow’s next adventure.

January 14th 2013
Day 4 of our Amazonian Expedition
Sophie Therrien and Hikaru Hamada

Swinging on Vines

Today we got to sleep in until breakfast at 8 am. Once again, we woke up to the birds outside our windows. Breakfast was… entertaining! There was a black cat with white paws above the screen in the cafeteria; I’ve heard rumors that her name is boots. She was playing with a praying mantis and it did not seem happy about that at all. It fought back and leaped at her and she bit it a few times just trying to play but this seemed more like a life threatening battle for the praying mantis. After a while the cat got bored with the bug and she went to lay a few feet away from it. Morganne noticed her sprawled out and tried playing with her through the screen. Boots tumbled and rolled, she pawed at the screen and seemed to be having as much fun as we were enjoying her show.
Our next adventure was going to look for poison dart frogs. To get there we boated up the river for about 3 hours, luckily we saw some really cool things along the way. The first thing we saw was a brown throated 3 toed sloth! We were flying by and Wheni, our guild, saw it hidden in the trees. It took us about 10 minutes for everyone to see it because it was so well camouflaged in the tree tops. We are all so amazed that Wheni could even see it at all! The sloth moved very slowly and was difficult to see until we moved to the side of it. Shannon was so happy that we got to see a sloth it was the first thing on her list that she knew she wanted to see! I just smiled at the sight of her face and how happy she was. Hopefully we will get to see a sloth closer up because it was far away and my camera does not have a zoom to take a picture that could get as close as I would of liked.
Our next stop was Dorilla, a common woolly monkey. She came right down from the tree tops when she saw our boat. She was the highlight of my day! She was brown with slightly red tinted fur. I was surprised at how soft her fur was because I looked dense but, for a monkey, she had softer hair than me. Wheni had a bag of fruit for us to feed her, it consisted of about 10 bananas each being three or so inches long, one green apple, and half and orange. She loved them and even would climb your arm if you held it in the air. It was funny when Dorilla used Lori’s lap as a table, she got banana all over her pants. Even though everyone absolutely loved to see Dorilla, out of the whole group, Sam seemed to be the most excited about seeing Dorilla. She did her presentation on woolly monkeys and even showed us a video of Dorilla on youtube before we came. Sam’s face was lit up and just seemed genuinely happy!
Dorilla was so cute and funny to watch eat the fruit. Eric held half an orange up in the air and she climbed up his arm to get it but after she got it she left. I was so sad to see her leave! It’s probably because Eric made her work for it! She climbed up the trees and got close to the edge of one and leaped to another tree in spectacular fashion! I was actually scared she was not going to grip the tree tight enough and fall, but she never did! Dorilla is a monkey after all.
After our boat ride we went for a hike and saw all kinds of frogs! Some were beautiful colors and others had tremendous camouflage! One even looked exactly like a leaf! I was very impressed by all the diversity we saw. Later we saw a giant termite nest, Wheni explained to us that these termites could be used for insect repellant. He put his hand on the nest and let some termites crawl onto his hand. Once he had sufficient termites he rubbed his hands together, smooshing them. I thought that was the coolest thing, and his hands actually smelled good after. Sam tried it too, I was too squeamish to try it myself but it was really cool to watch.
We found a rubber tree! I was so excited! I did one of my presentations on Fordlandia and the rubber tree so to actually see one in person was really exciting. You could see striations on it from people harvesting its latex 100 years ago! Wheni poked a hole in it for us to see the latex drip down, it was super sticky once it started to dry. I only touched it a little because ironically I’m allergic to latex. One of the group’s favorite things to do was swing from a vine! After Morganne fell in the water trying to cross the stream by a fallen tree, we decided to cross using a vine. We all laughed and had fun as one by one we crossed the stream. Everyone landed a little differently which made it even more exciting! I can check swinging from a vine in the jungle off my bucket list now; I am super happy about it.
Wheni cut us a water vine and we got to drink from it. It tastes a little woody but it is refreshing. He told us that there are only 5 types of water vines that are non-toxic and safe for us to drink; I am very glad he knows which ones are which! Later some of the group went through a bat cave which is in a giant tree truck. Those who ventured into the tree exited with bat guano all over their backpacks and even some in their hair. I personally, am glad I did not go through because that would have been really gross.
It is very hot and humid trekking through the woods. Eric seems to be getting the worst of it and I am glad we got back to the lunch area when we did because he seems to be in a fog. That was scary, but after he laid down and drank more water he came right back to his happy sharp self. While lunch is cooking Wheni and Donaldo made us all crowns out of shambo reeds. They are really funny and helped lift our heat burdened spirits. Eliza painted our faces with paprika and we hand so much fun taking pictures of each other. I even got to paint Liam’s face make up. I think it came out well.
Later that night the shaman, Adolpho, came and showed us was he does and told us about how people become shaman. He was very, very interesting to listen to. He did surprise me that he was wearing a plain white tee and windbreaker pants. Although it did make me laugh because he was a white shamen so make he can only wear white, or maybe because it is very hot here and white is the coolest color to wear… who knows. He was 58 years old but he did not look it. It was also funny to hear that the celebration is called ikaru which is translated to “cold spirits” but it is pronounced exactly like Hikaru which is one of our class mates names. 
He gave everyone but Sophie, Megan, and Dale, a white garlic remedy for full body cleaning and health. It tasted a little like ginger alcohol and was very dry. Sophie got a remedy for cough and asthma. It tasted like very, very dry mustard. Megan and Dale got a general pain killer and they said it tasted like straight moonshine. The shamen was very interesting and I’m very glad he got to come see us!

Shannon Urato and Morganne Price
Day #5

                                                                 It’s Donaldo Time!        

After breakfast and the early wake up, it was time to set out on a boat ride to find the giant Lilly pads. The guides decided to take a short cut through the super thick brush to get there which some of us immediately thought was a bad idea since our boat was a little wider than the paths. Donaldo, one of our guides, stood at the front of the boat with his machete, chopping down everything in our path. With all the branches that would come down, so would tons of ants, spiders, and other various insects. It was gross and we were all left with the itchy bug-is-crawling-on-me feeling even when there weren’t any. However, I guess it is all part of the experience and adventure of it all so we all have kind of accepted the bugs and moisture of the Amazon.  When we got right to the end where the guides assumed the exit was, it was thick with large trees and shallow water, so we couldn’t get through. I think this is when the guides realized we were lost and there wasn’t much room to turn around, which was scary because we were in a huge boat in the middle of the jungle, unable to swim in the water or climb the trees for help. We were all laughing it off, but you could tell that many of us were actually concerned. Soon enough, we found somewhere to turn and got back out through the brush and insects, which was equally as gross and itchy as the first time.
We finally found the right path and were on our way to the Lilly pads in the scorching hot sun. Not many of us are used to intense sun and humidity since in New Hampshire it’s usually dry with weak sun, so we were all getting burnt and we were dying to swim. It was much nicer when we actually got to the Lilly pads because a lot of it was in the shade. We were all amazed when we saw the Lilly pads because really how often do you see a Lilly pad that you could fit a small child on? We tried to get Sam, Dale and Liam sit on the Lilly pads, but they were too heavy and they just filled with water. It would have been really cool for all of us if they had managed to get on it. The Lilly pads were beautiful and full of wild butterflies, which fluttered gracefully in the wind. Their blue wings gave a lovely contrast to the wild green of the magnificent plants.
After our adventure of taking the wrong short cut to get to the Amazon River, we took a short swim in a large seasonal lake. In this lake there were the small fresh water dolphins that can be found here. I jumped into the water and was amazed when I saw a couple of dorsal fins arising from the water. I started to swim towards these creatures, wondering how close they would let me get. The dolphins allowed me within about 150’ of them. I treaded water and watched as they took refreshing breathes of air. I took a moment to reflect on how lucky I was to be swimming in a lake in the Amazon Rainforest while watching these gray dolphins swim not even 200’ away. Visiting this remote land lends us incredible opportunities to get so close to nature. As I look around at the immense natural beauty, I do not understand why anyone would want to destroy this land. I know it is because of the money that can be found here, but there are many things that money cannot buy, and the beauty of the rainforest is one of these.   
After the swim and dolphin encounter, we visited a small village that rarely had visitors. There were several children roaming around the grass with the many pigs and chickens that also called the little village home. In charge of this menagerie were two women, each carrying a small baby. This way of life is such a contrast to what we are used to in New England. This scene really put into perspective how diverse this amazing little planet really is. Experiencing new and different cultures is my favorite part about traveling. When we only live in one place and only see one aspect of the world we get a very one tracked mind. It is important to immerge yourself into how others live. Before our departure to Peru several of us brought gifts for the young children. It was fun to see the looks on their faces as they received these special toys from a faraway land. It made me feel happy to know that I had made a difference to a small child.
We continued on our way back to the lodge. Along the way we spotted pink and grey dolphins. We had already seen the grey dolphins several times before, but this was the first sighting of the pink dolphins. I heard about these aquatic wonders and had always wanted to see them in person. When the first one came up to take a breath, I got my first view of a pink dolphin. They were just as wonderful as I thought they would be. Their odd shaped bodies and floppy fins looked awkward in the water, but they moved gracefully. While roughing it in this environment is tough, the encounters we get with the wildlife make all of it completely worth it.
Before dinner, we usually have some relaxation time which is really nice since we’re always on the go all day every day. We all love to hang out together in the hammocks and talk about the day and what we’re looking forward to. We’re all always so exhausted (in a good way) so we look forward to the free time and then the excellent dinner they always have for us. After dinner, we went out on a night motor boat ride to see what type of wildlife we could see. A few of us sat in the back with a few of the guides practicing our Spanish, which was really cool because most of us came to Peru knowing only how to say hello. I love that the guides are so interested in helping us practice their language, and they’re all willing to learn more about our language as well. On the boat, we saw many bats flowing over the water which I thought was really cool. On the way, we spotted a baby tree boa and a frog, each of which got lost in the boat. We found the frog, but the snake was under the floor boards just waiting to scare somebody. That was a bit nerve wracking for everybody since we were in the dark and there were so many places the snake could appear from so we didn’t know what to expect. Hopefully, the snake made it safely out, but it didn’t startle anybody so we can’t quite be sure. When we got back, we all hung out and had a relaxing night talking and laughing, it was a great day.

Dale Gorman and Liam Peck
Day #6

From Handmade Crafts to River Rafts.

Our morning boat ride to El Chino village was one filled with anticipation and excitement. As far as I know, no one really knew what to expect when we stepped off the aluminum motorboat, which had been tied to a fence post that must have been driven into the ground many years before our visit. 

The sight of a battered sidewalk and and old covered village-connecting bridge was the first sight to welcome us, and as we walked into the village on our first sight of concrete an overwhelming sense of humility washed over me. We walked passed a house that was undergoing construction, and I was surprised to see a boy, probably eleven or twelve years of age, carrying planks of wood 3 times his size to the main level, where he would later begin building a floor. 

It's funny how certain things remain etched in ones mind while being a guest of such a remote location. For example, near the centre of town stood a children's slide, but not one like you may be imagining. The tall playground contraption must have have been 7 feet tall with blue paint that had been stained by a layer of rust so thick that it looked as if it were painted brown. The bottom of the slide was jagged and sharp, and I wondered if the slide was still used by the children of El Chino. 

We continued past the slide to the village market where we were greeted by many vendors who offered their hand made crafts for sale. As I walked along the displays of baskets and blow-dart guns, I felt rather guilty about the fact that I had to choose one of the many merchants to buy from, so I tried to spread out my purchases the best I could. However, my guilt subsided after I was told that all proceeds are pooled, benefitting the whole village.

After a few quick kicks of the soccer ball with some local kids we walked around El Chino, which is centered around a soccer pitch. The nets consisted of three pieces of wood, and the grass had been beaten down by the feet of athletes on Sunday afternoons. 

The next stop in the town was at the house of one of the guides, Elisa. The house had no beds, only hammocks. The smell of smoke filled the air and I soon realized that the smoke was a byproduct of Elisa's father drying out his Yucca crop, as a method of preserving the root. The heat of the smoke added to the humid swelter, which was chilled by an ice cold Coca Cola in the original glass bottle. 

After making stops at the local school, which was not in session, we made our way back to the boat in preparation to head back to Tahuayo Lodge. The boat ride back to Tahuayo lodge was rather short but It gave us time to reflect on all that we saw and experienced at El Chino Village. Our visit to the village put a whole new perspective on our own culture, and has made us very appreciative. 

Our last lunch at Tahuayo Lodge was served at 1:00 pm. and shortly after we said goodbye to our new friends, wishing they could all join us at the next lodge. As we pushed off from the dock we were showered with goodbyes from the entire staff at the Tahuayo Lodge. 

The boat was clearly weighed down from our luggage which is now filled with filthy "jungle clothes". I don't believe any of us will ever forget the smells that we all acquired while exploring the the Amazonian Jungle. 

A 2 hour boat ride up the Tahuayo brought us to our new location. We stopped half way at a lake the locals call Bufeo, after the river dolphins that have been known to live there. The relentless sun was scorching our skin, making it feel as if any kind of SPF was useless. The sting from the DEET and the burning sensation from the sun was appeased by the cool temperatures of the lake's brown tinted water. Feelings of fear, excitement and relief washed over the group as we all jumped off the boat into water that could have been home to any kind of aquatic jungle life. Luckily, we all left unscathed and refreshed from Bufeo, which now had a shiny layer of oils skimming the surface. 

We arrived at the Amazon Research Centre in the afternoon, where we were welcomed by the employees and the house biologist, Alfredo. We unpacked our bags and settled in for 3 more days of jungle living. 

The evening brought one of the most memorable canoe rides of the trip. At 830 we made our way to the dugout canoes; 2 students and 1 guide per boat. We pushed off and silently paddles down the river. The dark night sky was illuminated by the stars and a crescent moon, which was sometimes masked by a light array of misty clouds. The trees were alive with sounds of so many critters that differentiating them was close to impossible to the untrained ear. I would have been easy do doze off in the back had it not been for the occasional Tamara fruit falling from the trees, which made a unique sound as it plunged into the river. The odd break in sounds made for the most peaceful and tranquil feeling that any of us have every experienced. To see the night sky with no trace of airplanes, or sound of any engine for hundreds of miles made for an overwhelming feeling of serenity. 

Both of us feel very fortunate to have experienced all hat we have while here in Peru. The memories made here will last a lifetime, and the friendships formed will continue to grow. We both just want to take a quick line to thank those that have made the trip possible for us, friends and family, loved ones and supporters. We miss you & love you all!

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